Joho the Blog » travel

February 1, 2012

High-res St. Petersburg

Here’s a beautiful high-res view of St. Petersburg.

A couple of hints: Click on the “stop” button at the bottom to stop it from auto-rotating. And you may find that your keyboard’s arrow keys make the image easier to control.

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November 9, 2011

You Barcelona Birds

You Barcelona birds don’t know how good you have it.
You give your city two stars
because once a tourist left you a crust that had some mustard on it —
Don’t eat the yellow bread, is that so hard to remember? —
and last February a pigeon bullied you aside.
You ought to come to my city some February.
Is there even a word in Spanish for slush?
Yeah, Boston would grow you a pair,
and then would shrivel them up until they make a high-pitched ting.
How you like them tiny frozen apples?
So why don’t you go back to TripAdvisor and fix your ratings
even if you have to make up a new login.
Try “A_Little_Perspective23″
or “WuzWrongDaFirstTime.”
Stoopid Barcelona birds.

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November 8, 2011

How to tell that you’re at a European industry conference

I’m at the Gartner conference in Barcelona, giving a talk sponsored by Telefonica. And there is no doubt I’m not at an American industry event:

  • Wine at lunch.

  • Snacks at the break have multiple parts, none of which are chocolate, caramel, or creamy nougat.

  • They expect you to have a favorite “football” team.

  • The corporate dinner at an opera house begins with a tour of a stage set that consists of a giant statue of a woman’s hindquarters with her anatomically-correct vagina lit up in red.

  • If you translate “euros” as “dollars,” everything is quite reasonably priced!

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November 2, 2011

The hotel with no metadata

I’m staying at a “boutique” hotel in NYC that is so trendy that it has not only dressed its beautiful young staff in black, it has removed as much metadata as it can. There’s no sign outside. There are no pointers to the elevators on the room floors. The hotel floors in the elevator are poorly designated, so that two in our party ended up on a service floor, wandering looking for a way back into the public space of the hotel. The common areas are so underlit that I had to find a precious lamp to stand next to so that the person I was waiting for could find me. The room keycards are white and unmarked, without any indication therefore of which end goes in the lock.

Skipping metadata has always been a sign of mastery or in-ness. It’s like playing a fretless guitar. But hotels are for strangers and first-timers. I need me my metadata!

BTW, I think the hotel’s name is the Hudson, but it’s really not easy to tell.


March 23, 2011

Yet another reason to hate your mobile provider

4. [NOTE: (These notes are in reverse chronological order. I have numbered them for your reading convenience.)I unlocked my Blackberry by calling Verizon support. I bought an Orange SIM card in a cigarette store in the Old City of Jerusalem for $10, plus $9 of calling time that times out in a week. So, I now have a working phone. It does not come with a data plan, however.]

3. [NOTE added minutes after the note right below this one: I’m on the phone with Verizon. It is indeed $20.48 per MEGABYTE. But wait…I am now talking with a tech support person who assures me that attachments don’t count unless you actually download them. Well, that’s something. She, however, is also telling me that the first two reps I talked with are wrong; in fact (says the tech support person), Verizon’s international plan gives you 70MB per month for $100, and every megabyte after that is $20.48. That’s still piracy, but the broadsword goes into you slightly more slowly.]

2. [Note added minutes later: Some other knowledgeable people tell me that Verizon must mean $20/gigabyte, not per megabyte. So, this may have been a mistake by the the service rep. I would happily take the blame for any misunderstanding, except that I confirmed that the rep said “megabyte” by inquiring, “PER MEGABYTE? PER MEGABYTE? ARE YOU FREAKING CRAZY!!!!!!!!!!,” to which he replied in the affirmative to the first two of the three questions.]

1. I’m going overseas tonight for a week. In the past, I’d call Verizon and have them switch service from my Droid to my previous phone, which was a Blackberry with “world phone” service. For $2/day, I’d get unlimited data access, so I could check my email and perhaps check the news on the Web now and then. (Believe me, on a Blackberry you don’t want to do a lot of heavy Web browsing.)

Today when I tried to make the switch, Verizon informed me that they have changed the plan, entirely for the benefit of their customers of course. So, now it’s $20 per megabyte. Holy crap! What kind of unearthly profit margin is that?

