Thursday, December 30, 2004
This neatly sums up the arguments against digital rights management and copy protection. It's a credit to marketing that so many ordinary users accept it, and even defend copy protection, because they think it is the "right thing to do." Piracy is wrong, but so is DRM. The two aren't related.
Whether you agree with him or not (I'd be surprised to see a UN "executive" going over well in some circles), it's good to see U.S. military people applying some serious thought to increasing security. We're still in the putting-out-fires stage at the moment.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Imagine this: What if Microsoft did what Apple or Sun Microsystems did. By recognizing that the value it provides is a user interface and cool software, albeit somewhat buggy, it could start concentrating on its strengths and leave the increasingly commodity stuff (the operating system) behind.
For example, Apple ditched its own operating system, adopted a free, open-source version of Unix, and built their user interface on top of it. Similarly, Sun is giving its latest operating system away for free, using an open-source license, and concentrating on what it does best: make great computers. Apple has certainly benefitted. Mac OS X is far more secure and easier to use than Windows, while it's too early to say if Sun (which has loads of other problems) will benefit.
Microsoft already does something like this with the Mac, and has for many years. It provides Microsoft Office for OS X, in a version that's more or less closely in synch with the software on Windows. The next version of Windows is supposed to depend for its user interface on a graphics system that could easily (I think) be moved to other operating systems. What if you were able to buy that interface, or parts of it, or Microsoft Office, or .Net or other Windows components for Linux or FreeBSD? Call it Microsoft Desktop, competing with, or building on, something like Gnome. The NT and CE base operating systems are very good.
I'm guessing that, after an initial period of some loss, Microsoft would end up with a net gain as it adds application sales on other operating systems, eliminates the suggestion that it is competing unfairly and puts the company in a far better position for the future. It will be able to take advantage of all sorts of advances in operating systems without having to steal it or develop all of it itself.
Friday, November 12, 2004
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Thursday, November 04, 2004
It's eerie reading stuff like the following, from a popular right-wing blog. It's like something from another planet. Have I really been out of the country *that* long? I actually liked Bush Sr. and I respected Reagan. I think Michael Moore is an over-the-top propogandist that sometimes makes watchable partisan documentaries. In short, I'm what I thought was a center-right person with an open mind.
What has the Republican party become? Curb-stomp the bastards? What the...
"My life’s goal is to see the Democratic Party virtually obliterated and left as a rump of people like Stephanie Herseth who both mostly agree with us anyways and are easy on the eyes. That’s the future of the Democratic Party: providing Republicans with a number of cute (but not that bright) comfort women."
"We’ve got their teeth clutching the sidewalk and out [sic] boot above their head. Now’s the time to curb-stomp the bastards."
"Those who didn’t support Bush can go and perform a certain anatomically impossible act. They lost, now they can sit in the back of the bus."
Oh my God.
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
Oh, come on. Concede already. The Democrats need to come up with a plan to convince truckers, farmers and waitresses in the Midwest that supporting tax cuts for millionaires isn't in their economic or political interest. Support from the cities and suburbs just isn't enough.
They just failed this time. Again.
Monday, November 01, 2004
Friday, October 29, 2004
Update: I wrote something earlier about fiscal whatever. Who am I kidding. It's the war. Saddam was evil, yes, but the war was a big strategic mistake that did nothing to make us or the world safer. Bush's father was a lot smarter about this and did the right thing -- cripple Saddam and contain him. I don't think Kerry isn't going to have a lot of leeway in cleaning up, but he strikes me as *somewhat* more rational.
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Thursday, October 21, 2004
"It was actually happening. The nerd was kissing the homecoming queen. Paper was beating scissors; scissors were beating rock. Charlie Brown was kicking the football. The Red Sox were beating the Yankees for the American League pennant."
