Thursday Morning, 5am

That’s when I had to get up in order to make the 6am bus to the airport for my 9:15am flight (the next bus wasn’t till 7:30, and if anything went wrong, I might’ve missed the flight, which was just not acceptable). So I did.

Of course, that was 5am CEDT (UTC+2), and it’s now 5pm PDT (UTC-7), so I’ve been up for 21 hours and shouldn’t go to bed for at least four more.

The trip home was uneventful if very slow (we had to wait in Munich for them to unload a suitcase from the plane since the owner didn’t want to come to San Francisco with the suitcase, and then we had to circle a while before landing), but I’m finally home.

And I think that’s going to do it for today’s exciting Weblog entry, because my family is arriving home, too.

Good night (or Guten Abend, if you prefer).

And now for something completely different

After I got back to my room last night, I flipped on the TV to make some noise while I got ready for bed. The Maritim only offers one English-language channel (CNN), and I didn’t really want to know what was happening in the world, so I started channel-surfing (I wonder how you say that in German?). Naturally, there wasn’t much on that was of interest to me, but as I was about to give up and go back to CNN, I suddenly saw something very familiar: Monty Python’s Flying Circus. But the voices weren’t right, because, of course, the show was dubbed into German.

I was still able to enjoy the visual humor, but it just wasn’t the same as watching in English, and I wasn’t always able to figure out what was going on. When I get home, I’m going to have to dig through my tapes and see if I have this episode (the one with “It’s A Tree”).

Morning came early today. Tomorrow will be worse. Off to the meeting!

Like no other museum in the world

Tonight, we had dinner at the DaimlerChrysler (pronounced “Mercedes-Benz”) museum in Stuttgart. Before dinner, a friend and I took a self-guided tour (they offered audio wands, but that would have been more regimentation than we were in the mood for) and a number of pictures.

Here’s the first car that Benz created. They actually started the motor for us — it was loud.

First Benz:

I liked their 1895 Benz Victoria:

Benz Victoria:

Mercedes doesn’t just make motorcars; they make fire engines, too:

Mercedes fire engine:

With so many cars in the museum, they have a hard time keeping up on maintenance. Note the flat tire on this car:

Flat Tire:

Some cars don’t need maintenance, though; they get divine intervention. Here’s Pope Paul VI’s Popemobile:

Popemobile:

Some designs just don’t seem to work, even though they’re awfully attractive looking:

Gull Wing Mercedes:

Tomorrow, it’s back to the all-day grind.

Very well, thank you…

I slept well last night. Very well. Too well, I guess, since I awoke refreshed and relaxed at 7:55am, with the conference scheduled to start at 8:15. So much for being relaxed!

I thought I had set the telephone alarm for 6:30am, but apparently I hadn’t hung on long enough to confirm that I really wanted the wakeup call. But I also heard from some of my colleagues that their phones hadn’t rung, either, but that the hotel staff had knocked on their doors instead!

I managed to rush through my morning routine in record time, and was pleasantly surprised to find the hotel flexible in enforcing the deadline for collecting laundry and in not closing the breakfast room right on time, so I was able to arrange for clean clothes and eat; I got to the meeting a few minutes late, but I was in time for the first main speaker.

This hotel is a very pretty place, but I wish their interior decorators would have allowed for clocks in the rooms. You’d think it was a casino or something!

London to Stuttgart

I never did figure out how to connect to the Ethernet in my hotel at Heathrow — once in a while, I’d get the in-hotel infomational pages, but I never got the opportunity to spend money for a fast connection. Their loss, I guess.

Actually, the London Heathrow Marriott was awfully disorganized for a Marriott; not only did the Ethernet not work, but I couldn’t get to the help phone number that was supposed to help me. And the mattress was not in very good shape. And the breakfast buffet was incredibly badly managed — it shouldn’t take 10 minutes to get coffee, and there should always be glasses available for juice. I would have walked out without paying (there was no cashier when I left, either) if it hadn’t already been included in my room cost. On the bright side, they didn’t charge for parking (deliberately — I asked).

My flight to Stuttgart was uneventful, as flights should be. It was on British Midland; even though the flight time was only 75 minutes, they managed to give us a hot meal (nothing I wanted, unfortunately) and two drink services. I wonder why US airlines don’t bother feeding people for less than a two-hour flight (and not always then), and, maybe more to the point, why no one complains.

Martim Hotel (try 2):

There were about eight of us on the flight going to the IBM Academy of Technology meeting, so we shared cabs to the city (the taxi, of course, was a Mercedes). My cabmate travels to Germany periodically, so he had Deutsche Marks, so I didn’t have to buy them at the airport. Instead, I changed a $20 bill at the hotel, undoubtedly at a rip-off rate, but I wanted some walking around money for lunch and didn’t feel like finding an ATM.

