Friday, June 24, 2016

Packing

There is nothing like packing for a trip that makes one realize just how much stuff one uses on a daily basis.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Travel

I'm sitting in the kitchen with one foot on the table, watching Star Trek videos.  It's a little hard to believe that in a little less than four days, we will be in France.  Paris, Lille, Toulouse, Aix-en-Provence, Nice, and a small town in Bourgogne.  Three and a half weeks, what with travel time between here and there, not to mention within the country.  Things are not calm, per se, but apparently the French government has decided to clamp down on some of the protests and marches.  You can imagine how well that's gone over.

I'm really looking forward to seeing my friends again, and introducing some of them to Joan for the first time.  Paris, I don't care so much about, but Lille is lovely, and Bourgogne is delightful, as is Toulouse and Aix-en-Provence.  Rainy and cloudy in the north, slightly rainy but also brilliantly bright in the south.  Gonna be tough to handle. Somehow, we'll manage.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Forecasts

In a series of vignettes in the comic movie Airplane!, Leslie Nielson''s character says "Guess I picked the wrong time to stop smoking. ..to stop drinking...to stop taking methamphetamines..." Well, apparently, I picked the wrong time to return to France.

In the last month, they have had multiple strikes, bad weather, flooding in Paris, and hooligans at their international soccer games. The strikes included airlines, and future strikes are projected to include train service in Paris.

Still, I was optimistic. They got it out of their system, I thought. The flooding will recede, people will relax - hey, its summer!, the weather has to improve!  I'll be able to get there, get around. By then, things will calm down.

Wrong. Another 4 day airline strike called for this weekend, by the fine pilots of Air France - neatly bracketing when my flight is scheduled to occur - and that strike was bracketed by 2 more national strikes. No Air France for YOU, this weekend. Or, possibly, other services. And it's still wet in Paris.

And later? Will SNCF, the rail system, have a strike? The hotel in Paris? The car rental? My French friends say Don't worry. There are always alternatives. We know how to deal with it. I'm not so sanguine. When you've got a schedule, one thing can throw the whole thing off. You find yourself stuck someplace, thinking what do I do now?  Where can I go? When you live in that area already, its an inconvenience.  When you don't.... 


A perky column in The Local (French news, in English) written 'by an American' (I say 'an American' because the author calls herself that - and mentions that she's lived in France for the last several years) implores Americans  to come to Paris.    We will go again, probably.  Though not soon..  And when we do, almost certainly not with Air France.

We're probably not going to go. (Though we might.  Don't you love the precision?)  Fortunately, we should be able to get our money back -- though how long it will take, who knows.  I don't feel badly for Air France and SNCF, but I do feel badly for the small businesses that aren't going to have our money.  I don't think that we will be the difference between success and failure for them.  But if enough tourists think as we do?  Then maybe, yeah. 
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Fun fact:  due to the United States' antiquated rail and airline system, it takes as long to get from Pennsylvania to Montreal as it does to get from Washington DC to Paris. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Overseas

The sister of my daughter's boyfriend just returned from an overseas study program.  She said that several times people came up to her and said a variant of this:

"I don't speak English very well.  Please do not vote for Trump."


Friday, June 17, 2016

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Film reviews

From an article about best foreign films of 2016:

Catherine Breillat is among the most ferocious chroniclers of female sexuality in all its variations, as she shows in practically all her titles up to her most recent, 2014’s Isabelle Huppert-starrer “Abuse Of Weakness.” But this tough watch, with its graphic teen sex, themes of sisterly envy (between the overweight Ana├»s and her beautiful, desirable sister Elena) and shocking denouement involving murder and rape, is the marker for how uncompromising, ironic and complex her vision can be.

I don't agree that a movie which requires murder and rape to make its point is 'uncompromising' and 'ironic'.  I think it's evil and horrible.  Artistic license is not a licence to do whatever the hell your 'vision' tells you to do. Sanity and morality exist to put a brake on those base impulses.   Or as Katharine Hepburn's character says in The African Queen:

Nature is what we are put on earth to overcome.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Friday, June 10, 2016

Wallets

Apparently, if you are going to wear a travel , aka anti-theft, wallet, its much much better to be skinny.

Tech

I am a technically minded person, though I don't consider myself a geek.  My wife is a technically minded person.  Both of us are comfortable with technology, though perhaps not as comfortable as someone twenty years younger. We wanted to buy a new tablet, and we were both surprised.

For our trip, and for general use in the US, we wanted a lightweight laptop or tablet that had the ability to connect to the internet via either WiFi or a cellular network, so that you could connect to the internet while stationary (at home, in a coffee shop) or while moving.  The Wifi part is standard, but the cellular connectivity is a bit unusual.

(Cellular capability appears to have multiple names, including 'cellular ready', 'LTE', and xG, like 3G and 4G.It appears that 3G and 4G are shorthand for 'third generation' and 'fourth generation' mobile technology.  Each 'generation'  introduces new capabilities while incorporating the capabilities that already exist.  'LTE' stands for 'Long Term Evolution', which seems to be a way of saying 'better than 3G, not quite as good as 4G, though we hope to get there soon." So 4G LTE isn't really 4G.... but it's close.)

We have cellular service with Verizon, so we  checked with a local Verizon rep to see if they sold the Surface 3, but were told that they did not. "AT&T and T-Mobile do", he said.  I asked if this had anything to do with the fact that Verizon is a CDMA network, while AT&T were GSM, and he agreed.   "If you get one", he said, "make sure that the box has the Verizon symbol, meaning that it is compatible with our network, and also that it has a phrase like 'cellular ready' "  As it turned out, this was correct but not complete.  As a precaution, I did a chat with a Microsoft rep, who confirmed.  Microsoft Surface 3 - none of the other Surface models - had cellular capability. 

Verizon didn't have it, and AT&T would want a new contract to sell the service.  At this point, I said well, the hell with this, I'm ordering it from Amazon. And two days later, a thin box showed up with a plain white box inside that had the Microsoft Surface logo and very little else.  Remembering what the Verizon guy had said, we checked the box before opening it (and I was hot to do that!).  No Verizon logo.  In fact, nothing about cellular connectivity capability at all.  This was a Surface 3 without the ability to connect to a cellular network.What?

I went back to a transcript of my conversation with the Microsoft rep.  Yep, that was what they said.  Surface has got it.  But the box didn't show it. WTF?  So my wife looked at a Microsoft site. Yes, the site said, the Surface 3 has cellular connectivity -- to AT&T, T-Mobile, and some other networks. Not Verizon.

At this point, we came to a realization. The Microsoft site did not say that every Surface 3 had cellular capability.  It said that cellular capability was available with the Surface 3.  In other words, if you don't ask for it, you don't get it.  You don't order 'Surface 3', you order 'Surface 3 with LTE'.  Otherwise, you get what we got.

And we realized something else. A Surface 3 which included cellular capability that worked in the United States would have to have connectivity to either CDMA or GSM networks, which are the only two kinds available here. Well, mainly. (CDMA stands for Code Division Multiple Access; GSM stands for Global System for Mobiles.  They are incompatible.  A phone, or a laptop cellular connection, that works with one will not work with the other. ) If the Surface box did have the Verizon symbol, indicating compatibility to a CDMA network, it would not have worked with GSM networks (which is what France has;  no CDMA networks there); if it had compatibility with a GSM network, it would have worked there, but not with Verizon here (though it would work with an AT&T or T-Mobile network). 

So we said screw it.  We mailed it all back to Amazon.  And we cursed the network weenies who can't merge the two network protocols. 

Boy, that was fun.