Archive for the 'Wanderings' Category


9 May 2022 at 10:07 pm
by Berck

I asked Jonah if she wanted to come to Austin with me for work. I wasn’t being all that serious about it, but she was. Until she checked the weather and discovered that the temperature was mid-80s. That was weeks ago. This week, the week that I’m here, the high is at least 95 every day. Humans apparently voluntarily decide to live here. I told her it was no big deal–they have air conditioning. Joke’s on me, my employer hosted the welcome happy hour on a rooftop bar.

After the work thing, I wandered around the streets of Austin by myself. I passed the Floppy Disk Repair Company on my way to a promising place with live music called Shiner. It stopped being promising when I got to the door and was greeted with rap. I was going to just go back to my hotel, when I decided that the Floppy Disk Repair Company must be a bar, since even in the days when it was relevant, there wasn’t much in the way of repairing floppy disks. The well-groomed guy outside told me I couldn’t go in without the code, and gestured at a numeric keypad. I shrugged and kept walking… “BUT!” he said, and I stopped and turned around. “If you tell me a joke, I’ll let you in.” I thought for a minute, pretty sure that I had absolutely no interest in going in, and decided to tell him my best joke. “What’s purple and commutes?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he said. “An Abelian grape!” He actually did a good job pretending to laugh, then let me in. I wondered if he’d have had the same reaction to the dead baby varient.

There was only one couple inside a very dark bar. The music was some sort of innocuous ska, and the bar stool reasonably comfortable. I was presented with a menu of very fancy cocktails but ordered a scotch. The bartender with his shirt unbuttoned to the navel poured me a Laphroaig, noticed that there wasn’t really a whole second pour left in the bottle and poured me the rest. I thanked him and spent the next hour watching fairly normal bar things happen and walked back to my hotel.

My hotel is… weird. I love that they describe it as spacious because it is exactly the opposite of spacious. It’s the first hotel room I’ve been in outside of Europe where the toilet is in the shower. It’s nice, but small. Which is fine, since it’s not like I’m going to spend much time here.

New Hampshire

13 November 2018 at 8:00 pm
by Berck

I’ve managed to talk my way out of coming to New Hampshire so far, but most of the rest of the competent folks at work have put in their shift. I reluctantly agreed, not because of any dislike for New Hampshire, but because the purpose of the work trip seems to me to have little value.

I’ve been saying for awhile that I’ve been to every state in the U.S. except for Alaska, but I’m not entirely sure that’s true. I was able to come up with a concrete example for every state except New Hampshire. My airline flew into MHT, so it seemed likely I’d done that at some point, but my logbook says I haven’t.

So now I’ve been to New Hampshire. It’s a weird state to have missed, but being an airline pilot is a weird way to see the country.

For whatever reason, the folks who went a year ago managed to go during prime leaf changing season, but the event this year was a few weeks later and the few remaining leaves are brown. The weather is not hot, which is good, but of course I’ve missed a big snow storm at home. It always snows when I leave home. (Home. I have a home, now. I don’t think I’d have said that a decade ago.)

As I watched an airline pilot go through a known crewmember checkpoint, I wondered if flying for a living is any better than it was a decade ago. There was only one known crewmember checkpoint in the country at the time I got furloughed. The airlines are now more desperate, and the pay is slightly better, but I’m not sure the quality of life has improved at all. My biggest complaints were that 5-on, 2-off is a stupid schedule for anyone, but is especially asinine for commuting pilots.

So my complaint wasn’t at all about travel. I like travel, though I hate flying in the back of airliners. The old Southwest biddies managed to keep the cabin temperature at about 78F on the way over, and I find that sort of heat in a closed airline cabin to be claustrophobic-inducing.

I miss geographic displacement. It’s good for the soul. But spending all day in this building is not:

This is my coworker unboxing our stuff. People I work with make questionable decisions regularly. That’s a box that was shipped on a pallet. It contained a single 4U rackmount unit that could have been shipped via UPS had it been packed in, you know, a normal box. The room is a lot bigger, but we’re under NDA’s so I had to make sure that I didn’t photograph anything anyone might care about.