Lunch was a typical German meal, I guess — Doner Kebab (which I would have called gyros), Pomme Frites, and a beer. The whole thing cost me about $5. Interestingly, the beer can gave the volume in milliliters and in US fluid ounces — I would have expected Imperial measure if anything but milliliters.

Then I took a quick walk around parts of downtown Stuttgart. Like all cities, it has its share of incomprehensible art on the streets:

Public Art: Like all cities, Stuttgart has its share of incomprehensible public art on the streets.

Public Art 2:

but some of it just hangs around:

Art on the fly:

There are also lots of fountains. Sometimes they even come in flocks:

Three Fountains:

It was starting to get dark, so I headed back to the hotel, where I will remain for the next three days. They let us out once for good behavior, on a field trip to the Mercedes Museum. But otherwise, it’s going to be non-stop enlightment until Wednesday afternoon.

Simchat Torah 5761

Joy

I had a wonderful morning today, attending Simchat Torah services with the members of the South Hampshire Reform Jewish Congregation. They’re a small congregation without a permanent location (they use the Southampton Orthodox shul about twice a month and move around the area the rest of the time to be closer to the widely-scattered membership; today, they were at a member’s home on Allington Lane, about 10 miles from Winchester) and without a full-time rabbi or cantor (in fact, I found out today that no UK Reform congregation has a cantor). But they do own two Torah scrolls, and today, that was what counted.

Wrapped in the Torah: Celebrating Simchat Torah with the South Hampshire Reform Jewish Congregation

I’d actually never been to Simchat Torah morning services before — I’d been to the evening service, where the congregation dances with the Torah and processes around the sanctuary; it’s a fun evening. Morning services are a bit different, since we actually read the last and first parts of the Torah, and to do that, we unroll the complete scroll and literally wrap ourselves in the Torah. Today, in the small space available, we wrapped ourselves three layers deep in the Torah, which was a bit of a logistical challenge, especially when it came time to reroll the scroll.

no vowels:

I was given the unexpected honor of being Katan Torah, that is, called to the Torah to “read” the final portion of Deuteronomy. I put “read” in quotes because, like many contemporary Jews, I can’t actually read the Torah itself (there are no vowels in the Torah, for one thing, as you can see above), but in practice, that’s not a problem — all I had to do was read the blessings before and after the Torah reading, and the service leader read the Torah (she’s an Israeli who now lives in England, so her Hebrew was more than up to the task). Some day, perhaps, I’ll take on the challenge of actually reading (chanting) a Torah portion at services at Shir Hadash — Diane does it once or twice a year — but so far, I have found being asked to give a drash (explanatory talk) on the portion (in English, of course) to be sufficiently daunting!

I took a lot more pictures while we were rerolling the scroll, so I’ve written a photoessay to help tell the story.

Frustration

After leaving services, I started heading towards my hotel near Heathrow. We’d had a very light kiddush lunch at services, but I was hungry, so I stopped at a shopping center in Eastleigh for a more filling lunch. Parking was more of a challenge than I’d expected — fortunately, the parking lots here are “pay and display” rather than the “take a ticket” style which is common at home, so there’s no additional hassle leaving if you didn’t find a space. I succeeded in the second parking lot I tried; then I discovered that the one restaurant in the shopping center wasn’t very good. And I wasn’t successful at any of the other shopping I tried to do, either. But at least the parking was cheap.

Then I got on the M3 on my way to the hotel. All was well until I got off the highway, at which point I got thoroughly lost. I eventually found a place to park and called the hotel; they gave me directions, but unfortunately, their directions assumed I was starting from a different place than where I really was (I guess I told them the wrong thing!), and I got more lost; after a few more miles, I stumbled across a Sainsbury’s, parked, took out my map, and figured out where I was and where I had to be (I still have no idea how I got lost). Carrying a GPS is not very helpful if you have no way to cross-reference it to reality! But the UK mobile phone was quite useful; I’m glad I bought it.

But after the stop at Sainsbury’s, I was oriented, and found my way to the hotel in only a few more minutes. By this time, I was hungry again, but I didn’t want to eat in the hotel. So I walked out in search of the unknown. The first restaurant I saw was the McDonald’s in the Airport Bowl; I decided I could do better. A mile or so later, I found the next business district, which had an interesting-looking Indian restaurant…but it was closed. The Indian takeaway next door was open, though, and they had a couple of seats, so that’s where I ate (it was nice and spicy and filling, too!). Then I walked back to the hotel.

I spent the next 90 minutes trying to get connected to the network and failing. I had a hard time getting my computer plugged in to the wall, too — I still don’t have a UK power adapter, and the trick I used in Winchester to force the ground plug open enough to let an European plug go into the slot didn’t work here! The hotel found a UK adapter for me; I just have to remember to give it back to them, or I’ll be out 10 pounds (not a bad markup for something which costs about 2 pounds).

