Monthly Archives: January 2006

Recent Reading

One nice thing about the long plane and train rides on my trip to Finland was that it gave me time to read (especially on the flight home, when the power at my seat wasn’t working!).  And the lack of English-language newspapers encouraged me to read the books that I’d brought with me instead of blowing my time on USA Today.

On the flight to Finland, I mostly read magazines I’d brought along to read and discard, as well as doing some reading in preparation for the session, but I did squeeze in one book, Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders, by John Mortimer.  Since Leo Kern is no longer with us, I guess this will never be turned into a TV production, but I could hear him thundering in my head anyway, along with the rest of the cast (especially She Who Must Be Obeyed).  This was a quick read, but definitely fun — recommended.

In Tampere, I found myself eating dinner alone most evenings (my IBM contact recommended I stay at the Tampere City Center, which was quite nice, but almost everyone else was at a slightly less-expensive hotel, the Cumulus, four long and cold blocks away).  Fortunately, the dining room was well enough lit to let me read while I waited for my meals; the book which kept me company was Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything.  I enjoyed Bryson’s wandering around cosmology, evolution, and other scientfic topics nearly as much as I’d liked his Notes from a Small Island, and considerably more than I’m a Stranger Here Myself, which, as a collection of columns, was less consistent than the other books of his that I’ve read.

I was sufficiently busy throughout my stay in Finland that I didn’t finish the Bryson until the end of my flight to Frankfurt.  So I started Neil Gaiman’s American Gods partway across the Atlantic.  I’d been meaning to read it for quite a while, probably ever since I saw it win the Hugo at ConJos√©, but I knew I’d need a concentrated chunk of time, and the flight seemed like the perfect opportunity.  I’m not sure I got out of my chair after starting the book — and, even though I was exhausted when I got home, I continued reading it, and finished it on Sunday.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been that intensely involved in a book or had finished a long novel so quickly.  I strongly recommend the book, and am planning to read more of his stuff soon.

I enjoyed getting back to reading SF so much that I decided to read another novel almost immediately, Ken MacLeod’s Cosmonaut Keep.  I’d seen MacLeod on many panels at Interaction, where he struck me as intelligent and entertaining, so I put him on my “to read” list, and put the book in my briefcase, where it made several long trips without being opened.  But I pulled it out after this trip, and started it a couple of days ago.  I didn’t have quite as much free time available to read it as I might have liked, so I had to split the book over several evenings, but it was well worth the time — lots of ideas and politics, not to mention sex, drugs, and some awful lines from SF of the past.  This book is the first of a series, and I’m looking forward to reading the others. 

But not yet — I’ve also been getting the library at work to buy books for me (not fiction, at least not deliberately so), and it’s probably a good idea to finish them and make them available to folks on the waiting list.  So the next book I plan to read is Freakonomics, which made its first trip in my briefcase on Friday night.  I’m on jury duty next week, so I may have some good blocks of reading time available.

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Home is where the activity is

Note to my readers:  if you’re expecting anything profound, read some other posting.

I managed to stay awake, if not entirely coherent, until a normal bedtime on Saturday night.  But when I finally did go to sleep, I slept well and for a long time — Diane convinced me to get out of bed fairly late on Sunday morning.

I’d gained weight in Finland (no surprise there!), and so I knew I needed to start working it off.  So I went to the JCC and managed to do a reasonable time on the treadmill, but I gave up after only a few weight machines.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully.

Monday, it was back to work; I’d been keeping up on my e-mails, so I didn’t have the inbox from hell to worry about, but I did have to get back to work on my projects.  There was one break, though — one of my colleagues celebrated his 40th anniversary at IBM, so there was coffee and cake and a good time (the caffeine was welcome, but I probably should have skipped the cake).

I like to go to the JCC on Tuesday mornings, but that wasn’t possible this week; I had an early call, and then a colleague from Phoenix was in town.  We had collaborated on some articles last year, and needed to decide what kind of follow-on activity we might undertake, so we’d blocked out the entire morning to make BIG PROGRESS.  After some discussion and serious thought, we decided that neither of us could commit to a major activity at this time, so I erased the workplan from my whiteboard (it’s saved in my mail, anyway).  That was BIG PROGRESS, though not quite what we’d expected when we scheduled the meeting.

Yesterday, I took advantage of technology and handled my first call of the day while waiting for the 5,000 mile service for Diane’s Prius; I had hoped to do that on Monday, but every time I called the dealer, they told me that there was a 90-minute or longer wait for the “Express Lube”, which didn’t seem very express to me!  Wednesday morning was a much better time to go; I think the whole process took less than an hour (I’m not sure, because I was on the phone for most of the time).