-New York Times
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
This is, without doubt, the most interesting blog to follow lately. Andrew Sullivan (no relation), a conservative, is getting more and more rabid in his support of Kerry. I don't think he's alone. I've met a few life-long Republicans who are relunctantly voting for Kerry -- mostly fiscal conservatives (voting against the budget deficit) and those from the libertarian wing (voting against the scaling back of civil rights).
I've voted already, so now the whole thing is just entertainment.
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
It's arguable that learning Windows, a browser, Word, Excel and maybe PowerPoint is adequate. More than 90 percent of the computers the children will encounter when they leave school will have just that. And, really, is their education any worse than mine? Did learning Basic and Pascal on an Apple IIe, learning to type on an IBM DisplayWriter and doing my homework on a bank of overused Macintosh SEs actually make me more or less prepared for the future? About the only skill I have from those days (and an extremely useful one) is typing. And I didn't need computers for that.
So what should kids be learning today? If I were given the task of designing a computer curriculum for "normal" secondary school-age children (not computer science majors), what would I teach?
- A bit of history. I think it's important to learn where computers came from, what has been tried before, what did and didn't work, etc. It doesn't have to be deadly dull, just some basics. How many children today know that a "computer" used to be a job title for a human being? That computers were first used to calculate trajectories for cannon fire and codebreaking? Or know any of the personalities that invented computing, boolean logic and the Internet? That the first programmer was a woman? How about the mouse and windows? Or the first person to come up with the idea for hypertext? Those are ideas that were ridiculed at first, but went on to change the world. Learning about it demystifies the process.
- The hardware. I'd have them build a computer or two, to demystify the PC. I'd also take apart a few specialist computers -- a Mac, a high-end server and a handheld PDA -- to show the things they have in common and where they diverge for particular applications.
- The operating system. I think it's important, early on, to instill the idea that Windows isn't everything -- that there's a world out there, put together by people not much older than you. For fun. You can learn this by putting Linux or FreeBSD on the computers that we build. I'd show them around the Mac's OS X, how DOS and Windows work and something behind the philosophy of each: "Small is beautiful" for the Unixes, "It Just Works" for the Macintosh, and whatever the philosophy du jour of Windows is at the moment.
- Some programming. I still think it's important to learn programming, and it doesn't matter much what you use. Today, I'd choose Python instead of Pascal and Basic, because it's super easy to learn, doesn't limit what you can do (OOP, for example) and runs absolutely everywhere, from mobile phones on up. For graphical user interfaces, I'd use wxPython for the same reason. I've found that learning to program has benefits that go beyond computers -- helping in math and general problem solving, for example. Again, learning that you can write software also demystifies the process. I want them to think, "hey, I can do that."
- Networking. You wouldn't have to go into all of the layers, but a basic understanding of how the Internet works would be a very useful. I'd have them put a Web site together, telnet to the Web port and see exactly what happens underneath the level of the browser and write some basic Web pages. I'd show them how e-mail works and introduce them to the concept of a firewall. Again, the idea is to demystify, make them feel like it's no big deal and show them that a world-changing system is built on some pretty simple concepts.
- System design. The grand finale would be to split them up into small groups to solve a problem -- run a small office in a particular industry, an on-line shop, factory, whatever. The idea is to get them introduced to some of the basic concepts -- the management of data over the long-haul, ease of administration, keeping the price to a minimum, etc.
Sunday, October 17, 2004
But I'm getting there, slowly. I have three computers in the house, any of which can play music and have speakers of some sort attached. The big challenge with a large collection of anything is making sense of it: finding the best songs, organizing them into playlists, etc. I've tried numerous programs. The best right now is Apple's iTunes, which works on either Windows or the Macintosh. It doesn't, however, work on Linux.
One solution I've tried today is to use the free software that you can download from the Squeezebox site. The SlimServer software installed easily on my Windows XP-based PC and automatically uses iTunes playlists. You control the software from anywhere using a Web browser and play the music on anything that can play MP3 streams -- Winamp, xmms on Linux, etc. -- not just a Squeezbox. So far, it's working great.
