Travelogue 2010, part 3 of n

I took four years of German in high school and two more semesters in college. Less than a year after I stopped, I took a trip through central Europe – Hungary, Poland, the former East Germany and the erstwhile Czechoslovakia. I was able to get along reasonably well with a pastiche of German and English, weighted a bit differently for each country, and I survived. And that was it for my German-speaking…until June 2010 arrived.

A series of trains took us to Salzburg – overnight sleeper through Munich, then a regular inter-city train on to Austria. We were two nights in Salzburg, spending a lot of time walking around the old town and one afternoon off on a cruise around a lake in the Salzkammergut. There was a much more medieval feel there – all the old signs hanging out into narrow streets, churches with rudimentary onion domes signifying that we were on the old border between East and West. It was in Salzburg that Ma and Cousin Pa finally broke down and went to McDonalds for dinner. (In fairness, I went by there myself, but mainly to steal their free Wi-Fi for the price of one coffee – and later one Sprite, and later still 50 Euro cents for the pay toilet; what can I say, there was a lot of email to catch up on).

After that, there was Munich, and Neuschwanstein, and bits of Bavaria generally before heading to the train to Switzerland. Munich we didn’t see that much of – by then, we had established the pattern: city bus tour, country bus tour, and get pictures by the big landmark(s). It would have been interesting to see a little more of the town, but I think by then we were seriously hitting the wall, and Switzerland was perfectly timed: three days in the Berner Oberland during the low season, with crowds down to a minimum and very little to do other than sit, relax, enjoy the view and the cool temperatures.

After Switzerland, we stayed with friends outside Frankfurt for the final long weekend. And saw a couple of World Cup matches, including the surprising US draw and the not-at-all surprising shelling of Australia by our hosts. A good time was had by all, far as I can tell.

Lessons learned? That’s for another post…

Halfway home

In about an hour and a half, 2010 is half over on the west coast.

I guess I can’t complain. There are things in my life that are reminiscent of less good times, but even then, they were things that led me to better places. At least this time I think I’m positioned to make better choices this time – maybe I’ll figure out a way to win through without giving in to the dark side.

I’ve burned through all my leave, unfortunately, so there’s going to be a long slog through to the holidays. Once more minibreak for the 20th reunion – which should be intriguing – but then it should be routine for a while. As much as it ever is.

Blast from the past: October 10, 2006

John Gaventa ’71, in his study of Appalachian poverty, hit it out of the park with his discussions of the three dimensions of power. He took the premise of Schattschneider (in The Semisovereign People) and followed it to its natural conclusion. In the Gaventa/Schattschneider model, political and social power exists at three levels:

1) The decision of what is to be done about select issues. This is what most people think of as the political realm.

2) The decision of what issues are to be considered in the first place. Schattschneider considered this to be the actual point of decision-making, as political institutions chose to promote certain issues over others.

3) The decision of what issues are allowed to exist. Gaventa’s case study was of coal mining communities in the Appalachians, where company towns were run by the all-pervasive hand of the mining company. Workplace safety, unionization, health care and related topics were simply quashed out of existence in the political realm, and any political figure who brought them up was assured of a short career.

I’m almost tempted to attribute 3) to something in the cultural background of Appalachia, because God knows I go through this with my mother all the time: the complete unwillingness to acknowledge something as a topic of debate, never mind the point of view or prospective resolution. But to some extent, this is American politics in the 21st century, writ large: each side talks past the other, unwilling to even acknowledge that something is a legitimate field for debate.

In a way, this becomes a vicious cycle: the politicians talk past each other, the media reports everything verbatim without challenge or analysis, the public tunes it out, the media glosses past it to get back to American Idol, and the politicians focus themselves on the ever-shrinking (and ever-radicalizing) audience that DOES hear them and care, leading to further polarization and even greater odds that they will talk past each other…

There’s not really a way to get past this. The media itself will not be an active part of the solution; stockholders tend to make companies risk-averse and as long as there’s more money in Brad and Angelina than in heavy political reporting…well, you can guess who will win. And the vast middle is uninterested and, almost by definition, uninformed – so the only way to get their attention is to do something huge. And even then, it won’t last. You can attack the United States mainland for the first time in almost two centuries, and within six months we’ll be back to arguing about Britney Spears. If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody gives a shit, does it matter?

