Air India

I won’t detail the series of bureaucratic ineptitudes that led to Chris missing his Air India flight, and the rest of us being transferred to a different airline without permission or warning that our flight would leave TWO HOURS early, but we did spend the flight singing the famous South Park song: “Blame Air India”.

Just to be clear: Do Not Fly Air India, no matter how cheap the tickets or how intriguing the meal selection. Avoid this carrier at all cost, unless you can somehow guarantee that you will be transferred to a different airline.

Paris is beautiful. I’ve been eating like a horse. But hopefully not eating actual horse.

Snails, however, are quite good.

Spain update

jamon.gifHi all – a quick update. I don´t want to type much since I´m using a cybercafe machine and the keyboard is greasy, perhaps due to the monumental consumption of pork products in this country. Great XForms tutorial this morning at the conference. I learned a whole lot about XHTML 2.0 as well. This is some damned exciting stuff for libraries and the library-ness of the web. I´ll try to talk some more about XHTML2 when I´m not dizzy from Spanish over-the-counter cold medicine.

Right now I´m going to stay away from the complicated topics and just wish everyone in Los Estados Unidos a happy Thanksgiving. Wish I was with you eating stuffing instead of sitting in a weird cybercafe looking at a pig leg and inhaling secondhand smoke. Good times. I´ll see you all on Saturday back at home.

Liveblogging Fundamentos Web 2005: Part One

Leader dog imageThe conference is in a combination of English and Spanish, with simultaneous translation headsets, so there’s a strange aural halo of chatter going on in the background. I’m providing my own simultaneous translation by blowing my nose every five minutes or so. Stupid cold.

Right now John Slaton from the University of Texas Accessibility Institute is speaking. I got a chance to speak with him for a few minutes before the presentation and was glad to hear about his work. I wish more Universities would have this kind of focus on making materials available to everyone. Granted, universities are much better at this sort of thing than most institutions. There’s usually an office somewhere, often in the basement of the library, which helps students with disabilities. Still, it’s neat to hear from a school that has taken a national role in developing accessibility standards. Hook ‘em horns.

Much of what we’re hearing right now from the W3C is "real soon now" about their next set of accessibility standards. Which is understandable considering the scope of this project. It sounds like there is a good understanding of the weaknesses of the current standards, especially regarding new and different combinations of technologies. The old standard assumes you are using just HTML, which is actually fairly unusual these days for large dynamic sites. At my library, we’re using Java, JSP, Struts, and some nonessential JavaScript. All of these languages are pretty tangential to the existing guidelines. There might be a new working draft announced tomorrow. Pretty cool. These are good folks, give them a break.

Spain! Ham!

Thanks to the noble efforts of our catsitter friends, the famous librarian-and-animal scientist couple Clay and Mike, our tickets to Spain arrived safely, and we spent six public transportation-filled hours in Madrid while we waited for our train to the north.

This might come as a surprise to some of you, but Madrid? Not a town for vegetarians. Within two blocks, we passed El Museo de Jamon, and Palacio de Jamon. Yes, that’s the Museum of Ham, and Ham Castle. Madrid was beautiful and huge and weird. We did a quick tour through la Plaza del Sol while searching for food. As the default sometimes meat-eater, I ended up consuming all things mysterious that arrived at our table. Which pretty much ended up being everything. We kept ordering things that seemed vegetarian, and they kept arriving covered in ham. Chris ended up eating a bocadillo and some cheese we brought from the UK.

The best library-related thing about Madrid was the Amazingly Clever and Fabulous Biblioteca Metro – sort of a bookmobile kiosk in one of the subway stations. It was charming, modern, well-designed, and the librarian helped us figure out the difference between commuter trains and metro trains. Sadly, we didn’t get a photo of it (or one of Ham Castle) because travel rule number one is: Sleepy people shouldn’t bring expensive digital cameras that they don’t own into downtown Madrid on a Friday night. So you’ll just have to imagine it. Mmm.

We couldn’t get a sleeping car to our conference in Gijon because they were all going to Bilbao, so we ended up sleeping in the brightly-lit second class compartment with our feet on our bags and cricks in our necks. Our guidebook, which shall heretofore be referred to as The Big Book of Paranoia, convinced us that every third person was a pickpocket, so that didn’t help with the sleeping. This morning was a blur, spent trying to speak enough Spanish on .2 hours sleep to convince the kind hotel lady to give us una cama de no fumando. We have now learned that the process of preparing a no smoking room in Spain involves removing the ashtray and spraying Drakkar everywhere.