Thursday, October 14, 2004
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
Sunday, October 10, 2004
This may be old hat to many, but I thought it may be useful for someone, somewhere. Here's how I do it using Firefox.
Step one: Register with del.icio.us
Create an account at del.icio.us. The bookmarks you create here will be viewable by anyone (mine is linked at the side of this page, under my profile), but you need the password to add anything. Click on the Register link.
Step two: Add a couple of important bookmarks
The first thing you see when you register is the "About" page, which has some important links you want to save. Drag the "popup post to del.icio.us" link to your links bar (the part of your browser just below the address area). I'd also suggest using the "my del.icio.us" link as your home page.
Step three: Save your existing bookmarks
Copy your existing favorites/bookmarks to del.icio.us by going to each page and clicking on the popup post that you put in your links bar. Type at least one tag (or keyword) for each bookmark. Don't worry, you can edit these later if you want to organize your bookmarks in a different way. I'd suggest just starting with one tag for each bookmark -- a simple one, like "news" or "travel".
Step four: Subscribe to your bookmarks
When you're finished, your page at del.icio.us will have all of your bookmarks organized into categories, using the keywords (tags) that you assigned them. They're listed on the righthand side of the page, with the number of bookmarks in each category. Now use Firefox's ability (since 1.0PR) to subscribe to some of those categories using RSS (Really Simple Syndication).
For example, if you've saved several bookmarks under "news," click news and then click on the red RSS button at the bottom right of the browser, then choose the "Subscribe" option. You'll get a dialog box like so:
Rename the bookmark (in this example, "news" would be a good choice) and click on OK.
After you've done that for a few catagories, your bookmarks will have several folders, all containing a list of the links stored on del.icio.us.
Now, if I'm at work and I spot a new news site I want to save, I simply add it and it's available everywhere, as long as I've subscribed to that category.
Friday, October 08, 2004
Click where it says [click here to start] and then, when the first picture appears, press and hold the up arrow on your keyboard. Yes, it took me a while to figure this out (because I never read directions). It circles back to the first picture after a while.
Thursday, October 07, 2004
You Call That a Major Policy Address? - In a week of devastating revelations about his Iraq policies, Bush has nothing new to say. By Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan has the best explanation I've ever seen on the advantages of the incumbent in elections. Would I have broadcast it live? You bet. The chance of him actually saying something was just too great.
I've found similar in the logs of the PC the kids use at home, and that one has two firewalls, a NAT (network address translation) router, antivirus software and a spyware scanner. I worry about family members (often running an old version of Windows that hasn't been updated in a while) who know nothing about any of this and are probably wondering why their new cable connection is so slow. Perhaps because their PC is now a zombie, used to forward porn spam or phish from the Russian mafia? I'm not being too paranoid.
I'm beginning to think that Windows should be left to the experts now. Use a Mac, or Linux if you can get someone to set it up for you. You'll be a lot safer. But if you insist on, or have to use Windows, at least switch to a browser and e-mail program that isn't as much of a target.
Wednesday, October 06, 2004
There's no such thing as a completely objective journalist, but 99 percent of issues can be dealt with by sticking to one of journalism's oldest rules: show, don't tell. Don't assert anything if you can't show it with evidence or attribute it to a credible source or two (no "unidentified sources" unless absolutely necessary). The other 1 percent of issues arise from news judgment. Reporters want a good story, so they look for conflict and surprise, and that's by far the biggest motivator and usually the main conduit for bias. If something works like it's supposed to, and everyone's happy, where's the story?
The Internet is a wonderfully efficient factchecker. Not because everything on it is true, it's because it is so easy for people on the Internet to let you know you've screwed up. Nothing moves faster than an email telling you that you've made a mistake in a news article. You'll know in seconds. That's what bloggers (or anyone with an email address) are best at.