Then I drove home to meet the insurance inspector — he was there to look at the roof damage we took on New Year’s Day.  In the meantime, I’ve gotten estimates from three roofers (they vary widely, so I need to be sure that they’re all specifying the same work), and we’ll get the process started next week.  Fortunately, the tarpaper stayed intact, so we don’t have to take urgent action.

Today, I did manage to hit the JCC first thing, and then it was a full day of fun, excitement, and meetings.  I took advantage of my time on the treadmill to finish listening to the “Getting Things Done…Fast” CDs that a colleague had lent me; I found them helpful, but they wouldn’t have been nearly as useful if I hadn’t already read the GTD book.  I am a long way from being a black belt, but my inbox is empty, and that’s a start.  I need to get up the courage and initiative to tackle the home office next — there are dozens of projects waiting to be defined!

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Home again, efficiently

My flight from Helsinki was supposed to leave at 7:15am, so I booked a taxi for 5:15am.  Even though it was snowing, I was still at the airport by 5:40am, and completely checked in and through security by 5:50am.  I guess I could have slept later.

Most of the shops were already open, and Stockmann opened at 6:15, so I did some last minute candy-buying (I thought about bringing smoked salmon or smoked trout home, but I was worried about not being able to keep it cold), and still had 20 minutes to kill in the SAS/Star Alliance lounge. 

European airline lounges are different from the Admirals Club.  They always have a variety of things to eat and drink, all for free (and yes, there was wine, beer, and hard liquor available at 6:30am!), as well as an assortment of newspapers and magazines.  My Admirals Club membership is going to expire next month, and I’m not sure I’m going to bother to renew it — I don’t fly American as much as I used to, and the benefits of the club seem to be diminishing every year.

The plane had to be de-iced before we could leave, and then the captain announced that we were going to be flying without water (and so no coffee!), but he thought that was better than waiting around for an hour or two until they could fix it.  I thought so, too, since my connection in Frankfurt was only an hour.

Well, it was supposed to be an hour.  But we had to be de-iced in Helsinki and were in a holding pattern in Frankfurt, so, even though I was the first person off the plane, I had only 30 minutes before my flight home was due to take off.  And, of course, it was at the other end of the concours.  And I had to go through passport control and security.  I wasn’t optimistic, especially considering they’d made an announcement on the plan urging US-bound passengers to go directly thru security as “the procedures are time-consuming”.

There was a line at passport control, but there was also a pointer to “additional passport control” a few meters away, so I went there.  At first, I thought that had been a mistake, as I only saw lines for EU passport holders and for crew, but they were taking everyone, and I had no trouble.  Elapsed time: 3 minutes.

Security had a longer line — there was a separate line for First/Business passengers, which helped a bit.  What helped more was my asking several people ahead of me when their flight was — and everyone whose flight was after mine offered to let me go ahead of them.  I was impressed.  Screening was thorough — they use a hand wand for everyone, rather than having you walk through a magnetometer as happens in the US.  And, although I had to remove the computer from its case, I didn’t have to remove my shoes.  Total time in security: 10 minutes.

From there, it was a quick dash to another barrier whose purpose I didn’t take the time to understand, but which had a very short line, and then a hike to the end of the terminal.  I was on the plane by 9:40, 15 minutes after getting off the incoming flight.

I think they held the plane for some late arrivals, because they didn’t close the doors until 10:05 or so.  By that time, I was settled in and ready to go home.

I thought the food in this direction was better than my outbound trip — it was inspired by Chef Tam Kok Kong of the China Club Berlin.   The wine list was the same, but this time I remembered to ask about the Wine of the Month, which was a 2000 Pierre/Rodet Beaune Premier Cru (I should have been more careful in copying down the label!).  It was very pleasant, but I preferred the 2003 Dornfelder Classic.

We arrived on time; my luggage was one of the last bags to be unloaded (I guess it had a hard time making the connection in Frankfurt, too), but I was still home by 2pm — just in time to go out with Diane and Jeff for lunch at Willow Street Pizza in Los Gatos.

And even though it was raining a little bit at home, it was much easier to deal with than the weather in Helsinki today: snowing most of the day, with highs near zero Fahrenheit.  It’s good to be home!

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Finnishing up my trip

Most of this trip has basically been a business trip like so many others — I knew I was in Finland, but it wasn’t terribly important.  That started to change last night when I went out in the cold and had dinner at a Viking restaurant (ok, a Viking-themed restaurant).  And today, the business of the trip took a back seat to being in Finland (though for anyone at IBM who’s interested, I am checking and dealing with email!).

