Ex Bibliotheca

The life and times of Zack Weinberg.

Monday, 26 April 2004

# 9:50 PM

BULLWINKLE:Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!
ROCKY:Again? That trick never works!
BULLWINKLE:This time for sure!

... gosh, it worked.

# 9:45 PM

aaargh

It's been so long since I wrote one entry at a time that something has bitrotted, and the default timezone somehow changed to USEastern. Let's see if I managed to fix it.

# 5:35 PM

And that's it for backdated entries. Posting is going to be light for the next while. I am concentrating the chunk of time that can go into my personal website, into trying to get less clunky weblog software up and running. Hopefully this will also provide less clunky photoalbum software and I can finally publish the pictures from all these trips.

My weeks have been mostly full of work, but I did find time to go to the Shotgun Players' production of Molière's The Miser. This was great fun, but I wanted more revenge, dammit. I also got to see The Blues Brothers (the movie) on the big screen.

Here's a fun little tidbit: an experiment that could give a reason to pick one of the interpretations of quantum mechanics over another. That in itself sounds to be on shaky ground, but I like the "transactional interpretation" anyway, just for managing to get rid of the special status of the observer.

Saturday, 10 April 2004

# 8 AM

Last night I went to see the 25th anniversary show put on by Survival Research Labs. This was unfortunately not nearly as much fun as I had hoped. It was basically a lot of people standing in a small room listening to panel discussions. Interesting panel discussions, yes, but not interesting enough to justify standing up for four hours crammed into a tiny space full of way too many people. Dammit. Yes, I bailed out early. Looking at the web page this morning, I see that by doing so I missed the Extra Action Marching Band, which might have been interesting, but still.

Sunday, 4 April 2004

# 7 AM

Woke up far too early, and it does not help to consider that Daylight Savings Time just kicked in for the states, so it's "really" 6AM. Worse, out of milk. Thankfully Church St. Produce opens at 6, so I could run down and get some.

Saturday, 3 April 2004

# 10 AM

It turns out that yes, it is possible to fall asleep in the middle of a loud rock concert, if one is sufficiently tired. And that this seriously detracts from the experience. Oh well.

Friday, 2 April 2004

# 2 PM (GMT-8)

Six hours later, still on the plane.

This plane flight is way too long. I am deeply frustrated that there is no great interest in long-distance, non-luxury supersonic flight. Yes noise, yes nasty technical problems to be solved in engine and wing design, yes hairy questions of environmental impact (discussion) but nothing not soluble in a sufficiently large pile of money, and I find it difficult to believe that the market isn't there for planes that go from London to San Francisco in less than ten hours.

# 1:45 PM (GMT-2)

Writing this on the plane; we are currently over the west coast of Greenland (hence I'm using Nuuk time for this entry). The plane, it turns out, was to take off at 1pm London time, and then was delayed an hour on the ground because the pilot's seatbelt was broken. Despite this we are still scheduled to land at 3pm, San Francisco time. I hope we make it; plans for this evening are to go see Brother in Antioch, and I have to be home in time to connect with Sumana who is driving my car (since I'm not wanting to drive on nine timezones' worth of jet lag) and I want a shower first.

According to the little route map it shows on the TV embedded in the seat in front of me, we have come about halfway. Six hours of flight yet to go. Alas, the battery on my laptop is almost worn down.

Thursday, 1 April 2004

# 10:20 PM (GMT+1)

Sod it, the shuttle bus doesn't run this late, I have to get a cab. That'll chew up my remaining small handful of pounds sterling nicely.

# 8:50 PM (GMT+1)

mind the gap ... mind the gap ...

I got a room for the night at a cheap hotel close to the airport; the best way to get there is to ride the London Underground out to the airport itself and then get a shuttle bus. It is a long, long ride, twenty-four stops, on the Piccadilly line from King's Cross to Heathrow. And so I have heard a robot intone this, the unofficial slogan of the Tube, many times now.

What is this gap? See, unlike every other subway system I have ever ridden on, the doors on the trains do not line up neatly with the platforms. At most stations there is about a four-inch step up from the platform to the train. At some, however, there is a four-inch step down from the platform to the train. And at many there is a sizeable distance — a gap — between the train and the platform. The robot is to remind people so they don't trip and break their legs or something.

I wonder why they do not re-grade either the track or the station platforms to eliminate both the gap and the step. It could be done (would have to be done) a few stations at a time. It would probably be easier to redo the platforms than the track. In the outer regions, each station could be taken out of service for a week or so on a rotating schedule; in the inner regions, where stations cannot close even for a single day, the platform could be re-graded in sections.

Another odd quirk of the Tube is that the tracks have four rails. Two are the usual bearing rails, a third is the usual live rail that powers the train, and I don't know what the fourth is for. It sits between the bearing rails and is insulated from the earth in the same way the power rail is; but why would two power rails be necessary?

# 4:30 PM (GMT+1)

TJ and Jane were both busy today so I went into Edinburgh by myself and walked up into Edinburgh Castle. There's sign of human habitation here as far back as 950 BCE; the castle was the home of the Kings of Scotland from the time of the Romans. Now it's a museum, but I think some people still live within the walls, notably in the old castle governor's house, and the fortifications are kept up (more out of tradition than any expectation that the place will be attacked).

One of the things they exhibit here is the regalia: the crown and sceptre used by the kings of Scotland, and the "Stone of Destiny" on which they sat to be crowned. The Stone is still used in the coronation ceremony for the United Kingdom (they put it under the ceremonial throne at Westminster; for several hundred years it was kept there but now it's just flown down for the occasion ... that is, it will be, the next time; it was only returned to Scotland in 1996). The Act of Union (1707) stipulated that the crown and sceptre remain in the historical territory of Scotland, whence they were shut up in a chest in the castle and forgotten about until 1818, when Sir Walter Scott got permission to take them out and put them on display.

Curiously, they made a new sceptre for the reconvened Scottish Parliament which meets even today in Edinburgh. I went down and sat for a few minutes in the visitors' gallery and listened to Question Time. Topics ranged from technology for harnessing wave power for electrical generation, to programs to discourage youth from engaging in lives of petty crime, to budgets for the universities (this last is apparently an issue of nationwide controversy, Mr Blair attempting to put them on more of a user-fee model as is done in the US, but contrary to public sentiment; the Tories don't like it either but they don't seem to have a better idea).

Along the "Royal Mile" in the old part of Edinburgh there are a lot of quirky little mini-museums. They've got one for the making of tartans (chiefly interesting to see a Jacquard loom up close, which I have never before done) and one for the history of whisky production, and one devoted to memorabilia of Scots authors (notably Robert Stevenson, Walter Scott, and Robert Burns).

I'm writing this on the train back to London, where I must be to catch my plane back to the states tomorrow at noon. Alas, this train does not have the helpful power outlets at each seat like the last one did.