Scandinavia, Day 1: Flight

Travel 2009-02-19 05:11

I always enjoy the ride on BART from my house to SFO. It’s fast, I don’t have to worry about where my stop is (it’s the end of the line, so when the train stops moving, you’re there), and it drops you off directly outside the international terminal.

Mostly uneventful flight with a layover in Chicago. Total time about 14 hours, but counting the 9 hours lost due to flying into the coming day, touchdown in København (that’s Copenhagen in the boring English spelling) happens almost precisely 24 hours after takeoff.
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Travel 2008-10-29 10:13

Having traveled to five different cities in three countries this summer, the one that stands out is Bordeaux, France. This city is beautiful, even moreso than Paris. Every building seems to be of 15th century construction, with detailed stone facades, wrought-iron scrollwork on the balconies, and huge banded wooden doors worthy of a Lord of the Rings movie. The narrow streets somehow feel intimate instead of claustrophobic; perhaps this is because most of the traffic is pedestrians. And the city’s relatively small size (same population as San Francisco, but spread out over more space) makes it feel a bit more relaxed than the usual pressure-cooker of dense urban streets.

Place de la Bourse, la Nuit. Bordeaux.
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Producers of Structured Indolence

Economics, Travel 2008-08-09 09:28

“There is also the question of competitive advantage. Most nations gain their advantage by making things more efficiently, and at lower cost, than their competitors.

To the extent that the French enjoy a natural advantage, it is in their inefficiency: They are the world’s most efficient producers of structured indolence. They are the kept women of the global economy; their status depends, in part, on their practical uselessness.”

Having just gotten back from a week in France, I can wholeheartedly confirm this. The quote is from the extremely enteratining Sarkozy Forces the French to Join the 1980s by Michael Lewis (by way of Megan McArdle).

The Next Generation of Air Travel

Economics, Travel, Infinite Series 2007-10-04 01:20

Air travel in the US sucks. Not just because of security checks in the airports: the airlines themselves are all very lackluster, sometimes downright maddening. This is the unfortunate outcome of being a highly regulated industry: the free market is constrained, and consumers of the product (in this case, passengers) get low-quality products and/or higher prices than would otherwise be the case.

There is some hope on the horizon. Southwest was one of the first, and more recently we’ve got JetBlue. Now Virgin America has joined the fray. Here’s a review of their inagural flight, including screenshots of the realtime Google Maps display available in each seat.

Next time you fly, try taking one of these guys. They are cheaper and better in most ways. Keep in mind that Southwest and JetBlue often use smaller airports (i.e., BUR or ONT instead of LAX, OAK instead of SFO). I consider this a bonus, since smaller airports have easier parking and shorter lines.

The TSA, and Air Travel Goofiness

Technology, Politics, Travel 2007-08-20 02:51

Bruce Schneier interviews Kip Hawley, the head of the TSA. They don’t shy away from the hard topics: taking off your shoes, confiscation of liquids over 3oz, ID checks, the no-fly list, etc. I’m impressed with Mr. Hawley’s answers and his willingness to speak publicly on the topic, even though I don’t agree with most of his positions.

By the way, the current spate of airlines telling passengers that they can’t use electronic devices at certain times during the flight seems to be utter bull. This post captures my feelings on the subject nicely. Though perhaps my dad (a professional pilot with 40 years experience in the cockpit) put it best: “Nah, cell phones don’t interfere with the instruments. I make cell phone calls from the cockpit all the time. I think the real reason is that it would be annoying to have a bunch of passengers yammering on their phones during the flight!”

Accurate Directions

Internet, Travel 2007-06-11 01:59

While typing in my zipcode to get directions on Google Maps, I accidentally left off the last digit. Apparently, this is a postal code in Belgium, and without the slightest hesitation Google Maps dutifully served up exact turn-by-turn directions between there and here. Step 24 had me quite amused:

They were even thoughtful enough to put the distances in kilometers, what with me starting my trip in Europe.


Travel 2006-07-20 07:58

I just spent the last ten hours crawling in, on, and around the ruined Incan city of Machu Picchu. If I was to try to sum up the site and the experience of being there in a single word, many candidates spring to mind. Stunning. Breathtaking. Spiritual. But I think the one I´ll have to go with is: inconvenient.

Not for me, mind you. Sure, the site is only accessible by two plane rides (one into Lima and then a commuter flight into Cusco), followed a long bumpy taxi ride that involves bribing several policios, which is then followed by a lengthy train ride, a bus ride up the mountainside, and then many hours of extremely strenuous hiking (if one goes up the Wachupichu trail, which of course one must).

No, I mean inconvenient for the Incas.

I mean really. It´s like they sat down and said - alright, what is the absolute least convenient place we could put a city? Maybe like, perched atop a razor-thin peak, one of countless such knife-like ridges throughout one of the most rugged mountain ranges in the world? Someplace where we have to haul up supplies for thousands of feet on the backs of serfs and alpacas? Maybe we can throw in there an elevation so high that oxygen levels are much lower than at sea level, making every bit of physical exertion twice as strenous?

And don´t forget terrain so steep that it´s impossible to have a residence that´s all on one level - we´d like to have to walk up a ladder to get to the kitchen or the closet or the bathroom please. Oh and - how about we build everything out of closely fitted stone blocks, hewn from raw bedrock, moved into place at the expense of great labor, and finely honed by expert craftsman until the pieces fit so tightly together that not even a knife blade can be inserted in between the stones.

Yes, my trip to Machu Picchu has made one thing abundantly clear: the Incas were fucking crazy. The kind of crazy that made them build one of the wonders of the world, sure, but crazy nonetheless.