The Real Test

Well, here goes nothing. I have pirated a Bluetooth keyboard and paired it with the iPhone, so now we see once and for all what it’s going to be like to actually blog from this thing.

Looks like I may miss having a mouse to help with corrections and edits but for sheer speed of input, this can’t be beat. Ironically, this experiment comes on a day that Cisco, of all people, launches what may be the best challenge yet to the iPad: a 7″ tablet with the infelicitous name “Cius” (apparently pronounced ‘see-us’) which runs on Android and supports, among other things, Cisco Telepresence. Which is more or less the gold standard in you-are-there video communication, to the point where it was practically a character in 24 and gets commercials with Ellen Page during the World Cup.

It’s true: the PC is going away. More and more people are putting the lie to the idea that the iPad is only for consumption with assorted feats of media creation (and hell, if I can blog like this on the phone, how much easier with the bigger screen?) while the Cius expressly supports thin-client login so you can use your work machine from afar. And let me emphasize: I am writing this on a razor-thin Bluetooth keyboard and the most compact smartphone out there. The combined pair takes up less room in my bag than a trade paperback thickness or a magazine area footprint. If I could just find one of those old collapsable Palm keyboards from years ago, like the one a former contract “boss” had and threw on the scrap pile for lack of utility…

well hell, I guess that’s that question answered. It can be done. Add the keyboard to the mix, and everything I would have done on the laptop, I can do on the iPhone…except for ripping DVDs. And Netflix and Hulu seem determined to make that unnecessary as soon as possible. Hell, I can get VGA video out on the iPhone, what’s to prevent me connecting it to a projector and watching movies on the wall? (Except for the fact that it would almost certainly destroy the battery life.)

We live in the future, boys and girls. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.

The Last Senator

Robert Byrd had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan. That’s all you need to know to realize just how long he was in the Senate – he was first elected at a time when such a revelation was the farthest thing from electoral poison.

Byrd was also the institutional memory of the Senate, the man who knew everything there was to know about how the upper chamber worked. There was a story in DC, probably apocryphal, that Newt Gingrich had a dry run for pushing the Contract With America through the Senate, and had a whole team of researchers to play the part of Robert Byrd – and was dismayed at how simple it would be for one man to tie the chamber in knots.

With the passing of Byrd, the Senate takes one step farther away from the “Folkways of the US Senate” days and one step closer to being the House of Representatives – only with longer tenure and a worse grip on math.

Blast from the past: June 17, 2006

This may just be once-every-four-years ignorance here, but is it asking too much to have more than one official on the field? Every time I start watching international soccer, I am amazed by just how consistently inconsistent the officiating is. Would it utterly kill the sport to have three guys out there instead of one lone nut? I did love Eric Wynalda’s line, though: “There are only two kinds of referees: bad ones and worse ones.”

This was written after Jorge Larrionda gave the US two red-cards in 4 minutes in a 1-1 draw with Italy in the 2006 World Cup.

Larrionda was assigned to the England-Germany match today, where he missed an England goal where the ball hit the crossbar and landed three feet deep in the goal.

FIFA never learns.

Kill The Ref

Once again, an obvious goal was missed in the World Cup. Not surprisingly, the call was missed by the same incompetent Uruguayan who was handing out cards like candy to the Yanks against Italy four years ago, including two reds in the span of four game minutes. Germany beat England 4-1, so it’s difficult to say England got robbed as such, but if they’d gotten the tying 2-2 goal late in the first period, with the momentum behind them…who knows?

There is a problem with FIFA, and it can no longer be written off as the whingeing of ignorant Americans who don’t care anyway: their officiating is shit on toast. In a game where one goal can make the difference between promotion or relegation, between millions of dollars, between advancing in the world’s biggest sporting event for a single sport, it is no longer enough to allow the officials to continue to commit obvious errors and pass it off as “part of the game.”

None of the excuses hold water, and I am not going to waste time dignifying them by enumeration. We don’t need much – a few chips in the ball, and suddenly offsides – or whether a goal went in – becomes a matter of blow the whistle, stop play, look up at the booth where the display is already up showing the ball and a line across the field, radio down “yes” or “no”, and we’re back to it. Total elapsed time: 30 seconds, or approximately 1/4 of the standard Italian crybaby writhing on the ground in the last ten minutes of a match.

Americans will not take international-competition soccer seriously until the officiating doesn’t come with a dog and a white cane. Nor should they. If FIFA can’t move into the 21st century, I question whether they deserve your attention.

