November 2000

1 Nov 2000[link to here]

In the past few weeks, I've visited Edinburgh Castle, Craigmillar Castle, Eilean Donan Castle, Dunkeld Cathedral, Bothwell Castle, Glasgow Cathedral, and Melrose Abbey. (I'd been to those first two before.) I'm amazed at how much effort was spent to build each one, often over a period of decades. The pragmatism still evident in the ruins of a castle and the extravagant ornamentation of buildings devoted to devotion are testaments to human creativity. The current state of most of these buildings is testament to human destructiveness. One of the doors inside Glasgow Cathedral still has centuries-old bullets lodged in it.

I've been taking tons of pictures on my travels (many of which will go online months from now when I have a chance to deal with them), but it occurred to me today that I haven't taken many pictures of the sights in Edinburgh. It takes constant vigilance to be a tourist where you live. I've been good about sampling local foods and customs all year, but have let many museums and parks go unseen and architectural oddities go unphotographed. Maybe I'll fix that over the next few days.

2 Nov 2000[link to here]

Woah. Google lists my site first on a search for "devil stick". That explains why I get so much mail. My devil stick pages are not the best, but they may have been around the longest. It's a little sad that links don't keep up with the changing web.

7 Nov 2000[link to here]

I'm not the only one who thinks the electoral college system is no longer appropriate. According to the National Archives, there have been over 700 congressional proposals to reform or abolish the electoral college. It can be changed only by constitutional amendment though, which explains its tenacity. I'm eager to be rid of it, but I'm not sorry that it's difficult to modify our election process.

On a related note, I'd also love to ditch the Senate. I think it's dumb to have a governing body in which the 13 million people in New England get six times as many votes as the 33 million people in California. California's land area is larger than New England's by a similar proportion, so it's not a question of representing by area. (California's density is 213 people per square mile and New England's is 215.) On several occasions, California has considered splitting into multiple states. There are more widely acceptable arguments for it, but it might be a good idea just to scam extra votes in the Senate.

(Those population statistics are US Census Bureau estimates from 1999. The land areas are also from the US Census Bureau. New England is Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.)

8 Nov 2000[link to here]

I just looked at a map and noticed that I've spent nearly all my time in the past year within a one mile radius of city center. And I haven't been bored.

On Saturday I ventured beyond the one-mile limit to watch Scotland mop the pitch with the USA in an unsurprising rugby rout of 53-6. It was lots of fun, especially since the stadium was full of Scotland fans who were not used to seeing their team win.

Today I walked about ten feet out of my way to catch a production of American Buffalo, a play by David Mamet. I hadn't known of it this morning, but it was in the right place at the right time and I just fell into it. That's city life.

10 Nov 2000[link to here]

It turns out it's much cheaper to fly to London than to take the train, which seems a bit silly. It probably wouldn't be much faster though due to the crazy two-hour check-in lead time and the inconvenient locations of airports. I think I'll spring for the train so I can avoid evil baggage handlers and a tiny cramped seat.

Of course, I can't take a direct train because the tracks on the east coast of England are flooded. This is my second time moving to California, and the second time I'll have to deviate from my planned route due to flooding.

16 Nov 2000[link to here]

"Back in the US, Back in the US, ..."

I'm back in the US now. Being back is very strange. My accent and intonation reverted immediately, but I still use British words for some things. I caught myself saying "flatmate" and "anticlockwise", but those are better than the American alternatives, so I'm happy to keep them. I'm sure my weak British speech patterns will resurface when I talk to the right people, but my American friends will probably be disappointed that I won't have much of an acquired accent when I talk to them.

I've been back nearly an entire day now. I've spent most of the time chatting with Lyn and Steve, so I haven't really been out all that much, but it didn't take long for me to amuse myself with being a stranger in my own land.

I almost got in the wrong side of Steve's car when he picked me up at the airport. When I did get in and rode around, it felt weird. I felt like the steering wheel belonged on the other side. This is despite having spent very little time in cars in the UK.

My other traffic weirdnesses are more understandable from my pedestrian background. I saw a taxi, and it was all wrong. It had a taxi light on top, but the car underneath wasn't black and taxi-shaped. And, as expected, crossing a street is an adventure fraught with confusion.

