Saturday, February 16, 2002

Phone Bill

I enjoyed having my laptop with me on this trip. I could check my e-mail and read news stories on the web from the comfort of my hotel room and not waste time during the day or have to go out to an Internet café. I checked the phone to see if there was a per-call charge, but there was no indication of that there or in the guest services directory. They have to post that sort of thing, so I figured I was OK. However, just in case there was a per-call charge, I would stay connected rather than disconnecting and making multiple calls.

Oops. When I went to check out today, I found out that the charge was $.75/call+$.10/minute beyond 15 minutes. I had quite a substantial charge on my bill. When I protested that the rates were not posted anywhere, they offered to cut the bill in half for me. I figured that was reasonably fair -- since it was probably close to what I would have used if I had known the rate structure. You know -- if you make 4 15-minute calls, it's $3, but 1 60-minute call is $5.25. Also, I would not have left the connection up while I was in the shower and such. Actually, I probably would have spent far less than half the money, but I'm really not thrilled with arguing with people about stuff like this. I'll know if I stay there next time. And I guess the next time I bring my laptop, I'll double check what the charges are in advance.

Airport Insecurity

This time when I traveled, my bag was crammed full of all sorts of gizmos. I had to take out the laptop to go through the X-ray separately, but there remained my CD-rom drive, cell phone, GPS receiver, digital camera and assorted cables. So when it took a little bit longer to come out of the X-ray machine, I was not surprised. The security screener asked if I had something like a belt buckle in there. I shrugged, since I have no idea what looks like a belt buckle when x-rayed. The connector for the CD-ROM? Who knows? She asked if she could look through my bag, and I waited patiently.

And waited. She looked through someone else's bag and then wandered off. It was tempting to just walk away. I mean, they seemed to have forgotten about me. Then again, I could see that this was the sort of thing that gets terminals evacuated. They'd turn around to look for me, I'd be gone, and we'd all be on the cover of Newsweek. (Or at least a story on CNN.) So I kept waiting, until finally I got fed up and called out, "Excuse me -- you said you wanted to search my bag." At this point, the woman turned around and said, "No, that bag's OK." Now, maybe I had just misunderstood what she was asking me -- although someone who was there at the same time interpreted things the same way. But I think I have a better understanding of these intermittent incidents where somebody "slips through security" -- the security person gets distracted, the traveler has no idea what's going on & figures it's OK to leave. Oh, well; at least it worked out, and I'm on my flight to Chicago right now.

Tuesday, February 12, 2002


My advisor talked about a trillion on NPR this morning. If you have the appropriate software installed, you can click on the previous link to listen.

Monday, February 11, 2002

That’s a Wrap

For our pre-Super Bowl entertainment, Christina and I went into DC to the National Gallery of Art to hear a talk by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Christo, you may have heard of. He’s the artist who “wrapped” the Reichstag in plastic in the ‘90s. Jeanne-Claude is his “partner” – I assume they’re married, but with these artists you can never be sure. She introduced his talk and concluded by saying she reserved the right to interrupt from time to time during the talk, which she did. I only had a nodding acquaintance with his work. What he does tends to make the news during the periods of time his work exists, so it flits across the public consciousness. He makes all of his money by selling conceptual drawings of his planned projects. And it’s apparently a lot of money. He spent tens of millions of it on just one project – giant umbrellas placed on the landscape in Japan and California. That’s one of the cool things about their work – they fund it all themselves. You can say what you want about their work – but at least you’re not paying for it. And it does have the virtue of being quite pretty to look at.

Jeanne-Claude’s interruptions frequently were to take objection with media characterization of their work as entirely devoted to “wrapping”. She said that the last time they started a “wrapping” project was in 1975. (Because of the time it takes to plan and to get approval for the projects, it sometimes takes decades to see them.) She pointed to “Valley Curtain”, where they had hung a sheet of fabric across a valley and emphasized that the valley was in no way “wrapped”.

One question in my mind that was answered by the talk was on the environmental impact of the works. They use only “industrial” fabrics that are designed to go on crops and similar things. So they’re presumably all OK for putting on landscapes without harming the wildlife. (Although one of the umbrellas did blow over and kill somebody.)