What's interesting about the CBS case, is that it's a mistake in the 99 percent portion of journalism. They simply didn't check their evidence, nor were they transparent about the attribution for their assertions. And, for what? A story that says Bush used influence to get into the National Guard to avoid Vietnam? Is this a surprise? Has anyone really disputed this?
* Gmail for email. That also has my address book, but only a snapshot that I've imported from my Palm Pilot. It would be better if I could synch the two, so that edit/add/delete in either place.
* del.icio.us and Bloglines for bookmarks to Web sites I use frequently and blogs I follow. What these don't have, of course, is the usernames/passwords I need to access some of these. I have to remember those.
* I can get to work email and all stored data at the office by going here and clicking on the "Anywhere" link. I need a SecureID gadget to use that, though, but I usually have that on me. I've tested this on Windows, Linux and the Mac.
What I still need:
* An online calendar and address book (see above) that I can synch with my Palm Pilot and share with my wife, Theresa. It would also be nice if I could synch that with the fairly broken online calendar at work. Still looking.
The key to this idea is the recommendation software. I don't have time to find that cool, non-mainstream stuff. The problem with Amazon, iTunes and the like is that I'd need to buy a *lot* of stuff before the recommendations start becoming useful. We need a Web site that just lets you input the songs, bands, books, authors, etc. that you already like and then generate suggestions based on input from other people with similar likes/dislikes.
Tuesday, October 05, 2004
The first time I tried to synch with the Linux PC nothing happened. I tried lots of different things and, in the process, discovered that the operating system was seeing the device well enough (the system logs duly noted the connections and disconnections). It was the software above that -- gnome-pilot -- that wasn't working.
OK, I asked for help in the usual Linux way: I posted a query to a mailing list. Within a few hours, I got a reply that worked. Or at least gnome-pilot now saw the palm. A synch later and... now there are two of everything (contacts, calendar items) and about 50,000 (that's a guesstimate) blank to-do items. OK, so I should have probably set things up so that the information is just copied off of the palm the first time.
Now that I have everything supposedly working, I'm waiting for the synch to finish. I've been waiting since around 3 this afternoon. It's now after 8pm. I can tell things are happening because there are files on my disk, with names that you would expect (calendar.ics, calendar.ics-pilot-sync-evolution-calendar-1430.db, etc.) growing in size. Just very, very slowly...
Grrr. As usual I'll forget this pain once everything is up and running again, and then will turn into one of those fanatics calling for the downfall of Microsoft. So I better write this down before I forget.
Monday, October 04, 2004
As the friendly neighborhood tech geek, I get asked my opinion on MP3 players frequently. My advice is to get a player that can use straight, normal MP3 files. Stay as far away as possible from so-called digital rights management, or DRM. These are an ultimately doomed attempt by record companies, film studios and monopolists to get around what they call "holes" in law, and what we call rights. They will fail. It's only a matter of time. And when they do fail, you don't want to be stuck with an obsolete piece of equipment. Apple's iTunes is also DRM crippled, but the iPod plays MP3s too. That's what Balmer is refering to when he talks about "stolen" music. Give me a break. At least on the Apple iPod/iTunes there are tools available to turn the songs you buy into regular MP3 files easily. Best bet is still to just buy your music on CD and record them yourself into plain MP3 files (which the iTunes software will do). You won't be sorry. You'll still be able to play the music five years from now, when you're on your third computer and portable music player.
And don't steal! It just gives the DRM crowd more amunition.
Want to be a foreign correspondent?
"I am house bound.... There has been one too many close calls, including a car bomb so near our house that it blew out all the windows. So now my most pressing concern every day is not to write a kick-ass story but to stay alive and make sure our Iraqi employees stay alive. In Baghdad I am a security personnel first, a reporter second."
Yeah, that sounds fun. Tell me again: the invasion of Iraq made us safer, right?
