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Purse postscript

Dear Mr. U.S. Customs Agent,

Given that this is Thanksgiving week, I feel it is appropriate that I should enumerate all the ways that I am grateful for our interaction regarding my Chinese purchases today.

Thank you for not putting my name in a database that would have ensured at least an hour-long customs detention every time I come back into the US for the rest of my life, as you threatened to do so angrily.

Thank you also for not putting a mark in my “file” that would have besmirched the records of “the next three generations” of my descendants, as you put it.

Most of all, thanks for assuming that I am hip enough to even know the difference between a brand name purse and a fake one. Beyond the obvious price differential, that is. You flatter my sense of perception.

In the face of all these threats I should of course thank you for letting me back into my country without arrest and with all my overseas purchases. You can be sure I will never go to that market again. I do understand that the rule of law is more important than making a few women in my life happy. And that the outrageous profit margins of corporate multinationals (even French ones like Louis Vuitton!) are as important to protect as our borders.

Thank you, thank you. It is all so much clearer to me now.

Rouge light district

In DC tonight staying at the Hotel Rouge. All red, the theme. I was offered the “technology room” and of course took it. As I rode up the elevator I thought of the Tokyo I have mythologized all the times I’ve never been there, populated as I believe it must be with robot valets, voice-responsive bidets (which I would politely inform “no, thank you”), and theater-style seating in front of the TV. It is not this.

The technology room is, as far as I can tell, a regular hotel room outfitted with a tiny stereo crammed under the underwhelming CRT television, free wireless (unless you want a VPN tunnel), and a full computer in the corner.

Now, the stereo is nice; I like that. But it is so firmly wired into the under-cabinet that it is almost useless for playing music via iPod or connecting to your computer. Because, c’mon, who lugs around their CD collection to a hotel?

Free wireless but you have to pay $5 if you want to establish an encrypted connection. What the hell? Do scrambled bits really cost more to carry than plaintext? Please.

The TV? Who cares, they aren’t carrying the Cubs final week here anyway.

But the computer, oh, the computer. I approached it tentatively. As you might do in a seedy Internet cafe. It was a PC, of course, with a nice flat panel monitor. The desktop bore the imprint of befuddled room guests before. Aborted downloads, attempts to install AOL, files. There was one image file on the desktop. I hesitated to open. I went to the trash. Not sure why, but I did. You might as well have handed me one of those police-grade semen stain goggles. The trash was bulging with the downloaded porn of the previous guest, of course. And the file on the desktop: a lone piece of gay porn.

The first thing I thought was, ick. No way I am using this computer. (I have my laptop of course.) But really, how astonishing is it that the hotel will vacuum rooms in between stays, change sheets, and empty trash cans but not empty the room computer’s trash (at the very least)? Administrators of public computers have known for decades how to centrally manage terminals. It seems to me that a hotel room is the last place that you want to leave evidence of online exploits. I shudder to peek at the browsers’ histories. And can you imagine how many viruses are crawling around that thing? XP + hotel room = bad idea.

I’m not a prude. I know what goes on in hotel rooms. But I don’t want a computer giving me forensic evidence of it, thank you.

Upcoming whereabouts

Next week finds me in and around the District of Columbia. Any readers local to the area who would like to assert that I am or am not a basement-dwelling, mouth-breathing introvert are invited to contact me.

I’m excited about the week, actually. I’ll be presenting at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities on Tuesday. Here’s all the detail. Should be a good little session at a place that is doing amazing work. Drop by if you can.

Wednesday midday I will be in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities in some meetings. I’ve had a bit of a crush on IATH since grad school so I’m pleased to finally be visiting it via some medium other than the web.

Later in the week I will be manning a booth at the Congressional Black Caucus back in DC. There’ll be big news out of that, but right now mum’s the word.

By the way, for those of you using Dopplr you can always find my current travels there. Great for serendipitous meet-ups. I have a few invites left, if you’re not in on the beta.

Soggy Olde England

Some of you are rightfully panicked that I’ve turned this blog into a long form writing exercise. What is this, some kind of Twitter-inspired backlash, you must be thinking. (In fact, the previous post generated some feedback which taught me a new acronym. TLDR: Too Long Didn’t Read.)

But worry not! I’m just back from a week in the UK and I’d like to prove that I can summarize it in minimalist fashion.

Duration: July 23-28
Locations visited: Southampton, Locks Heath, Hursley, London, Winchester, Portsmouth
Best pint (including pints 2-4): HSB (Horndean Special Bitter)
Most authentic pub/Highest odds target for health-and-safety inspection: Newport Inn, Braishfield
Best restaurant: Wykeham Arms, Winchester
Best curry/laxative: Masala Zone, London
Quaintest lodge: King’s Head, Hursley
Most frequently visited location by mistake: Marwell Zoological Park
Best thing about roundabouts: convenient u-turn opportunities for lost motorists
Worst thing about roundabouts: lost motorists
Funniest thing said to me: “Put your umbrella away. This is England.”
Most agreeable thing said to me: “Sir, we’re very full today so we’ve upgraded you to First Class.”
Worst realization: last train out of London doesn’t stop at the station I left my car at in Southampton
Near death experiences driving on left side of road while glancing at iPhone maps: 214
New factoid: trespassing is not, in itself, illegal in England
Old factoid: it rains a lot in England
Great factoid: when the US carrier fleet docks at Portsmouth for shore leave $10,000,000 is spent in a weekend (and London loses all its prostitutes temporarily)
One term that is not used in the UK: “teeter-totter”
Worst aspect of trip: the pound-to-dollar exchange rate
Strangest moment: American introducing Brits to the Utilikilt, Survival version

OK, that’s it. See, I can be brief.