Second impressions

* This thing feels like carrying around a Ming vase – priceless perfection and God help you if you drop it. If there weren’t a 7 business day wait, I would have ordered a bumper case from by now. As it is, I suspect I may be able to get one at the bookstore at work, or maybe at the Company Store in Cupertino (which won’t be overrun with phone purchasers).

* Last night, with the battery just below 10%, I watched an entire episode of The Young Ones (“Bambi” if you must know) and still had battery life left. Power management with the A4 and the larger battery is magical – though I’m still waiting for a proper workday test.

* I have had a couple of weird one-off glitches – I had to turn the phone off and back on again before I could re-add my in-laws’ Wi-Fi, and my cheek actually dialed “42” (!!!) while talking to the wife once on Friday. I haven’t actually experienced a dropped call from antenna touching, but the ham radio operator in me can totally see how such a thing is possible. Also, my copy of Epocrates keeps showing a “4” badge for unread messages even though I mark them read over and over.

* I don’t think the default settings are as bright as previous phones. That could be a tamer version of the auto-detect being judicious with the backlighting.

* Having folders makes all the difference in the world. Everything I have is on three screens, but I’m adding things I never would have bothered keeping around just because I can do it without creating an un-navigable mess.

* Maybe it just seems this way because I’m coming from a 3G and not a 3 GS, but bejaysus, this thing ain’t half shaggin’ quick. Google Earth is actually usable, it’s so fast, and that was something I never thought I’d be able to say. In fact, there’s almost a 3D effect that lets you see just what a dropoff there was below our hotel in Mürren. I want to go back to Switzerland.

* I’ve taken a few preliminary pics and video clips, but haven’t really done the heavy lifting to compare them to the previous phone (or to see if the 30fps 720p HD video is legit and all it’s cracked up to be). Suffice to say that if I were really able to quit my job, move up to the city and pursue a career as a flaneur, this is the only piece I’d need aside from the Bluetooth keyboard.

* All my previous iPhones have been called “Lightsaber.” I think this one may deserve to be called “Wand.”

Friday Night

My back’s been killing me all day. And by killing me, I mean that I bent down to pick up my shoes this morning and felt as if a Marine sniper had shot directly into my back just above my right buttcheek. I actually took two Vicodin and didn’t try to get back off the bed until almost noon. Nevertheless, I called into both meetings today and actually closed three or four tickets.

But tonight, it’s 7 PM, the temp outside is in the low 60s, the windows are open, the breeze is blowing, and the game’s coming on. Specifically, the Red Sox at the Giants, which is on channel 11. I don’t know why, but some combination of factors – the fact that it’s a local MLB team, the fact that it’s on a network affiliate in prime time in HD, the fact that Jon Miller has the call on play-by-play – makes me happy. This feels right. This feels like what a Friday summer evening in Silicon Valley should be.

Or it could just be the Vicodin. That hydrocodone’s a hell of a drug. Nancy Reagan can kiss my ass.

First Impressions

I waited in line about 2.5 hours, not counting the extra times I walked over to scout the line and see if it was worth committing. I didn’t wait in line for any previous phone – the original iPhone was a work freebie and we didn’t get them until they’d been out for a month, and the 3G I got to replace it only came along three months after the 3G’s release – the wife got one well before me. Come to think of it, I’ve never stood in line for any Apple product – and if I could have completed the web order for shipping, I wouldn’t have stood in line for this one.

It’s definitely faster. The amazing thing is that I can add multiple gig of movies, video, apps, and it adds them ridiculously fast. I mean, I wouldn’t think twice about adding a couple of feature-length films on my way out. That alone is a huge improvement.

The feel of it isn’t quite what I expected, but that’s not a criticism – it definitely has the heft and metal quality I’ve missed from the original. I’m not having the antenna problems everyone else did – after it didn’t activate in about 30 minutes, I gave it the IT Crowd treatment. As soon as I’d turned it off and back on again, it registered instantly and went right to work.

I didn’t restore from any backup. I set everything up fresh. This is a bit of a pain in the ass, having to log into every bloody app or Wi-Fi network again, but in the long run I think it’s better than trying to keep going with all the cruft of previous times.

Haven’t tested FaceTime. Somebody call me.

Gave the camera a cursory look, and it looks good, but photography hasn’t happened yet.

I REALLY like having the percentage indicator on the battery meter.

More to follow…