Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Photos from trip

Finally got the photos up on Picasa:


Friday, December 19, 2008

Happy Birthday To Me (or: Go West, Old Man!)

Happy Birthday in the local time zone happy birthday to me.

I get a thirty-hour birthday this year, thanks to flying West across six time zones starting at 10:30 local time (2:30 AM eastern USA time).

Monday, December 15, 2008

More blogging on Venice flooding

As I said before, Venice was flooded (again) in the morning, so we took a train out about 4 hours earlier than we had planned. I'm not terribly surprised, but CNN did a pretty bad job of explaining what was going on - this website gives context to the information I linked to before. I'm writing this on the train to Venice, because I actually downloaded this in the hotel room but didn't realize what I've downloaded:

Centro Maree forecasts the level day by day, summarized by tables and graphs. Here is how to read them:

* if the water level in St.Mark's basin is 65-68 cms., expect to find some water on the ground in front of St.Marks' church entrance. Important: do not think you'll see water 65 cms. high in St.Mark's square: this measure refers to the sea level.
* if the level is up to 85, expect some big puddles in St.Mark's square and in some "calli" (streets) in Venice. The middle area of St.Mark's square will be dry, as it is not perfectly flat. Wear water-proof boots!
* at 90 cms., St.Mark's square will be a lake of salty water. Some vaporettos (public boats) routes will be cancelled and alternative routes will be used. This is because they won't be able to pass under some bridges. Quite a confusion at boat stops. Lower areas in Venice can be accessed via special "walkways"
* at 110 cms, you'll hear sirens: this informs population to get ready. Most shops and warehouse at ground floors are likely to be flooded.
* from 120 cms to 140 cms, Venetians will get worried. Important: again, do not think you'll see water 120 cms. high all around in the streets: this measure refers to the sea level. Acqua alta can result in a 50 cms. water in the streets: which is not little anyway.

The point is that there is a "tide" in Venice that is about a third "regular old lunar" tide, half atmospheric effects, and some grab bag other issues like how much Antarctica's been melting this week. While we were there, the composition of the various sine waves meant that the tide was lowest at dinnertime.

If we read that chart backwards into the past (I couldn't find a "recent history of water levels" when I looked) then we get this story: when Rachel arrived at about 10:30, the water was near it's "second peak," about 100 cm - the high air pressure probably kept it lower the first day than it might otherwise have been. While she waited for me to show up in the train station, it peaked at 110/120 cm and then started going down. This, practically, meant that the plaza in front of the hotel and train station had one spot about a foot or so underwater, and that St. Mark's square was probably a foot underwater, maybe a bit more. The water went down about a foot while Rachel napped off some jet lag and by the time we took the "slow bus" (vaporetto) to St. Mark's square the square was above water, barely, and it kept getting lower while we were inside the chapel up until dinnertime. The air pressure then dropped in the evening and overnight, and that goofy siren about 8 AM was when the water passed 110cm again. When we went to get a train at 11, the water in front of the train station/hotel was back where it had been when I arrived the day before, or maybe an inch higher.

Now we're in Florence!
Venice was just a little flooded when we got there, and got increasingly less flooded over the course of last night, so while all the streets were pretty wet, we were able to wander through the city without going through puddles. Rachel believes that we are spoiled by good mozzarella cheese in America because mozzarella cheese doesn't taste much different here.

iPhoto is acting up and I'm having trouble uploading pictures as a result. Slept late this morning, but I today it's flooded again. Found this which is interesting.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Crazy Pills

There's something sublime about having a conversation where it is totally clear that you and someone else both think the other one is crazy. I walk into the music store that sells some electronics, maybe they have an adapter so I can plug my MacBook into the Italian output using either my American or Central European plug. The European plugs are slightly closer together and fatter, but they look superficially the same. The Mac World adapter set comes with both, and I picked up the wrong one. A lot of people at the conference have the same problem - the university only has Italian sockets, and lots of Europeans didn't realize they needed something different. Understandable.

"Que parle Englese?" (I ask in awful Italian)
"Si. Yes." (I should have noticed she did not, in fact, speak English with an Italian accent, so is probably here from somewhere else herself.)
"I need an adapter" (shows the business end of a MacBook power supply - E.U. style) "because this is European."
"Um... Italy is in Europe. That is an Italian plug."

It's not, for the record. I bought a universal American/European to Italian adapter in the Rome airport but left it stuck in the plug (arg).

"It doesn't fit in my hotel..."
"That's a problem with your hotel."

Well, sure. Most real hotels and tourist places use a compatible socket that works for both European and Italian plugs, but I'm staying in a dorm and hanging out at a university, which are not overtly tourist-friendly. So technically she's right, but clearly she has no clue what's going on. I try a different strategy:

"Okay. Are there American adapters?"
"Not within the city, maybe outside."
"Okay, thanks."