Still, this may be the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in. I want the hotel decorator to come and visit my house immediately. Everything is modern and minimalist and ergonomic and just so not British. It’s Hotel AC Gijon. It’s a chain. I unhesitatingly recommend it, and not just because they gave us our rooms at 7am on a Saturday, when every sensible Spaniard is home with a hangover.

We to took a long hike around the city center this afternoon and walked along the sea, then returned to the hotel exhausted. Chris took gobs of photos of la Biblioteca Gijon for your viewing enjoyment. They have a cute and comfy reading room filled with middle aged men reading the newspaper.

We watched Pedro Almodovar’s Carne Tremula tonight on one of our laptops and now appreciate Madrid even more. I think this is one of Almodovar’s most accessible and least creepy films. If you want to check out a great piece of Spanish cinema but don’t want to yell “Oh God please don’t do what I think you are going to do” every five minutes, then this is the film for you.

Hi to everyone. I just read my London comments today and am Really grumpy to have missed the Women’s Library. But we also missed Westminster and The tower, thanks to some bad info about closing times. I also planned to become a reader at the British library, but we didn’t have time to return. So, feh. We’ll be back. And next time I’m bringing my 12 postgraduate degrees so I can stay.

Librarians in London

Hi there. We’re still in London. Chris is out of his conference and since he’s never been, and I’ve only been briefly, we’re doing major tourism. Which seems to involve extensive time spent exploring the wonders of London transportation. You do not arrive at places quickly here, in spite of the clean trains and cute two story buses. We keep making big plans and ending up spending most of the day trying to get to them.

A new better and cheaper US chain hotel (thanks hotwire!) has improved conditions considerably. Can’t say I miss the cigar-and-mold smell of the first hotel. Still, our current shower has three knobs and a button. I also took a photo of the Internet Explorer 403 Page error that appears whenever you turn on the tv, and the hairdryer which is intuitively located in (and immovable from) the center drawer of the desk.

Strange things seen:
A teenaged dancing string quartet busking in Covent Garden
Two women riding horses through the street in full English riding getup
A bobby carrying a submachine gun
A woman in full burqua walking two steps behind her husband
A jogger running through Hyde Park while smoking a cigarette

Strange things eaten:
Turkey and Stuffing crisps
Prawn saag
Brown sauce
Welsh goat cheese

The British Library is the boss of you

We saw The Producers last night in the West End. I know, I know. I live in New York. I just never get into The City. It’s five hours away. Besides, when The Producers was running with Harvey Fierstein and Matthew Broderick I was rather involved in school and didn’t have time to pop down for a theater weekend. So we saw it here, and it wasn’t bad.

So, there are some peripheral benefits to hanging around a conference that you aren’t attending. Chris is having a great time at the Neilson/Norman group thing, btw. Hi Chris’ family! Besides rubbing elbows with Jakob yesterday, I met a guy in the elevator wearing an eBay shirt who ended up knowing my cool friend Jake (hi Jake) who was just hired there to do UI design. Jake gives me Professional Hope, because he used to do approximately the same thing I’m doing at the lab, but now he’s raking in Bank down in San Jose. Of course since I live in Ithaca, I own a lovely house, and he lives in an apartment with roommates, so there is some justice.

Could one of my delightful British readers explain to me this towel rail business? It seems like such a good idea, a nice warm towel after your bath. But the thing really just warms up a couple stripes on the towel that cool down by the time you’ve gotten it out. We cranked it to 10 and waited 20 minutes or so. Are we doing something wrong? Should we crank it up to 11?

Our hotel is odd – it’s as if someone wanted to pattern it after a US hotel, but they were only allowed to see one for ten minutes and weren’t allowed to write anything down. The room looks fine, but the details are just off. I went to the sink a minute ago and there was No Water. There’s a closet near the door, but it has No Clothes Rod. Put your jacket on the floor! There’s No Fan in the bathroom, so water steams up the room and the windows are covered with mold. The room has a high-tech card lock, but a door next to the bed opens right up into the next room and is only locked with a little closet knob. Strange.

I forgot the camera yesterday. Sorry y’all. That’s ok, though. There was no photography allowed in the British Library exhibit room anyway, and that’s where I spent all day so you aren’t missing much.
Except that you are! Because if you aren’t standing in the British Library RIGHT NOW you are just not as happy as you could be. I was BLOWN AWAY by the fabulousness of the building and the collections. The new building wasn’t complete the last time I was here, so everything was new to me. Let me just say, I’ve been from one side of this galaxy to the other and I’ve seen a lot of strange things, but I’ve never seen anything like this: Shakespeare’s First Folio, the oldest manuscript of Beowulf, Pope’s handwritten transcription of the Iliad complete with his sketch of the shield of Achilles, Jane Austin’s writing desk, the draft of Jane Eyre, the illustrated manuscript of Alice in Wonderland, the Jungle Book, Finnegan’s Wake (Joyce’s handwriting is a mess! No wonder he’s so disjointed), the lyrics to A Hard Day’s Night written on the back of a greeting card, shall I go on? Ok. Admiral Scott’s diary left open to the horrible last page written as he froze to death, Sir Thomas More’s last letter to Henry VIII vowing loyalty, pages from Leonardo’s notebooks, a Gutenberg Bible, one of the first printed Papal Indulgences (hee), a stack of illuminated manuscripts, some hilariously inaccurate old maps with sea monsters hanging around Florida, and well…damn…just, damn.

While eating tuna nicoise with sparkling water next to a four-story stack of leather-bound books, I decided I want to be a geek for the British Library. These people have their ACT TOGETHER. If I have to go back to school and get 12 more degrees to do it, then that’s just what I’ll do. Because wow. Seriously people, wow.

3am in London

Well. They insist on calling it "9am" here, but you get the idea. I’m in Kensington, at Chris’ conference hotel enjoying their wireless connection. Or rather, their "wireless" connection. It only works in the lobby or the business centre (a room full of noisy hotel employees) but not in the room. In the room you can pay a separate per hour fee for an ethernet connection. Apparently UK hotels haven’t caught on to the wonders of PRINGLES CANS for expanding a wireless network yet. Get on it, people.

There’s this weird attitude toward bandwidth here that I’m finding difficult to understand. Everywhere you can see ads for expensive per-hour internet services, and the BBC news treats open wireless connections as Horribly Dangerous Vulnerabilities rather than an egalitarian sharing of resources. It’s as if a broadband connection were some sort of precious substance that must be protected from Unwashed Hackers who will Eat it Up. Which just seems silly. I’ve never run out of Internet. A broadband connection isn’t like the hot water for the shower. I don’t get charged more if I use more, within reason. You have to download a hell of alot of Daily Show episodes to put a dent in it. So if someone wants to sit outside my house and check their email, they can go ahead. I’ve got a firewall, I’m running OS X. Help yourself, enjoy. I’m certainly not going to make you buy a scratchcard with a 34 digit code that expires in 24 hours.

Yesterday was a foggy blur of various transportation methods. Highlights included the gay flight crew singing showtunes quietly in the back of the plane (hooray!), my melted airplane dinner (the whole thing! melted! including the packet of cheddar and the moon pie), and realizing we left the paper tickets to Madrid back on the bookcase at home. Paper tickets. Whoever heard of such a thing?

We wandered over to Westminster last night, but missed the last flight on the Eye. Gotta say, despite about 30 episodes of The Prisoner and all the James Bond movies, seeing Big Ben all huge and lit up as you come out of the subway is Very Impressive. Yesterday was Rememberance day, so we visited the Battle of Britain memorial and I got all choked up. Maybe it was the jetlag, but the awfulness of it all really hit me. If you get a chance, watch the Masterpiece Theater production Piece of Cake. It’s a great account of the RAF’s role in the Battle of Britain.

I’ll be taking it easy today, posting when I can, and taking photos with Chris’ friend’s Digital Rebel. I’m still moving a bit slow, despite the three cups of tea I poured into myself this morning at breakfast, but I hope to get to the British Library today, and as well as locate some of the Big City Shops that we poor Ithacans don’t have access to normally. Lush, here I come. 


 NEWS FLASH! I’m three feet from Jacob Nielson! He’s drinking tea! And discussing the semantics of user testing vs. user centered design with other speakers! I’m eavesdropping! But, being Midwester, I feel guilty about this, so I’ll toddle off.