I've switched the wife and (five) kids over the Firefox in the past few weeks and have run into only a couple of problematic sites. One of our online banking sites didn't work with beta versions of Firefox, but seem to be working now with 1.0PR. The kids use a Web site to transfer files from their school (Saint Joan of Arc in Ricksmansworth). The site appears to rely heavily on ActiveX components, so they have to use IE for that. As I'm writing this, I think I have an idea of how to get around that one, but I'll have to see.
Let's just say that the original medical examiner on this case wasn't exactly Quincy...
Watching a U.S. election from abroad can be frustrating. All I can go on is news reports and op-ed columns. I don't even see the ads. The white papers, etc., on the campaign Web sites are useless -- designed to say nothing at all.
My basic take on Iraq is that it was a distraction in the war on terror that didn't make Americans safer. That said, once in there, we have to finish it, or at least make the country stable enough so it doesn't turn into another Afghanistan. I don't see the contradiction in Kerry's remarks on Iraq that Safire comments on, but he makes a good point on Kerry's historical goof on the cold war.
Sunday, October 03, 2004
From: Eamonn Sullivan
To: diary entries
Subject: a blank slate
Getting a bank account in England is turning out to be harder than getting a place to live. My first attempt, last week, was a total failure. Without a permanent address (a work address isn't good enough), there is simply no way to get an account. I now have an address, so it should be easy, no? No.
I planned my second attempt a little bit better. I picked my company's bank -- The Royal Bank of Scotland. I brought a letter from my previous bank, a letter from my company, my lease, my passport and several other forms of identification. I even called ahead and made an appointment with my company's account representative at the bank.
The Bank of Scotland is located across the street from the Bank of England, in a section of London full of banks. In the center of this section is a giant statue of a guy sitting on a chair. I don't know who he is, but the posture is appropriate. I entered the bank at 3:55 for a 4:00 appointment and sat in a waiting area with about six other people. At 4:20, the rep finally led me to his office. Of the people waiting when arrived, I was the first one seen.
An hour later, I was still answering questions and filling in paperwork. All this for a checking account! At the end of the meeting, the rep's computer was telling him that my application was rejected. No need to fear, he said. He'll simply call my company tomorrow and get yet more information about me. Then, he'll talk with the bank's directors and put in a good word. Maybe next week they'll take my money. Wonderful.
It's an interesting sensation, being so untrusted. In the states, I have a good credit rating. I've paid off two cars, student loans, credit cards, etc. Here, I'm a complete unknown -- no credit history whatsoever. Why they just can't consult my credit rating in the US, I don't know. From what I can see, the British don't trust any information that they don't gather themselves. I'm not worried. I'll eventually get an account. But it's been an interesting walk on the other side of the credit society.
Next time, I'll move to Switzerland. I hear they're less particular.
Time for bed. Please let me know if I'm being annoying. I can send these out less frequently (and probably will when the rest of the family arrives).
From: Eamonn Sullivan
To: diary entries
Subject: Black Monday, and the rest of the week
Theresa got off OK on Monday morning, despite having to overcome a tremendous handicap (basically, I was hanging on to her leg and wailing).
After she was off, I rode the train back to London in a daze. I went to my room briefly, but deciding staying there would be bad for my mental health. So I took the tube to Tower Bridge and started walking. I walked all day, up the north side of the Thames from Tower Bridge, under London Bridge (yes, humming "London Bridge is falling down" to myself), past Westminster, to Vauxhall Bridge, and then back down the south side of the river. I walked for over four hours, covering probably over 10 miles.
The north side of the Thames is where all of the "London" things are, like the Tower of London, the Parliament building, Whitehall, Scotland Yard and Big Ben. One thing that sticks out in my mind on that side of the river was a monument with bomb damage -- Cleopatra's Needle, it's called. The bomb damage was left alone as a memorial; sort of a memorial within a memorial. It wasn't damage from World War II, oddly enough, but from 1917 -- World War I. The bomb went off in the middle of Victoria Embankment (a busy street that runs along the Thames) and the shrapnel was strong enough to gouge very deep pockets in granite. It probably shouldn't have surprised me that this was damage from World War I, since if a World War II-era bomb had dropped in the same place, there weren't be any memorial at all.