My knowledgeable friends tell me that that I should figure 50-100 emails per megabyte (although that number is conservative). So, no email for me. That’s what happens when the “free” market is so pwned that it laughs in the face of competition.

And these are the folks we’ve handed our Internet to? Great. Freaking great.


November 27, 2010

Rio’s violence bloggified

Debora Baldelli has a thought-provoking post at Global Voices about the reaction in social media to the recent violence in Rio de Janeiro.

My interest was initially piqued because I was in Rio a few weeks ago for a library conference, and found the city fascinating, regretting that I had given myself only one meagre afternoon free. The beaches were empty, and the tourist industry was just groggily waking itself up. Above the eerily unused festive booths, the poor look down, quite literally, from favelas wrapping the bases of the sudden peaks emblematic of the city. The mountains then continue up in inhuman, humbling, vertical lines.

Some cities a casual visitor for a day can fool himself into thinking he understands. Not Rio.

So, I was very interested to read Debora’s round-up of what the local social media had to say about the police reaction to a wave of violence in the city. For example:

The need to know what is true or false, and which areas were or were not being attacked, made @casodepolicia launch two hashtags #everdade (#truth) and #eboato (#rumor), through which information revealed on the web was verified in real time. The tweet reached 10,000 followers on the fifth day of the terror in the city.

Debora is positive about the overall contribution of social media:

… a good portion of the violence reported after this series of attacks was already common before. The sounds of shooting are not exactly anything new in Rio de Janeiro. What is different this time, however, is that everything is happening at the same time, and everything is being spoken of, reported and investigated as part of the same giant problem. The population of the city is being tempted to speak out and be heard (whether through the Disque Denúncia [hotline] or whether on Twitter), and being taken seriously by the authorities. When a person reports via tweet, sees their report being investigated, and hears of police action, this not only stimulates the participation of residents but also gives credibility to the police. Everybody wins.

Of course, the voices being heard in the social media do not come from the favelas, as least in Debora’s report. Matters will be different yet again when we can hear those voices, instead of just feeling their gaze.

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October 19, 2010

In Rio

I’m giving two talks and participating in a panel discussion tomorrow at the national meeting of Brazilian university librarians in Rio. It was a long flight here, and I slept very badly on the plane, but it is still hard to complain about being given a free afternoon to wander around Rio.

I spent about 5 hours walking and only saw the beaches (Ipanema, not Copacabana … even the names have incredible resonance) and the Centro. I didn’t take the tram up to Christ the Redeemer on the grounds that I’d rather see the city from the ground than from the air. I didn’t take a favela tour, on the grounds that I didn’t have time and there’s something freaky about middle class Americans wandering through Brazilian poor neighborhoods, although it would have been fascinating. I spent most of my time lost.

So, what are my conclusions? Five hours is not enough to even fool myself into thinking I have seen Rio. My second conclusion is that Rio is clearly a very very interesting place. Not as resort-y as I’d thought (which is fine with me since I’m not a beach sort of guy) and full of life. Plus, everyone I’ve met, including the people I asked directions of, has been friendly and helpful. Sunny, one might say. Of course, the margin of error on my little incidental poll is about 45%. Still, you get a sense, a provisional sense.

I would like to come back for longer, if only because it’d be pretty much impossible to come back for any shorter. But mainly, I find the place fascinating. Not to mention that I am a Brazil fan.

Now for the ritualistic re-writing of the main talk I’m giving, even though I have worked hard on it and thought I had a final draft. Ah, neurosis! What work can’t it undo?

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April 18, 2010

Volcano 1, Internet 0.01

In a time of international crisis, the Internet failed almost utterly. At least in my limited experience.

Here are the things that I could not do over the Internet when, just as we were about to go through passport control for our trip to New York, the Barcelona Airport closed:

We could not find information about the closing posted on the Web when we needed it at the airport.

Email notifications from American Airlines about the flight delay and then cancellation came about an hour after the news was spread in the airport.

It was not possible rebook a flight using the American Airlines web site. That required a two-hour phone call to AA.

The Spanish train service’s site would not take orders for tickets. It contained no information about how to proceed, or about the multi-hour wait-times at the Barcelona station where tickets are sold.