The two unfinished projects that they were concentrating on were “The Gates” and “The River”. “The Gates” is designed to be 26 miles of metal gates with hanging fabric to go on the walkways of Central Park. They proposed it around 1980, but it was rejected, and they didn’t seem too optimistic about getting approval for it in the near term. “The River” involves sheets of fabric to be draped above a river in the American West. I can’t remember which river they ended up settling on, but it’s the one that runs alongside US-50 and the transcontinental railroad. They seem to have gotten the necessary approval for it, but it’s still in the planning stages and a few years off.

We ended up leaving during the question and answer session. First of all, people were asking fairly pretentious questions. (Except Christina.) Secondly, we were sitting next to a really smelly woman. Finally, of course, there was a Super Bowl to get to.

Remember the 80s

DirecTV recently revamped its pricing plans. My previous plan, which gave me the “standard” satellite stations, the local channels and HBO/Cinemax would actually be more under the new scheme, although I was “grandfathered” in. I noticed, however, that I could save money by switching the new plan and dropping Cinemax. It was included with the old plan along with HBO, but I never really watched it (heck, I only got HBO to watch the Sopranos, though I’ve come to enjoy a lot of other stuff on there).

With the money I saved, I could add the “Family Plan” channels and still come out $3/month cheaper. The family plan channels included some stuff I had no interest in, such as soap operas and kids shows. But it also included a few that I did, particularly Discovery Civilization. They show “Lonely Planet,” my favorite travel show. When I activated the new service, little was I prepared for the wonder that was VH1 Classic. I miss the old days of MTV showing videos. I watch MTV2 from time to time, since they do nothing but show videos. But I don’t like a lot of the artists they show. The TiVo comes in handy at times like these, since I can tape a couple of hours of videos and fast-forward through stuff I don’t like. Unfortunately, I end up fast-forwarding through most of the videos. With VH1 Classic, on the other hand, they have a show devoted entirely to the 80s. I can just set that baby up to record and then enjoy minimal fast-forwarding. Timbuk3! George Michael! Depeche Mode! They’re all back ruling the dial just like they were 15 years ago. Ah, technology. Ah, nostalgia.

Window Pain

Somebody broke into my garage. Well, at least, I assume that’s what happened. Teddy and I were returning from our walk yesterday morning when I noticed that the back window of my garage had been removed and was neatly propped up against the outside wall. Now, I don’t really understand why the garage has a window. I guess it makes it a little bit easier to find stuff inside when it’s light out, though opening the garage door tends to take care of that. In any case, it was pretty easy to bend back the nails and open the garage door. Nothing was missing, so my hypothesis was that the would-be burglar either got scared off by someone approaching or decided my valuables weren’t so valuable. “Hey, a bike...oh, it’s a Huffy.” “Great, two old lawnmowers...oh, they’re electric.” This is all speculation...for all I know it was some kids looking for a new clubhouse. Or a nail rusted through, the window fell out of its own accord, and someone wandering by decided to prop it up. OK, the last one is a little far-fetched, which is why I called the police. A cop was over pretty quickly, but the paucity of evidence didn’t give him much to go on. He did have the good suggestion that until I could replace the window with something sturdier, I should use screws to re-attach the window. So, Ben, Steve and I preceded our D&D session with a bit of handy-man work. If somebody really wants to get in, they will, but hopefully the new handiwork will deter whatever lazy thieves we seem to have operating in University Park.

Flying High

I’m composing this at 34000 feet. Part of the excitement of using my new laptop, I suppose. I promise all my entries won’t be so self-referential, but for now I’m enjoying my new toys. They want you to hold off on using laptops until you reach 10000 feet. How was I to determine this? Using my GPS, of course. That’s where the aforementioned 34000 feet figure came. Sadly, I couldn’t determine our speed...apparently there’s some sort of maximum built into the device to prevent you from using it actually to fly a plane. I was pleased with how well the receiver picked up the satellites through the airplane window. Yet another reason to pick a window seat. (The other two being not getting bumped by beverage carts and not being climbed over by people who need to use the lavatory. Oh, yeah, and the view.) [As I was typing, my colleague “Bill” was bumped in the elbow by a beverage cart.]