If you get to read this, I was successful at dialing in. That hasn’t been so easy this trip, either…half the time, the modems don’t successfully negotiate the connection.

Department of Silly Toys

I took a brief break from my conference today and went into Winchester for two purposes: first, to have a decent lunch (at which I was partially successful), and second, to buy a mobile phone for use in the UK. It’s gotten to be very difficult to find a pay phone here, and I’m going to be travelling this weekend to meet people, and it would be very useful to verify directions en route (I miss Microsoft Streets and Trips!), so I convinced myself I needed my own phone.

Fortunately, the UK mobile phone companies have gotten quite competitive, and they now offer prepaid phones at a cheap price (as low as GBP 40 (about $60)), and they don’t require buying much talk time in advance, and it doesn’t expire, so this seemed like a fairly reasonable experiment to try. Unfortunately, the only company which allows use of their prepaid phones elsewhere in Europe has bad coverage in some of the UK areas I would be in, so I chose an Orange phone. I can hope that they’ll offer international service before I really need it — my trip to Germany next week will be so well-managed by IBM that I’ll hardly have the opportunity to realize I’m in a different country (on a similar trip to Canada three years ago, I brought $20 Canadian with me and never spent a penny of it until I decided I wanted to buy a souvenir at the airport while waiting for my flight home).

I haven’t actually made any calls on the phone yet, but that’s a small detail, isn’t it?

Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care

It’s amazing how much nicer the world looks after a good night’s sleep. Even if IBM’s earnings report didn’t make Wall Street happy.

The conference continues apace; I am sneaking away to update this page (which is probably a tacky thing for the co-chair to do, now that I think of it). It’s very fulfilling to see people deeply engaged in energized conversations which, if we follow the pattern in previous years, will result in one or two actual projects coming to fruition.

More anon.

Useless Information Department

Federal Standard 1037C formally defines
“RJ” (as in RJ-11 and RJ-45) as “Registered Jack”. Just in case you needed to know.

3 o'clock, 4 o'clock, 5 o'clock….

Despite not having slept much on the plane over, I stayed up and mostly functional all day, and joined some of my friends for a wonderful dinner at the Wykeham Arms. I was feeling a bit tired during dinner (one guy kept waiting for me to fall down into my food!), so I thought I’d sleep well.

I turned on the television in time to watch the last half-hour of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” — this, of course, is the original version. The US version is extremely faithful to the original, except, of course, that pounds became dollars in the transition.

The host here, Chris Tarrant, seems a bit crueler to the contestants (and the audience) than Regis — I tuned in as a contestant used all three lifelines on one question (asking which of four US states did not border on the Gulf of Mexico — I’ve never seen any questions on the US edition asking about UK matters). After she agonized over the question and eventually gave her final answer, they broke for a series of commercials before revealing that she was right. Similarly, after the 125,000 pound question, which she also agonized over for a long time, he said, “You no longer have 64,000 pounds.” And then a long pause before telling her she had gotten the question right.

After that, I fell asleep quickly, only to wake up at 2:30am. It’s now 5:30, and I haven’t been able to get back to sleep, so I decided I may as well start the day officially by flipping my page.

The conference starts in a few hours; I hope to stay awake for it!

If it's October, this must be Hursley

Almost every October, IBM has an internal conference at our Hursley, England facility; I’m the permanent co-chair of the conference (it’s had different names, and there’s always a new crew from Hursley — they’re the people who actually do the work!). It’s October, it’s time for the WebAhead conference, and here I am.

Unfortunately, I left my Token Ring card in my hotel, so I’ve had to borrow a machine and I can’t show the picture I took (yet, anyway), so you’ll have to believe me when I say this is a very distinctive facility — the conference is in Hursley House, an old stately home which IBM took over in 1958 (it had previously been used by Vickers Aircraft).

More later if I can stay awake and if I can get connected from my hotel.

The Secret of the Red Carpet Club

This rather short entry comes to you from the domestic Red Carpet Club at SFO. For some reason, United decided to operate their London flight from the domestic terminal today, and so I’m here instead of the international club in the basement.

The place is crowded with disappointed 49ers fans, and I thought all of the data-capable phones were in use. So I went to the bar to drown my sorrow in a sparkling water (at the lack of phones, not the Niners’ loss), but the bartender said sparkling water was at the dispenser, not the bar (what can I say? I usually fly American, and they make me get the stuff at the bar) and took me there. While filling my glass, I looked around, and found a dozen unoccupied phones, so I was able to log on and flip my page after all.

Don’t tell anyone about these phones — let’s keep it our secret, ok?