I started the day with breakfast, as usual; but since I didn’t have to rush out of the meeting, I followed it with a trip to the hotel sauna.  It was an indoor sauna (of course), and there wasn’t the option of going into the snow or diving into icy water, but I enjoyed it anyway and left feeling quite clean and nicely warm.

The warm part didn’t last long.  I wanted to visit the Lenin Museum.  It was only a mile or so from the hotel, so I decided to walk — the sun was out, and I was wearing my long underwear, so how bad could it be?

That bad. In Fahrenheit, it’d be -11. That’s cold. And there was a breeze, too.

Soon, I crossed the river, which was flowing briskly along, steaming merrily along the way.

A few minutes later, I found myself at the entrance of the Lenin Museum, which occupied the third floor of the Tampere Worker’s Hall.

I went in, paid my four Euros, and spent an hour or so looking around. All of the items were in Russian, and all of the explanatory material was in Finnish. Fortunately, there was an English translation available which I carried around the museum. I’m not sure I know that much more about Lenin now than I did when I went in, but it was an experience only available in Tampere.

I left the museum and hiked back to the hotel. This time, I didn’t stop to take any pictures.

After packing and checking out, I walked across the street to go back to Helsinki. I found a ticket office immediately and bought my ticket, discovering that the trains to Helsinki were running about 90 minutes late. Luckily, one ran every hour, so they sold me a ticket for a train which should have already been in Helsinki but which was due in about 30 minutes, and I went to find lunch.

I was lucky (or maybe smart) and got my chicken kebab to go, because the train made up some time and was in the station when I left the shop. So I ran to the train and jumped into the closest car. I had seat 42, and it was free, but I was in the wrong car — car 5. I should have been in car 2. I wasn’t sure how long the train was going to stay in Tampere, so I dragged my suitcase through the crowds, up and down stairs, and through the dining car, finally arriving in car 2 a few seconds after the train had started moving.

The rest of the trip to Helsinki was uneventful, except that it started to snow about 20 minutes out of the city. And it kept snowing. But it was easy to get a taxi, and I was once more ensconced at the Scandic Grand Marina by 3:30.

I didn’t want to stay in the room, so I braved the snow and wandered downtown, where I had some gelato at Stockmann (quite good!). By the time I left the store, it was fully dark; I walked over to Senate Square to see how the Lutheran Cathedral looked in the snow.

Not too good, but when I tried again without flash, it looked far less leprous.

I had had several restaurants suggested to me before I left, but none of them were very close to the hotel, and I thought I’d had enough winter for the day anyway. So I had dinner in the hotel restaurant. But unlike the Scandic City Centre in Tempere, this restaurant had some Finnish dishes. In particular, it offered a smoked reindeer appetizer, so I ordered it (along with the nearly inevitable Lapin Kulta). It was tasty — a bit stronger tasting than beef, but not overpowering. I thought about having the reindeer steak for my main course, but decided it was likely to be more than I wanted and ordered the vegetarian pasta instead. The portion was huge, and I only finished half of it.

Then it was time for one more sauna before calling it a night — this time, I didn’t feel rushed, and I made two cycles through the process. I could get used to saunas.

But I’d rather go home. Morning will come early, but it’ll be worth it!

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3db behind schedule, but I’m leaving early anyway

Today was the third and last day of the DBE review.  I am happy to have spent the whole day inside (the high temperature today has been -21C (-5F), and the sun set about an hour ago), but it’s been a very long day.  We’ve just (at 4:50pm) finished the presentation which was supposed to have been completed at 12:30 — fortunately, the rest of the schedule was devoted to “discussion and feedback”, which got truncated.  We finished the session at 6:30, though the final readout from the reviewers was delayed until 8:30, back at the hotel where most people were staying.

I joined the crowd to wait for the results — as you might guess, most of the waiting happened in the hotel bar, where I tried yet another local beer, Koff.  I didn’t like it as much as Lapin Gold, but it was much better than Karjala.

After the review, the IBM team went to a local restaurant which was not in a hotel — Harald.  I wasn’t hungry enough for a full meal, so I passed on the reindeer sword; instead, I had some mushroom soup and a “chicken small bread”.  It was good, and I’d happily go back, preferably at an earlier hour — we left at 11:30pm local time, and that only because I insisted.

The temperature was down to -24C, so we took a taxi back to the hotel, where I called Amex and switched my flight home to be Saturday instead of Sunday.  I’ll still do some sightseeing in Tampere on Friday, and probably get to Helsinki early enough to see some more of the city, but there will be other trips, possibly even in warmer weather, and a week away from home seems long enough for this round.

