Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Travel talk

I wonder how often you have to go overseas before you actually understand how to buy and use their mobile phones? I thought i did, but apparently i was wrong. Before we left the US, we bought 2 SIMs with french phone numbers, only 1 works. Could be the phone. Could be the sim. Could be sunspots.

Friday, June 24, 2016


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


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


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. 

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


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


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


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.

Thursday, June 09, 2016


I donate money regularly to my local library, but when I realize how often I ask them to get books for me that I've seen at the local MegaBooks, and they do it, without a charge to me of any kind, I think "I should give more."

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Getting Personal with the Tech

Trying to find information about phone service connectivity to a small tablet that we have.  Found this on the Verizon web site:

Verizon's Products & Apps allows you to embrace your device and your Verizon account.

Wow.  Embrace the device.  Excuse me, me and the tablet are having a moment here, could you give us some privacy? 

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Post Secret

I found this one today.  I don't actually have a mental image of God -- not even sure if there IS that entity -- but I have to say that you could do a lot worse.  She looks smart, caring, and no-nonsense.

Saturday, June 04, 2016


Trying a recipe that it says makes a better lemonade or limeade. Basically, you squeeze the juice out, then chop the half rinds into quarters or eights.  Weigh them, then mix them in a bowl with half their weight in sugar. Let it sit for a couple of hours, then mix with the juice and some water (according to taste).

We'll see tomorrow.

Of course, what I really want is some authentic limonade in France.  Right now, its about a 70% chance that we'll go at the end of the month.  The floods are receding, but the big strikes - in particular, Air France and SNCF - have no end-dates. 

I'd like to say that getting stuck in Paris would not be so bad, but at Parisian hotel rates -- um, yeah, it totally would. Looking at this site a lot.


Wednesday, June 01, 2016


Learned tonight that a friend has a kind-of new boyfriend.  Kind-of because he feels it more strongly than her, and because she'll be leaving the area in two months, which would make it hard for him to keep in touch.

I was glad for her, and sorry about the keeping-in-touch part, until she mentioned that he's a Muslim.

And now I'm a little scared for her. Glad about the idea of a relationship -- she's had a tough time -- but -- scared.


This is a very perplexing time for me.

The plans - for which we have reservations, tickets, all of that -- are that we go to Paris at the end of June, spending three weeks visiting people whom I know in several cities, and coming home after a quick visit to the family who sent us their daughter, years ago.

Now I read about -
- strikes, affecting various portions of the country and/or its infrastructure, including the availability of fuel, inter-city train service, and possibly air travel.

- ferocious weather, such that the Seine is actually flowing over its embankments

- the possibility of terrorist attacks during the Euro soccer tournaments in June, and the Tour de France in July.

The US State Department has issued a warning for Americans to be very careful in crowded areas, and to be aware of the possibility of danger at or near the locations of sporting events.

We're supposed to be in Paris for five days, then either staying with friends or at a hotel in a quiet section of the country.  I don't feel any particular danger.  Yet the confluence of all of these has preyed on my mind, and made me uneasy. I don't want to find that inter-city rail has suspended service from one location to another (but you can take a bus, probably), or that our rental car needs gas (which you can probably find -- you can speak French, right?), or that the air traffic controllers are on strike.  Or the pilots -- they've been talking about that, too.

Maybe this isn't a good time to go?


I like Sanders.  I voted for him in the primary.  I hoped he would beat Clinton.

He didn't.

Now he comes across as a whiny little kid who is trying to delay his bed time just five more minutes.

Give it up, Bernie.   Just give it up.  Even if you did somehow manage to pull this out of the fire, through manipulation of delegates rules, you're not going to get Clinton supporters, because they'd feel robbed.  By you.  And they'd be right.

Just give it up.