Then I walk down another block, find an electronics store, and buy a two-euro European to Italian adapter. I debated going back in and correcting her, but my inner don't-be-annoying censor won out.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

To Udine (or: Validate your Tickets and Hotels) (or: Expensive Mistakes)

I tried to collect thoughts before in the Rome airport, but those darn thoughts were not collecting. I will try to do so now.

Pittsburgh to Atlanta
The sun "rose" as a result of our taking off, which was pretty wicked - it was clearly dusk when we lifted off and then the sun was glaring in my eyes, and after a second I realized it was because we were going up. This is really cool if you can pull it off.

If you're flying to your home city, a seven hour layover is really preferable to a shorter layover because you can meet your family, actually leave the airport in an unhurried manner, and maybe have a meal. I went to church and then lunch with my family, and visited with the pastor (Dad's former assistant pastor and a family friend) and my AP Government teacher. Both Ms. Chambers and I can't go to the inauguration - me because I have a conference in Savannah that day, her because her oldest daughter (who I was in youth group with, eeps) is due to have a baby girl eight days later. She mentioned that her husband had gone to a wedding but she had stayed home because of the pregnancy. I resisted the temptation to mention Sarah Palin.

Atlanta to Rome
In Pittsburgh I got window exit seats on both of the Delta flights, which was good. There was a really big guy in the aisle seat next to me on the flight from Hartsfield-Jackson to Rome - he could put on a seatbelt without the seatbelt extender, but it was clearly uncomfortable for him to do so (you can't use a seatbelt extender and sit in an exit row - which is airlinespeak for "no fat people blocking the exits"). At first I was like "oh, crap, big guy," and it probably would have been uncomfortable if it hadn't been an exit row, but it was actually fine. I clearly amused one flight attendant because I was asleep two times they went by for food and it took me about thirty seconds to get my bearings and speak coherently about what I wanted or didn't want to eat/drink both times.

Had to go through security inside the airport (never understood why that worked like that). Had water in my red metal water bottle. Was told to go downstairs to pour it out and then "go through security, not line." Didn't really understand how that would work without getting yelled at at minimum, so I threw away the water bottle. Quickly realized I should have just chugged the contents, since, you know, I can drink a half quart of water if I need to.

Rome cannot decide what to call their airport, which leads to the impression they have like three airports.

Rome to Venice
This was the flight that somewhat goofy Alitalia decided to cancel and so Delta re-arranged for a later flight. Slept the whole time - woke up to pop my ears and as we were landing - the view landing in Venice on a clear day is pretty awesome, though.

Venice to Udine
The cancelled/rebooked flight meant that I lost the ticket I'd bought from Venice Mestre Station to Udine, however, after I bought the first ticket the conference organizers mentioned that taking local rail was the easiest way to do things anyway. Commuter rail has been a significant part of my life in two places - New Jersey and Bangalore. In New Jersey, you would never think to get a ticket in advance - NJ Transit is a walk up, buy your ticket, be on your way kind of deal. In Bangalore, even traveling similar distances you would never imagine not buying your ticket in advance, because the trains were usually full and because you didn't want to deal with the ticket window person who spoke a different language, and because you needed to always work under the assumption that Indians were generally benevolent but always trying to rip you off in order to simultaneously retain control of your credit cards and your sanity.

Italy is much more a New Jersey type deal - they had machines which talked English to me and sold me second class tickets to Udine on the next available Trenitalia train. Thank heavens that worked, because, Trenitalia and my credit cards had a brief falling out two weeks ago when I first tried to reserve tickets, but they appear to have made amends since.

So, I lost the equivalent of a $40 Amtrack ticket from Philadelphia to NYC and got a $10 NJ Transit ticket instead. Unfortuantely, I then got hit with a 50 euro fine because I didn't validate my ticket. Rick Steves tells me that there was a yellow box near the platform where I was supposed to do this - I guess I will have to look for where said yellow box is in Udine. Also, apparently if I had sought out the conductor immediately I could have potentially avoided the fine. So, this is a damned expensive trip to Udine.

I was planning to stay in the CISM dorms, but when I got to the place where the map said CISM was, it was dark and locked, so I was in Udine with, apparently, no hotel. Assuming the conference organizers actually reserved me a room at CISM as they claim they did, I'll probably still have to pay for the room I had reserved tonight, but I'm in a different place. And the internet doesn't work, of course, though there is supposed to be both wired and wireless the latter doesn't work my mac and the former just doesn't work at all so I won't be able to post this tonight - so that's great.

I'm pretty frustrated. Tomorrow better go better.

(Update from the future: tomorrow did go better! And we got the Best Student Paper award. I wasn't able to post this before because I didn't have internet access, but that's a rant for a different place.)