September 30, 2007

Sometimes, the news makes very little sense, unless...

....you read two stories in very quick succession. For instance:

I was reading a London Times Online article about how "Muslim checkout staff get an alcohol opt-out clause" saying, obviously, that those whose religion forbid such things can take a pass. This is similar to rulings here in America saying whether or not that pharmacists have to sell birth control or Pirates don't encourage global warning or something.

But then, next tab over, was a story waiting for me: "Italian Policewomen Get High Heels, in the Wrong Size" detailing the tragic story of the Romanians sending the wrong size shows for their thin blue line. I mean, in one country, you have people gravely concerned about clerks discomfort while selling alcohol, then another gravely concerned that the shoe that might enhance the femininity of the policewoman's calves might be a bit too tight.

Answer me this: Which country sounds like the one that is more fun? The one with the nice shoes who aren't so good at catching petty shoplifters? Or the one with the people who won't sell you a nice Campari? Just saying, you can see the real value is reading news about seemingly different things, until they are put together, cuisinart style, in the brain.

Disclosures: Many of these links were provided via the digg's and reddits or the world, which then went through various aggregators , but were written in the sites I linked to. I believe that in fact pointing the aggregator makes sense if the comments matter, but consider the title of this post? It's my Ego's food, we're talking about here.

Further disclosure: I'm Italian, so I'm predisposed to understand the value of fine footwear. It's genetic, I'm told.

Further Disclosure still: London's a pretty fun place to go to, never had any problem when ordering a drink there.

September 23, 2007

Zurich is a Dangerous Place

I am on a plane enjoying the last leg of a zrh/lhr lhr/ord ord/sfo flight, typing away with reckless abandon on the little Thinkpad. Okay, so that's twice I've used the phrase "reckless abandon" in three days, what's up with that? Anyhow, I've learned a few things in the last few weeks that I thought I'd share with you, my dear readers:

1) Zurich has a handle on the whole airport/customs/transport thing.

Customs at Zurich was a breeze both coming in and leaving ZRH. The airport was quite attractive and fun to walk through/chill while waiting for my late BA connecting flight, the little subway connecting the far gates where my flight left had one of the moving advertisement displays like those in Tokyo, however this one was of a cute 'heidi' noticing and blowing a kiss at the assembled transportees from a mountain slope which is where I assume all Swiss females must learn advanced cow herding.

I say this not to be funny, Switzerland seems obsessed with the cow thing to a degree I have not seen indulged since my sister worked for the California beef council. We assaulted her endlessly with cow-related gifts for -years- after that. It's not easy being related to my family, sometimes. But enough of that.

Why, you ask, is Zurich dangerous? It can't be the cows, can it?

Or can it?

Was there some great stampede? Leaving vast schools of haute horological fiends bleeding on the banhofstrasse? Was there some grand cheese related explosion? Did the chocolate shops experience and unfortunte run on Chocolate milk like that which precipitated the great chocolate milk inflation bubble of the 1960s?

No. None of these. But these are all good guesses and I'm to be lauded for my cleverness in considering each with some weight.

In fact what is dangerous about Zurich are the watches. The beckon from every jewelry store and they send out what can only be thought of as a geek pheromone.

These absurd Mechanical watches, I'll have you know, are not as accurate as your $30 quartz moved swatch. They are also likely less reliable, with their complications and tourbillions, large automatically driven mainsprings and their sweet sweeping hands of mechanical indication. They are heavier, often larger, and certainly capable of inflicting emotional and physical pain in ways that your average low end Timex is unable to upon striking it upon a railing or some other watch catching obstruction.

But, they are indeed the siren call for the engineer, the geek, the machine nerd. I was able to resist, but I was also able to study and think about these watches in their exceptionally expensive glory. Did I mention the price? I like the exposed movements and stylings of the Vacheron Constantin and the Hublot watches among others, but they don't exactly have a discount line.

Admittedly, they also don't have in their catalogs watches that are the equal in utility to my Citizen world time, a watch I love and whose price doesn't need an exponent to express.

This particular watch caters to the traveler. The one thing I think constantly about when I travel is what time is it at home, so I know when I can call or videoconference with my wife and children. It cuts down on the pain that I associate with travel. You see, the watch has a small lcd screen nestled between the 2 and the 4 hour position, which indicates a time zone and the time in that time zone directly beneath it. Hitting two of the buttons (the upper right and the lower left) and the time on the analog face will swap with this electronic time.

To give you and example, as I flew from Dulles to Heathrow in an earlier leg of this trip, I swapped the 'NYC' Time zone expressed in the analog for the 'LON' expressed in the digital. Then the LCD showed the 'NYC' time and the analog hands swept into position for London. When I flew from London to Zurich, I simply incremented the digital time zone to 'PAR' and swapped hands again. Then I decremented the digital display to 'LAX' to determine what time it was at home.

But Chris, you say, time simply isn't that hard that you need a paperweight on your wrist to maintain your calling schedule. You are probably right, but it sure is handy.

This is to not imply that there are no traveler friendly watches. There are multi-dial watches, 2 time zone watches, time zones, 4 + analog, etc... but this is just a terrific interface into the functionality. It's worth examining if you'll looking for a handy watch that is sturdy, accurate and well, not irreplaceable.

But, back to the danger, Zurich is dangerous not just because of the presence of the watches on the strasse, it is dangerous because once you visit, if you like these things at all, you start to recognize that not only is there a category of watches that exist to separate money from those who would acquire such works of horological art, but that it is even an art at all, with style and craft and cleverness part and parcel. And concomitant with such knowledge of course comes some small amount of desire for these absurdly expensive items.

A desire I've managed to avoid with the exception of my beloved Citizen, which is really something different altogether now, isn't it?

Anyhow, the short version of this post is this: Wow. Pretty watches.

September 8, 2007

Oh, the Apple Cult Beckons...

Hello dear readers, I went into the Palo Alto Apple store yesterday to buy my wife the newly discounted iPhone and walked out with said iPhone and the new fatty Nano. It's -so- cute. That is all. Got the redish 8gb one. It's soooo cute, it makes me want to puke rainbows.

And yes, I think the iPhone is very nice.

September 1, 2007

Lessons from OSCON: I gotta learn Russian (To read the Nightwatch trilogy)

Late July in Portland, O'Reilly's Open Source Convention was held and one of the things we managed to do before we left was, shocker, go to Powell's books. I allowed myself 3 books, with Frannie dogging my heels and counting up. I ended up picking up a few books and the Andrew Bromfield English translation of Sergei Lukyanenko's novel "Nightwatch"

Nightwatch is -really- good. I had heard about the movie, of course, but hadn't seen it yet, and the book looked interesting. I couldn't have been more right. I can't recommend this book, and it's sequel, "Daywatch" strongly enough. I'm about halfway through the second book and I can only imagine what the third book, "Twilightwatch" has in store for me.

Bromfield's translation can perhaps be called brilliant, as this is no mechanical translation but almost a spiritual connection between two cultures. I cannot honestly imagine the kind of work he had to put into this work to make it as remarkable in English as it is. Either that or Lukyanenko's source material shines so very bright that it can penetrate the barriers of different cultures.

There is really only one way to find out, I gotta learn Russian. Maybe work has a study group I can sit in on. Our folks in London and our St. Petersburg office have said they want me to visit Russia, so maybe in anticipation of some future trip I can start down this particular path of learning.

Spokojnoj Nochi for now, readers, go pick up those books. They're amazing.