Better than “Information Superhighway”, I suppose

Spotted at the St. Petersburg airport. I’d like to say this ad is from 1999, when the term cyberspace at least had a degree of currency. Alas, no. It is new. Someone somewhere thought this was a good idea. Cyberspace. Sheesh! The term was awful even when it didn’t sound dated.

Img 3724

Sidenote: St. P’s airport is called Pulkovo II. Like a sequel. Revenge of the Airport.

Travelogue

Just a short note to let readers know that there’s a new site section ready in advance of my trip to Italy this summer. Actually it is just a dressed up category archive, but well-dressed I must say. The Return to Barile subsite will collect all my posts on the homecoming (and there are many already queued). It also includes some background on the whole thing, an interactive map, and links to photos and such. These extras of course are only available on the site. Sorry, feedreaders! Obviously it will fill up quite a bit more as the trip nears and proceeds.

Enjoy: Return to Barile.

“Nice, but a little weird”

I’ve been in Los Alamos, New Mexico helping Steve Delahoyde from Coudal Partners on their latest short film project 72°. The original idea was to travel here to scope the Black Hole museum/junkyard/post-nuclear monument for vintage computing equipment. Scope we did, and find we did. The pieces we need are huge, dirty, and packed into a dark aisle crammed with decrepit gizmos. If we end up using them for the film we might have to do so on (or near) location. Would cost a fortune to transport.

Bombflower

We also decided to do a little side documentary on the town itself. The place is amazingly normal on the surface … a little too normal. Think Pleasantville or The Truman Show. It is a company town through and through, but one in which the ties that bind are not as simple as, say, in a Ford factory town. Secrecy and security are pervasive. Perched on a hill with virtually no crime, Los Alamos also boasts a higher IQ per capita than just about anything but the smallest university town.

Steve writes:

It’s a town that has seen hardly any population growth since the 1950s. It’s a place where nearly everyone who goes to school here leaves. It’s a place where few people are allowed to talk about what they do for a living. It’s a place that has the largest average income of any town in the country, yet the retail sector is a shambles and few businesses survive.

Nudebomb

Naturally we had to find out more. We spent two days interviewing anyone we could get our hands on. Merchants, teachers, lab employees and retirees, museum docents and even the town peace “kook”. (He’s no kook.) You never quite know what you’re going to get when you walk up to someone and ask to mic and video them, but almost to a person the interviews surprised and enlightened us.

  • The merchant who fields angry requests from townspeople not to sell a tourist t-shirt with a mushroom cloud on it.
  • The Los Alamos native who returned (a rare act) to teach geology at the high school and who sees an upside to the devastating fire in 2001 that denuded nearby mountainsides: easier access to rocks.
  • The retired physicist working at the hardware store who remembers a Japanese couple thanking him at the science museum for Los Alamos’ role in ending WWII.
  • The irate lab employee who can’t believe the rest of the country doesn’t know (or care) about the fact that the laboratory is now a for-profit venture run by a consortium apart from the US government.
  • The man who sees little difference between the fire that spread out of control after being deliberately set by forestry officials and the consequences of nuclear arms proliferation.

We’re looking forward to sharing these amazing stories with you, as Steve works to edit the many hours into a coherent piece. For now, here are two video snippets: postcard one and postcard two. As always you can follow the main film’s progress at the 72° blog.

See also: The discards of Los Alamos

“When possible make a legal u-turn”

I’m a sucker for rental car GPS, even when I know pretty well where I am going. This was recently a problem.

Maphell

Two nights ago I had to travel from JFK to White Plains, NY — a trip I’d never made previously. Easy, right? Well, not so easy when the Hertz Neverlost demands that you exit on the Hutchinson expressway when that exit is closed for repairs. So I exited as soon as I could and figured I’d just find somewhere else to get on the Hutch. As I drove around sidestreets, frontage roads, and massive mall parking lots — which are cartographic black holes to the GPS — the unit kept recalculating, recalculating. But each time it forced me right back to the closed exit.

OK, fine. Reset. Choose “Least Use of Freeways.” Recalculating, recalculating. Right back to the !@#$% closed exit. At this point it became comical because it dawned on me that I would have to deliberately get lost. Really lost. Really far away from the right path — all in order to force the GPS unit to calculate a path that bypassed the closed exit. And this I did. Getting lost in NYC is not particularly difficult, of course, but the sheer density of interconnected streets makes getting sufficiently, distantly lost a challenge. It worked and I travelled through some very quaint, eerily quiet towns on my way upstate. To add insult to inury the device actually started telling me to turn in the opposite direction from what the map (and logic) clearly demonstrated.

Of course, I had a printed map in the passenger seat the whole time. But I showed that GPS unit who was in charge, yessir.