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Tunes that won’t go away

Many years ago, I used to go to filk sessions at conventions — I still vividly remember one session at the first Westercon we went to at the Sheraton Palace in San Francisco, when we were moved out of the hallway and into the ladies’ lounge (which shocked a few mundanes who wanted to actually use the restroom).  I’ve forgotten most of the filk songs from that era, but I’ve suddenly been reminded of the old classic, “If it tastes like cardboard, it must be skiffy”, sung to the tune of “Shine On Harvest Moon”:

Cylons, Cylons carve up moons
Out of the sky.
They killed all the colonists
on Aries, Sagittarius, and both Gemini.
Microns aren’t as small
As microns used to be.
Oh, Cylons, sigh along with me
For you and your show.

Why do I mention this song now, you may ask? It’s because I’ve noticed that the connection from this meeting is in the sci.fi domain, which I find enormously amusing. 

Oh, yeah, and Battlestar Galactica has been revived.  Fortunately, it’s better this time around.

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There goes the world….

I’m back in the DBE meeting today, having been formally introduced as a member of the Strategic Advisory Board for the project.  It’s cold in Tampere, currently -17C (but at least it’s above zero Fahrenheit!), but since I’m inside, that doesn’t matter much.  The sun was out for the first time since I’ve been in Finland, which was nice; I say was, though, because they’ve just closed all of the curtains in the room, so now it’s dark in here again.

At least I’m on the same side of the room as the reviewers, so I can follow what’s happening better — that’s good, because today’s session is for the Computing Domain of the project, which is the part I was brought in to advise.  Time to concentrate….

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Where am I?

By the time I got back to the hotel, I was tired enough that I didn’t want to go out for dinner.  Instead, I went back to the hotel restaurant — Piazza Foodfactory — where I had what I guess must be a typical Finnish meal: tapas as an appetizer, and “salmon wok” for the main course.  The food in the restaurant is good, but there’s definitely no sense of place — the decor is that of an upscale food court, and the menu features curries, wok dishes, pastas, pizzas, and burgers.  There doesn’t appear to be any reindeer or bear available, either — plenty of turkey, beef, chicken, pork, tuna, and salmon, though.

At least they do feature Finnish beers; I’d had Lapin Kulta on draft the first night (as well as in Helsinki), which was pretty good.  But I wanted to try a different beer this time, so I had a bottle of Karjala.  It was nondescript.  As it happens, both beers are brewed by the same company, Hartwall, which is now owned by Scottish & Newcastle of the UK.  I’ll have to check out the beer menu at the restaurant to see if they feature other S&N beers (perhaps Newcastle Brown Ale), but I’ll probably go back to the Lapin Kulta. 

The house wines, by the way, are from Ernest and Julio Gallo, speaking of a lack of place.

To be fair, I should mention that the breakfasts at the hotel are more localized; they have Finnish porridge and rice cakes, as well as smoked salmon, smoked trout, tasty breads, and much more.  Breakfast is definitely worth the time!

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Dark so soon….

Sundown here was about 25 minutes ago (3:50pm local time), and now having lots of windows in the meeting room is a disadvantage, because it feels later than it is (4:15pm local time).  I guess it would be better if the lights in the room were turned on.

The good news, though, is that the discussions have turned from project management to technical issues, so I’m more interested.  And there have even been some questions raised, unlike the earlier presentations, so there’s some energy in the room, too.

But it’s hard to overcome the darkness.

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A chilling trend

Today, I’m paying for yesterday’s sightseeing.  I’m in Hermia, which is a suburb of Tampere, at the Technology Centre, attending the second annual review of the Digital Business Ecosystem project.  This is a three-day meeting; I’m here as a member of the project’s Strategic Advisory Board (as a result of reviewing some proposals last year), and so I’m learning a lot and meeting many people.

There are about four official EC reviewers here, and the presenters are speaking directly to them; unfortunately, I’m on the opposite side of the room, and no one is using a mike, so paying attention isn’t easy.  Add to that the fact that this is my third day in Europe, which is usually the worst day for jet lag for me, and that the meeting room is quite warm, and…well, the fact that I’m blogging probably speaks for itself.

At least the room has lots of windows, so we’re getting some natural light.  Not much, because it’s cloudy; in fact, it’s snowing lightly.  And the exterior temperature has been going down all morning; it was -2C when I left the hotel, and now it’s down to -6C.  I went out for a few minutes during the break, and the cold cleared my head nicely — but then when I came back in, the fog set in again.  Somehow, -6C seems colder than the equivalent of 21F — which is cold, but not ridiculous.  Tomorrow’s forecast, however, is for a high of 6F and a low of -4F; that is ridiculous!

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