May 15, 2009

11 but not 6, perhaps due to the aerosolized Prozac before the spy contacted me in the Domedovo bathroom?

Again I sit on a plane. This time I'm Moscow bound, due to land in a bit over an hour's time. Going to speak with my colleagues in Moscow about open source use, keynote a conference, chat with some Moscow press and generally try to be a friendly face for Google. 

And so I sit. Managed a Business class seat, on one of United's 767s with the new layout they were promising last year. They're spreading to their Atlantic long haul flights, I see.  The seats are really nice, and the in flight entertainment sports your standard video on demand and the rest. So in this they have achieved parity with most other airlines business class sections. In some ways, they're a little better. Large screens that make the choice to watch a movie not one of squintitude. 

This is, however, the first time someone on a flight has given me their card in case I get "In a jam" in Moscow.  I find this really charming, if ominous.  I dislike that I'm likely to have a heavily mediated experience in Moscow. Airport to car to Hotel to office to cab to dinner to hotel to venue to cab to dinner to hotel to airport to home.  I hope to fit in some subway riding, some walking arounding and the rest. My seatmate thinks that I'm asking for trouble.

But what he doesn't know is that I have the international fellowship of open source developers that I can draw upon. One thing I've noticed is that a well timed email to the summer of code students list or a local users group is more than enough to allow for a uniquely local experience, especially in non-English dominated countries.  These people, my brothers and sisters in arms, are everywhere. Every country, every city, and we've got something in common to talk about.

Computers are swell, you know?

The title for this post is meant to describe a funny quirk of my flying existence. 11 hours is actually weirdly easier for me to deal with than 6 when it comes to flying. Something about hour 5 kills me on the New York or Boston to San Francisco run. It's weird, it's like a spell comes over me as I pass over the continental divide.  But it is clearly -not- geographic. I don't experience the same issue when coming back from London, nor is there a similar effect  induced by the fiesta ware (catalina? Whatever.) islands when coming home from Japan or New Zealand. 

So what is it about 6? I could make up some yarn about how early in the development of my people, the number 6, not being reducible cleanly as a power of 2 and, when considered bitwise, allowing only a lower case character set  was considered anathema by all but the 12 bit crowd. A 12 bit crowd whom you'd clearly see holds some bizarre horrible affinity with the 6ers among us. Like a convention of 12 fingered people welcoming the right-handed amputee among them as a brother. 

I think I'm a bit off topic. Anyhow, the thing is the 12 hour flight doesn't bother me, and time passes faster than the 6.  Similarly, a 15 hour flight (my current maximum that I've taken) is not any longer, neocortexically speaking, than a 12, 11 or 10 hour flight. Why is that? It's not really a b-class vs. non b-class thing. With my vaunted status with the alliance of the star, I can practically hunt economy class people for food if I so desire (and lest you consider me some kind of caveman, know that I do not do this, thank you very much)  I never travel economy if I don't want to, so...what is it?

Is it a smaller plane thing? The 757 being the mainstay of United's cross continental flight, it has neither the air pressure practices nor the roominess of the 767s even if they do share a cockpit design and type-rating. Maybe....

Or maybe, they put something in the drinks. Yes, that's it. Prozac in the drinks supply. Airlines have a long history of this kind of thing. Who doesn't remember flying in the 80s, when they'd have everyone drop their pants a bit so they could inject the left butt cheek with some Halcyon. And why only the left butt cheek? Unknown, but we can agree that is one intriguing standard. Imagine the standards process for that decision:

Standards person: Point of personal order chairman, we clearly must inject into the left cheek, and we should not allow the representative from the Facconable to allow for gender specific  directionality the way they did with shirt button placement. I object! 

Maybe that's it, maybe Prozac is metabolized slow enough that for a sub 7 hour flight, it is too detectable to use modern psychotropics on the passengers. A lot of people don't know this but the reason the DC-10 was taken out of service was that it's nootropic gas dispensers would often jam open, reducing the plane's passengers into a writhing mess of hugs and teeth grinding (People Express airlines liked to use MDMA before it was made illegal) Other airlines found that aerosol dispersal made for pilots that were too agreeable, which led to departure delays as they'd allow other smaller and cuter planes to cut ahead in line for the runway. 

Listening to tower traffic was much better though, I tell you what. None of this clipped efficiency that rules the day in 2009, no back then it was much mellower. 

People Express Pilot: Hey tower, it's PX 557, we have the plane mostly buttoned up (giggle) ...hey give that back....*snort* wow you are cute.... Christ. Anyhow, hey tower, we're ready to push back you know, whenever.

Tower: PX 557 roger on push back.  Proceed to runway 4R behind the Delta Heavy. 

PX: PX557 to tower, Whoa dude, just cause she's been letting herself go a bit. Don't be so mean.  Hey, so what's it like in the tower today? 

Tower: PX 557, we have a hold on runway 4R, as AA 756 decided to do donuts for a while. 

PX: PX557 here, sup tower...  Yeah, they are really awesome at that. Passengers look a bit green though. Oh hey, so where should we go then. 80R? I like that one. It's wide and smooth. You guys repave or something? I loved it last time. It was like licking ice cream out of a belly button. 

Tower: Christ, PX557, the FCC's gonna fine you again, 80R fine by us, try to use the runway and not the taxiway this time.

PX: 80R roger for PX557.  You guys are no fun. That was awesome, and you guys got the luggage cart our wash turned over no worries, harm no foul.

Tower: PX557, okay the runway is yours, proceed to three-zero-zero and squawk one one five niner.

PX: Roger roger. 

I could go on, but you get the point. More later ...

In fact, more right now. My fellow passengers seem fine this flight. No craziness. 

Wonder what Russian customs will be like. Everything I know about Russia I know from spy novels. So clearly there will be a Finn who will attempt contact me while I wash my hands in the red veloured, golden handled, Russian restroom, which is strangely lavish for an airport bathroom, but just go with it, cool? So this Finn, who is masquerading as the restroom attendant,  will ask me to carry something through customs. 

Being a man of careful process, I will refuse, and he will indeed turn out to be XKD, which is the reformed spetnaz (anti-spy, which I learned from old Ian Fleming novels) division of the KGB. Oh ho, you think I didn't know that?  I'm a world traveler, man,  I know stuff,  so back off.  Anyhow, thanks to my declining, they will try to convert me to be an asset of theirs at the state department, but having Ieft that job 13 years ago, that too will fail. In the end the agent will just say "oh forget about it, stupid computer dork" and leave me be. Win one for -America- bitches. 
Anyhow, I anticipate that customs will be as boring as it ever is. There have only been two times when customs was exciting. 

The first exciting customs experience was my trip to Venezuela when I was on my first trip abroad, when the customs dude basically tried to get a bribe out of me to leave the country, but I was so clueless he ended up giving up exasperated with my inability to understand "I believe you do not have the right exit stamp, I could perhaps apply one" to mean "dude, give me a 20, cool?" 

The second was when I was heading to Israel to keynote Google Developer Day last year. Get this... I flew on the red-eye to new York, hopped on the afternoon continental flight to Israel arriving at 8:15am Israel time. Our in-country people had a dude meet me at the plane, take me down to the apron, drive along the tarmac to customs, walk me to customs, which had me pre-cleared and to a taxi in a mere 10 minutes. I was on stage giving the keynote at 9:30. It was awesome and I totally effing nailed the speech. Then a day of press and dinner with the local awesome Googlers. For the record I love that kind of stuff. 

More later (I mean it this time)