Although the famous sites are on the north side of the river, I found the walk along the south side to be more interesting. For one, you can actually see those famous sites a lot better from the other side of the river. Also, there was a better walkway on that side. Other things that stick out in my mind were the hundreds of kids on skateboards and rollerblades (doing things like leaping over each other), the restored Globe Theater, the Clink (which was a prison in the middle ages and is now a prison museum), a restoration of Sir Francis Drake's ship, and the ruins of Winchester Palace.
Winchester Palace, in particular, dredged up memories from history class. The Bishop of Winchester also happened to be the Archbishop of Canterbury (who is still the spiritual leader of the Church of England) and the entire borough of Southwark (pronounced SUTH-ick), where I was walking, was his manor for most of the middle ages. I noticed that the signs around Winchester Palace don't mention that the place was built largely with profits from the brothels that used to line the river on the south side. A certain assistant to the Bishop who was later to become the Archbishop himself -- Thomas Becket -- even wrote a set of rules for managing prostitutes (calling for weekly medical exams, for example) that held sway for several centuries. (Sorry for the history lesson. I couldn't help myself).
By the end of the walk, I was feeling a bit better. The work week since then, however, has been crazed. Remind me never to complain about an editor ever again. Several times this week, I experienced what the other editors call To-Do List Paralysis. That's when I had so many things to do, all of which depended on each other, that I couldn't figure out what to do next. And we're still just producing a dummy issue that won't be read by anyone. Next week is for real. I'm petrified.
I successfully sealed the deal on the house. Large sums of cash changed hands today and I walked away with a set of keys. Haven't had a chance to see if they work, however. That's on tomorrow's To-Do List, right after I write two news stories, line up my reviews and columnist for next week, open a bank account...
I better go to bed. I miss you all. Terribly.
I've never been religious about operating systems and just like to play with a variety. I like most of them (and I've tried dozens as a member of PC Week Labs in the 1990s), for one reason or another. I've always particularly enjoyed playing with Linux and have usually kept one running at home on whatever cast-off PC we happen to have.
I've just installed Fedora Core 3 Test 2 on a new PC I built and I'm impressed. This is really getting near the point where I'm seriously considering getting my wife and kids to use this instead of the headache-inducing copy of Windows XP we have. Let's face it, no matter what the zealots say, Windows XP *is* ahead in a lot of areas. But the bleeding edge of Linux (what Fedora is) is looking pretty good. With a real hardware abstraction layer, very good USB support and a nice *simple* GUI. (I'm on the gnome side of the fence, preferring "just works" to KDE's infinite customization.) My daughter plugged in her digital camera and it just worked -- the software imported the photos.
Sure, you've been able to do that before, but this was the simplest I've seen it.
So, dare I ask: Is it ready? Well, maybe in a couple more years. It's always next year, isn't it?
Friday, October 01, 2004
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Our first house, a rental in London. When I read this again, it's interesting that some of what I originally thought were positives -- a playground full of kids across the street -- became more negative with time.
From: Eamonn Sullivan
To: diary entries
Subject: parting is such ... etc.
Parting from Theresa the second time was a lot harder than the first. This time, I was staying at the airport and she was flying off, back to the US. And this time it was the beginning of a seven-week separation, not just a few days. Yesterday, the day I saw Theresa off at the airport, was the blackest day yet.