There was no updated information about ticket availability for various trains. Nor was that information accessible at the train station except by waiting on a three hour line.

There was no obvious way to get information about the availability of rental cars, buses, cabs, or people willing to drive you to Madrid in their own car.

As far as I can tell, only three online services actually helped the stranded traveler: Twitter (see the #ashtag hashtag), Skype, and good old email.

This was not the Internet’s fault. It was moving bits faster than Icelandic volcanoes move ash. But the services built on the Net were tested by a non-lethal international crisis and crapped out. Oh, I’m sure there are cool and useful sites ‘n’ services, but I’m a fairly sophisticated Net user, and I didn’t find them, and what I did find seems not to have been built to work during times of crisis.

Makes you wonder about the implications for national security…

[THE NEXT DAY:] Given the level of Twitter activity, I’d probably upgrade the Internet to 0.2. Maybe even a tenth higher. It’s great to have a tool that’s being used bottom up for ad hoc (jeez, there’s a word I haven’t used in a while … it got eaten by “bottom up” and “grassroots”) group-forming and community support. Check the comments for some hashtags to follow.

But imagine an incident far more disruptive and deadly when we really needed to move masses of people quickly. The major transportation and travel institutions that would do the mass movement of people seem to be woefully unprepared and unable to scale up quickly. Twitter would help, but not being able to find out which buses and trains are running, etc., would magnify the disaster. We shouldn’t have to rely on Twitter for the sort of information that could come directly and immediately from the sources themselves. Not to mention that we need to be able to communicate with those sources directly so we can book travel. Twitter’s great, but having Twitter access is not the same thing as being prepared at a national level for crises.


April 16, 2010

Veggie in Barcelona

Just a note to fellow vegetarians passing through Barcelona: The best vegetarian restaurant we’ve found so far is BioCenter, 25 Fortuny, right off the Rambla. The menu is fairly small, but the food was really good. We had a very tasty seitan dish (sort of how I remember veal) and gnocchi. Reasonably priced, too. We haven’t been to many of the local veggie restaurants – see for a list – so there may be better ones, but you’ll get a tasty meal at BioCenter. And tell them Los Lobos sent you. (They won’t know what you’re talking about, but you might enjoy their momentary look of confusion.)


The next night: We had a lovely meal at Smilo, which bills itself as a pizzeria but has a very good Italian menu with numerous veggie entries. The pesta ravioli and veggie risotto were both delicious. The place is bright, clean, and very friendly.

Later still: We had a lovely, delicious meal at Vegatalia , off Las Ramblas. The eggrolls were fanatastic, and the risotto and seitan were delicious. Clean and friendly. Highly recommended.


April 14, 2010

In Barcelona

Light bloggage because my wife and I are in Barcelona for a few days. (Hint: Frequent flyer miles have a lot to do with it.)

I haven’t been here since 1971, when Generalissimo Franco cast his cold chill on the place. The city is as beautiful as ever, and now so lively. Loved our first half day. Looking forward to another two.

Some random observations:

Who was the first person who looked at one of Gaudi’s plans and said, “Yup, I want to spend a lot of money to build one of those”? The blueprints must have had laughinstock written all over them. Very cool, though. What you at first think is sort of silly at seemingly random turnings reveal angles of great beauty. These buildings make you remember how utterly boring most modern architecture is.

We visited a recently unearthed synagogue in the old quarter. Tiny. It’s not an active place of worship, but my wife discretely prayed there. The historical marker on the outside has been covered with a gradffito that – weirdly – only revealed itself in the photo I took: Free Palestine.

Why do street singers/guitarists around the world confine themselves to the 1960s-1970s songbook? Is “Knock Knock Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” really that good? On the other hand, we heard a street guitarist playing classical Spanish music so well that we bought her CD from her: Tita Avendaño.

We’ve seen almost no smokers. I’m beginning to think that Europe consists of two cultures at this point: Smoke-free surface-dwellers and smoking mole people. It’s the only explanation.

We’ve been eating well as veegetarians. We had a very good, simple tapas-like dinner last night in a local place, and right now we’re using the free Net at Ovni, an all you can eat buffet that is listed as vegetarian, although do very small pieces of ham count as vegetarian in Spain?

Anyway, having a great time. Wish you where here.


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