I spent 10 hours in there yesterday, mostly working remotely and offering moral support to my coworker who dealt with other people. Our particular product, for some reason, has fans that at full volume produce noise levels comparable to a 737 at takeoff. I spent much of the morning figuring out how to throttle them back, but even so, the noise was bad. About 15 minutes before we left, I experienced piercing tinnitus unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. I actually thought someone else had turned on something louder than our box, before I realized that it was all in my head. It persisted for an hour before it finally started to fade. I was worried it was going to be permanent, and I don’t think I’d have been able to live with it. So today I brought my noise-canceling headphones.

We managed to get what we needed to get done a little early today and headed out shortly before 3pm. I gave Gopal the choice of visiting a submarine or heading up the coast. He picked heading up the coast.

I managed to get the second-best rental car I’ve ever had by pure luck. I always choose “compact”, but more often than not I get “upgraded” to some American barge. I usually argue when this happens, and the rental companies never understand why I don’t think it’s an upgrade. I didn’t get upgraded, and was shocked to discover that my car was a loaded Ford Focus hatchback. It’s the same basic car as Jonah’s, only with more comfortable leather seats, heated seats, power seats, sunroof, heated steering wheel, navigation system, fog lights. It has a better turning radius, more comfortable suspension and more pleasant interior that Jonah’s car.

It’s also grey, (the second-worst color for a car), has a terrible automatic transmission (actually, it’s one of the best automatics I’ve ever used, but all automatics are terrible), isn’t very fast, doesn’t make a very good noise, is front wheel drive, exhibits a fair amount of torque steer for not actually producing any torque, and did I mention it has an automatic transmission?

The best part about it is that I know where everything is, and the second best part is that it has Android Auto. Which means I don’t need to use the terrible ford-supplied navigation system and can, instead, have google maps on a giant screen where it’s convenient. I don’t know how anyone ever found their way around New Hampshire without GPS.

I’m taking some amusing joy in knowing that I get to drive around in a Ford Focus rental while Jonah is driving around in a GMC cruise ship waiting for her Ford Focus to get fixed.

Here’s some photos.

I’ve always thought Kennebunkport was one of the more ridiculous place names and was surprised to drive through it accidentally.

My plan was to meander up to Portland, getting there about the time it got dark and find a good dinner. It gets dark at about 4:45pm here this time of year, so I misjudged by a bit, and ended up hopping over to I-95 after it did, since there didn’t seem much point in driving the winding beach roads in the dark.

Kelsey eventually returned my phone call. I’d called him because I knew he’d have a good recommendation for a place to eat in Portland, since he’d just spent weeks there. He did, and it was fantastic.

Belgian fries fried in duck fat.

Duck poutine. Fries fried in duck fat, duck confit, duck gravy, and a duck egg sunny side up.

I second his recommendation of Duckfat in Portland.

Horn OK Please

11 March 2018 at 10:46 am
by Berck

India is a mess.

I tend to be more sensitive to sensory input than most people, and India is constantly in a state of assaulting all my senses.

India is absolutely full of smells, and almost all of them are not pleasant. The streets smell of vehicular exhaust, rotting garbage and urine. The inside of most places seem to be heavily artificially scented with perfumes and incense, none of which I find pleasant. Restaurants are the only places that actually smell good. I find even the inside of my hotel room to be quite unpleasant for a few minutes until I adjust.

It’s hot and sticky. I am poorly adapted to hot climates. I sweat constantly, everything gets sticky and I just want to take a shower. I’ve taken 3 today. I set the thermostat to 19 degrees in hotel room, a temperature that it’s only able to reach when the sun has set. It mostly hovers around 21.5, which is still cooler than whatever passes for room temperature in India.

And then there’s the noise. Here’s a video I shot on my walk this evening. I took it at an average intersection in Bangalore that wasn’t particularly busy and at a time of day with overall light traffic.

At first listen, it seems likely completely arbitrary and capricious use of the horn. Sadly, it’s far worse than that. In India, they actually believe that it’s polite to honk as you’re passing someone in order to let them know you’re there. The back of every single truck has a hand-painted slogan that reads some variation of, “Horn OK Please”, or “Sound OK Horn”. They are actually requesting that people honk at them so they know that they’re there. This is completely insane in a modern city, and is mostly insane anywhere else. It’s the driver’s responsibility to check his mirrors, not the overtaker’s responsibility to notify the driver that he’s passing.