The weekend that Theresa spent here, however, was productive. We found a place to live, finally, in Ruislip (pronounced RICE-lip), in the London borough of Hillingdon, which is in the northwest of London. It's a three-bedroom house, on a corner, so it's only attached to its neighbor on one side. It has a fairly large (by English standards) enclosed garden and a garage. Downstairs, there's a large living room-dining room combination and kitchen. The kitchen includes a washer and dryer. Upstairs, there are three bedrooms and a bathroom. Two of the bedrooms are large (again, by English standards) and each includes a large wardrobe. The third is smaller, but still probably big enough for the two boys. There's even a second bathroom, but it's outside, in an outhouse in the backyard.
The house is across a quiet street from a field, with a creek and a playground. Within 15 minutes walk (or a two minute, double-decker bus ride) of the house, there are four Tube (London Subway) stations, leading to three different Tube lines. If one, or even two fail for some reason, I can use a different line. There's even a British Rail station within a 10 minute walk, which also leads into central London, in case the Tube is shut down entirely by a strike a something. Also within walking distance are three schools, a Catholic church and dozens of shops.
The only drawback is that it's a long way to work -- a solid hour on the Tube. That's about what I spent commuting to work in Massachusetts, however, so I'm used to it. This commute will probably be a bit better. Instead of staring at the brake lights in front of me, I'll be able to use the time a bit more productively. And, since I'm near the terminus of all of the Tube lines, I'll almost always get a seat.
The Ruislip house was one of several we looked at last Friday. At the end, it was down to two: The other one was a house in New Malden, which is a suburb of London in Surrey county. The New Malden house wasn't near the Tube (my only choice would be British Rail) and it seemed to have less activities around for the kids.
On Saturday, Theresa and I spent several hours walking around Ruislip. One of the most encouraging signs was the 30 or so children, of all ages, playing in the field and playground across the street from the house. By the end of the day, we had pretty much decided, but we still went to the neighborhood church on Sunday evening, just to be sure.
I have to go to bed and I haven't even gotten to Black Monday yet. I'll write again tomorrow.
My first experience of Indian food, and it took me literally years to get over my self-consciousness about how I dressed. I still look like an American...
From: Eamonn Sullivan
To: diary entries
Subject: Another update
I might as well file these frequently while I have the time. By next week, I'll be swamped. This week, I'm blissfully ignorant of what I should be doing.
Yesterday's new experience was my first trip to an Indian restaurant. They exist in the US, of course, but I've never been to one before. They're all over the place here -- even more common than Chinese restaurants in the US. Indian food is the cheap eats of choice.
Last night, I got back to the hotel about 8pm, starving. So I walked about two miles through a somewhat dicey-looking neighborhood to an Indian restaurant. The place was recommended to me by the hotel's bus driver. Of course, I immediately forgot the names of all of the foods suggested to me by various people, but they were patient enough to translate my vague descriptions -- "Chicken thing...spicy. Bread thing...stuffed with potatoes and veggies, I think." -- into actual menu items. I had to ask for a plastic folk or spoon. They found one, and were nice enough to wash it for me.
While they were looking for the restaurant's one plastic utensil, I asked if I could add a bottle of beer to my order. The guy behind the counter said he really wasn't allowed to...."But, what the heck, here ya go," and he stuck one in my bag. I asked how much. Nothing, he said. "It's illegal for me to sell it for carrying out," he said, "so you can have it."
The food was good, not intolerably spicy, and I got way more than I could eat for about 7 pounds.
I dressed differently today, as an experiment. Black shoes, dark green pants, dark shirt, leather jacket, dour look on my face. It must of worked. For the first time all week, the street vendors stopped trying to hand me pamplets for sightseeing tours.
Until next time.
I moved from the Boston area to London to help start a new computer weekly in the U.K., called IT Week. The following is my first post to everyone home. I was still jet-jagged. It's interesting to look back at my first impressions of the country.
From: Eamonn Sullivan
To: diary entries
Subject: London calling
I've now survived my first 48 hours, so I thought I'd drop you all a note and let you know how things are going.
I hit the ground running on Monday. I arrived, on time, at 8am Monday morning with too much baggage and not enough sleep. Somehow I managed to get the baggage on a train from Gatwick Airport to London (a 30-minute train ride, approximately), then into a cab at Victoria station, and finally into the office. That was harder than it sounds. The straps on three of the four bags broke at various times during the trip. By the end, I was carrying the bags one at a time like grocery sacks, moving them in stages, sort of like they do when climbing Mount Everest.
When I arrived, I was shown my desk and computer (a well-equipped desktop, but no notebook) and immediately ushered into a big breakfast meeting to introduce the local PR firms to IT Week's editors. I was the first one introduced to the 200 or so flacks in attendance and had to spend the next couple of hours in chipper conversation. I don't know how well I managed. I had a days growth of beard and couldn't see straight. I looked like a heroin addict (i.e., my normal self, only more so).
After that, I was ushered into a induction program for new hires, along with a handfull of other people. The HR manager here is on vacation for a week in Tunisia, so we were inducted by an assistant (a new one) who didn't have a clue who I was and why I was here. She misspelled my name on all the paper work, for example, but that was easy enough to fix. Harder to fix was the sudden realization that my family wasn't covered under any health insurance while they are still living in the US (Ziff-Davis UK doesn 't offer any health insurance, relying on the national health service instead). The assistant had no idea how to fix that problem, and only seemed dimly aware that this was a problem at all (she suggested I wait until next week or the week after to worry about it!!). Fortunately, I got my boss to pay (about $1,000!) for an extension to our current health insurance for a couple of months, which went into affect immediately.
I survived until 3 or so, when a car came to picked me up for the hotel. I'm at a Holiday Inn in the London Docklands, which I wouldn't recommend. It's a long way from everything, including any Tube or rail stops, and it's a bit run-down and gloomy. My room is big enough, but it only has a porthole for a window (which is part of ship/dock motif, I guess) so it's very dark. The room service menu is also a bit thin. The only thing remotely edible on it was a burger, so I risked mad cow disease and ordered one. There are plenty of Indian and Chinese take-out places nearby, so I'll probably be frequenting those.
After getting that meal down, I took a walk along the Thames. Nice walk, nice neighborhood (at least the part right up to the river), horribly dirty water. Quite large objects floating all over the place. Remind me not to complain about the Charles anymore.
I went to bed around 6:30pm, fell instantly asleep, and woke, well-rested and ready for work, at 12:30am (God knows why, since that's 7:30pm, EDT). Since it was a bit early to go to work, I read until I finally fell asleep again at 4am. Up again at 7am.
Things looked up on the second day. I sit next to a guy who is being relocated to San Francisco next Sunday. He's been editing my section until I came, so I shadowed him all day and drilled him with questions. By the end of the day, I was getting the feeling that I might be able to do this job. Probably illusory.
I also had an eye-opening first meeting with a vendor. It was with Novell. It's new head of marketing in the UK is a South African. He spent a good part of the two-hour (!) meeting telling a room full of British how much he can't stand the British, how backward they all are, etc. Interesting. Novell will do well here. Maybe the British like that (they all just nodded a lot).
The weather is similar. One minute, I'll look out the window and it's a beautiful sunny day. Less than an hour later, it's pelting rain. An hour after that: sunny again. We even had a couple of thunderstorms, which the locals tell me is unusual.
The Tower of London is outside our window. I'm back a bit from the window, so I only see the top of the tallest tower, with a British flag flapping away on it.
Other things I've noticed: They dressed better here. No one over 25 or so wears sneakers, unless they're running. Mine mark me as an American tourist from miles away. I'll have to buy some shoes this weekend and a few non-jeans and shirts. They also wear dark, muted colors (mostly black). I stand out.
The television is a bit better in some ways. I watched Braveheart and Aliens on TV, unedited, and without commercial break. (Mental note: Watch the kids with the television). I'm sure they also run good movies once in a while.
That's all for now. I'll update regularly.