Other fun weirdnesses: the ATM gave me green money, going out to eat is cheap, and I get to plug in my computer without the infernal plug adapter. The local coins are weird too.

London Travel

On my way out of Scotland, I stopped in London for a couple days to visit some friends. Arriving loaded with a few heavy bags, I succumbed and took a taxi to where I could ditch the bags. The driver tried his best to cheat me out of a couple quid. With my funny accent and pile of luggage, I had a big target painted on my wallet, but I wasn't as clueless as he was hoping.

I was impressed with the turnstiles in the London Underground. They were a tough design challenge, and they seem to have thought about it a bit. Zillions of people rush through, going as fast as the system will allow, and are required to insert a small paper card into a slot before the turnstile lets them pass. The card intake mouth has all the right angles, and despite my lack of experience, I zipped through at full speed all but once of a dozen tries.

I noticed the well designed card intake right away, but didn't think much about a couple other features until I used the DC metro today, which got those features wrong. One is the turnstile mechanism itself. In London, there are two doors that fold back. In DC, there are two doors that slide sideways. If the doors in the DC system don't move fast enough and are still partly closed when I slam into them, they might jam, and they'll certainly slow me down.

The DC turnstiles fail in a bigger way though. They require the same action as the London system: put in a card, take it out another slot, walk through. In London, you put your card in the front, and take it as it pops out on top, just in front of the gate. In DC, it pops out right near where you put it in. That's great for ATMs where the user just stands there, but by the time I finish putting that card in, I can't see the front of the turnstile anymore. Had I not known that I was supposed to pull it out (which I learned the hard way years ago, setting off alarms as I forced the gate), I would have been very confused. As it was, I was only somewhat confused as I hunted around for the card and blocked traffic.

While in London, I visited Egypt and Assyria at The British Museum of Imperial Conquest and Looting, often called "The British Museum" for short. They have a lovely collection of other people's antiquities. I have a lovely collection of photos of their lovely collection. I'll eventually post some of them, and also some of the other thousand photos I've taken in the past few months but haven't yet had a chance to sift through.

18 Nov 2000[link to here]

In the land of data, the man with search and optimization algorithms is king. Not very catchy, I admit, but I'm optimistic about my employability in the coming decade.

So I'm sitting around in Connecticut and my dad is talking about how New Zealand is only three hours behind California, and then he said "So it's only six hours behind here.", and my initial thought was "That doesn't add up. We're eight hours behind California here.". My bags arrived safely, but some of my brain is still en route.

A related adjustment tidbit: I keep converting prices from pounds to dollars, even though they're already in dollars. This makes everything seem more expensive than it is, but still cheaper than it would be in the UK. This will probably make me a bit stingy for a while. For months after I arrived in Scotland, I valued money less because the numbers were smaller. It doesn't matter what you know, it's still easier to spend six of something than ten of something, and it's easier to spend coins than notes/bills. I guess I must have adjusted somewhat since things are so screwy now.

I've read and heard many times about the wacky experiment where someone wears glasses that turn everything upside down. After a few days with the glasses on, their brains adjust and everything seem normal even though it's upside down. Then they take off the glasses and everything appears to be upside down for a while before they readjust. That's me right now.

Right now I'm sitting on a train, copying a CD. In this case (Moxy Früvous, The C Album), I'll buy it when I have a chance and I'm borrowing it from someone I know, but I had this lovely rebellious vision of copying CDs of fellow travelers since we happen to be thrown together for a few hours. It's really the same as Gnutella, only with a more personal touch, higher bandwidth, and better data description features.

26 Nov 2000[link to here]

I've done lots of American things in the past few days, and it's been lots of fun. I used my driver's license as ID for the first time in over a year. I got a big drink with lunch. (No, really big.) They had both Mr. Pibb and root beer, and since I've been jonesing for fountain versions of both, I mixed them together. Yum.

The US Park Service is finally going to ban snowmobiles from Yellowstone. Some friends and I snowmobiled into Yellowstone a couple winters ago. It was nice to be able to get into the snowy park, but the vehicles were very loud (and apparently pollute a lot) and I'm glad they're finally going away. I'm looking forward to having electric snowmobiles someday.

Snowmobiles produce nearly all the air pollution in Yellowstone; they emit 100 times as much carbon monoxide and 300 times as much hydrocarbons as do automobiles.