Some parts of India have realized that this is a problem and have tried to address the problem by banning the phrase on trucks but it’s such engrained behavior that I’m not sure it can be changed. Rickshaw drivers tend to suffer hearing loss at disturbing rates. Surely someone must think, “Gee, it would be a lot nicer to be a person in India if I didn’t have to listen to this honking all the time.”

I can only presume that there are traffic laws India, but it doesn’t appear that they’re obeyed. It makes sense that they refuse to pay any attention to the painted lane markers because the roads can’t handle the traffic. It makes sense that they ignore the absurdly slow posted speed limits. It probably doesn’t make sense that they drive the wrong way on a divided highway because they can’t be bothered to find the next break in the median. Overall, though, I would rate your average Indian driver as far more competent than the average American driver. They pay attention, have excellent situational awareness, and don’t take up unnecessary space.

I think the “Horn OK Please,” mentality reflects the general problems I have with India. I’m not sure if there’s any city planning at all, or if anyone stops and thinks before building or modifying a structure. There’s trash all over the place, but there are teams of street sweepers on the highways. That is, women with small brooms, who push the trash into a pile. I’m not sure that the piles ever get picked up, but it seems that given the city is only about 25% covered in debris piles that some of them must get picked up some times.

The infrastructure is generally a mess. Here I am, walking along one of the better sidewalks in a wealthy part of Bangalore:

After I get past that, I encounter:

From what I gather, the local government in power in Karnataka has decided to launch a massive bit of infrastructure overhaul just before the elections. I’m not sure it’s going to engender the good will they’re hoping for. Here was the scene outside our restaurant this afternoon:

But even if things are trash-free, not dug up… what is going on here? This is typical. What is in this building, anyway? Is the place I go for a lampshade the same place I go for a kingfisher? Is the whole place the Brooklyn Tap, or is that upstairs? Maybe the lamp shades are on the roof?

I do like my hotel. There are some strange things, like the security. In addition to the xray/magnetometer dance every time I come and go, the elevators scan my room key, but poorly. The bed is a bit hard. The light switches are confusing, and everything turns off if you don’t have a room key inserted. But what’s best is the shower. It’s definitely the best shower I’ve had in a hotel room. I should post a picture of it. Maybe tomorrow. I’m sure that the water saving laws in the U.S. would prevent such an awesome shower.

In short, I’m glad I’m getting to see (at least this little part of) India, but I have no intention of spending my own money to buy a plane ticket to get back here. And I didn’t even get to the fact that I can’t walk anywhere without being harassed.

I’m in India

10 March 2018 at 8:32 am
by Berck

Premium economy made it not so terrible, even though I didn’t sleep much. Lufthansa in-flight entertainment is great and even includes camera views outside the plane, but mostly I just read DODO and tried to sleep.

I ate 4 airplane meals, which given the 1.5 calendar days of travel makes sense, I guess? The first was not-terrible vegetarian pasta. The second was a nearly inedible “spinach omelette”. The flight to India had an Indian vegetarian option, which I selected. I have no idea what I ate, but I’m certain that it was better than the “chicken and barbecue sauce” option. It included a packet of sugar and fennel which I did not eat, but I did spread the container of chilis on everything except the dessert. The dessert was some sort of rice pudding with pistachios, or so said the menu. I tried to order the Indian option for the last leg, but they ran out.

The 747 is a seriously impressive machine. I was startled at the size of the wings and just how quiet it is. Watching the outboard third of the wings flex upward at takeoff is impressive.

We had to go through security after immigration and before customs, which makes no sense. The unintelligible command, “Vials and Water Inside Bag,” was actually “Mobile and Wallet Inside Bag” which I did not do.

Our rental car came with a moderately aggressive driver who still had an impressive density of traffic to navigate given that it was 3am. We’re staying in a swanky Marriott that xrayed our luggage and made us go through a metal detector.

New York Photos

6 November 2017 at 9:10 pm
by Jonah

My photos of our New York trip are in the gallery.  They are also here. Berck is slowly printing his film. Here’s a photo he took of me: