Hixie's Natural Log

2005-01-15 17:23 UTC January 2005 Travelog

Monday. My trip began with a flight to Düsseldorf, Germany. At Oslo airport I replied to some WHATWG feedback and then ran into Timo (from Opera's marketing arm), who was coincidentally was also going to Düsseldorf. Once there, we had dinner at an italian restaurant that apparently opened only a few weeks ago, called Vapiano (at Martin Luth Platz, 28). An unorthodox place: you get an RF-enabled card when you arrive, and you order food by visiting the pasta, pizza, and bar counters where they cook the food for you while you stand there watching them. Quite fun, very good food.

When I ordered my drink, I ordered in German (that is to say, I just said orangensaft!). When the bartender then tried to tell me he was temporarily out of orange, we had a to go back to the "negotiate a communication protocol" stage, because, unlike in Oslo, not everyone here speaks English. Thankfully, it turned out he was fluent in French, like me, so the problem was neatly solved. A nice guy.

It seems Germany is much like France and America: the assumption is that everyone speaks the native language, and if they don't, that's their problem. I much prefer the Norwegian attitude, which is that the default language is the native language, but if someone doesn't speak that, then a common alternative (typically English) is used instead. However, it does make learning the language a lot harder, since you don't use it nearly as much.

We didn't dine alone, Timo had arranged to meet Timur (from Vodaphone, who coincidentally is also hosting the CDFWG meeting I'm attending here) and one of his colleagues. Amongst other things, we talked about the industry, the Mobile Web, the Desktop Web, and whether and how they should or could merge.

One of the Web's biggest problems right now, insofar as the Mobile world goes, is that most of the content Out There has been designed with horrendously poor presentational markup which only fits on desktop screens. The CNN home page is often taken as an example. A megabyte of tables and font tags. This is the same problem faced by disabled users, of course; markup which doesn't handle small screens well handles speech and braille renderings even worse. How to fix this, I have no idea. What's clear to me is that switching to other markup languages — XHTML, SVG, XForms, whatever — won't help address this: people will write garbage whatever the format is. You just have to look at the typical quality of shareware on Windows for an example of that. (That's not to say that those languages might not be helpful to address other problems, just that it won't remove the fact that most content is garbage.)

After dinner we went our separate ways and I checked in to my hotel, the Courtyard Marriott. It seems fine. Sadly, the wireless Internet access is not free.

Tuesday. Today was the first day of the Compound Document Formats working group face-to-face meeting. We talked about stuff.

At lunchtime we took a trip through one of the older Vodafone buildings, where they hack a quite unusual lift. Instead of a shaft with a car suspended on a cable which stops at floors on request and then is raised or lowered to the destination floor, this building has cabins that are continuously driven around in a loop, without stopping on any floor. There is an "up" shaft and a "down" shaft, and the cabins arrive at the top of the building and move to the "down" shaft, get to the bottom and move to the "up" shaft, in a continuous cycle. To use the system, you just jump into one of these cabins as it approaches your floor, then jump off when it passes the floor on which you want to get off.

It's pretty funky and definitely less scary than I would have thought. One wonders what happens if you slip and get stuck, but I didn't see any blood marks so I presume that that doesn't happen much. (I would probably have the same thought if someone came up with the concept of manually-controlled high-speed motorised vehicles today: surely putting people in control of such contraptions would lead to horrible deaths and destruction.) (Then again, it does, and I do have that thought. Bad example.)

Near the Vodafone tower is the TV tower, which has a strip of blinking lights running all the way up. I had thought they were purely decorative until someone mentioned that it was a digital decimal clock — and indeed it is. The lights are separated into three groups, the seconds at the bottom, the minutes in the middle, and the hours at the top. Each section is further divided into two groups of lights representing the two digits, tens at the top of the section and units at the bottom of the section. Each group represents a decimal digit by illuminating as many lights as the value of the digit. So when the tower has (reading the groups of light from the bottom) five lights illuminated, no lights illuminated, four lights illuminated, one light illuminated, nine lights illuminated, and one final light illuminated, it means the time is 19:14:05.

It's surprising how quickly you learn to read that clock. It's also quite mesmerising; every minute when the seconds roll over to 00 the entire tower puts on a very short light show, which seems to range from simply blinking all the lights once, to lighting differently coloured lights in a sequence up the tower.

Wednesday. Today we discussed issues facing compound documents, and made some test cases for the same. On our way to lunch we passed by the funky lifts again, and this time some of us took the opportunity to go through the wrap-around: entering the "down" cabins on the bottom floor. I can now report that the cabins are quite safe to be in when they switch shaft, just as the little sign next to them claims.

Before dinner we watched part of Steve Jobs' MacWorld keynote. I was surprised as to how little new stuff Apple announced this time. Still, my next laptop will almost definitely be a Mac. Almost every technical problem I've seen at the last few face-to-face meetings I've been to have been resolved by Macs — from acting as a wireless router, to solving problems with cross-over cables, it always seems to be the Mac users who fix the problems fastest. Mac users also keep telling me how great their computer is; most recently, for example, Nadia. I rarely if ever hear Windows and GNU users proclaiming feelings of love for their computers.

In the evening Vodafone took us out to a fancy restaurant where we had very good food and drinks.

Thursday. Not much to report from the meeting today, the most interesting event being an impromptu break when a helicopter landed across the river from our conference room. Still, we addressed some major issues.

While watching CNN tonight (BBC World was available on Monday and Tuesday but for some reason the channel went dead here some time on Wednesday) I saw an advert which seemed quite insane. It was a spot for CNN.com, the Web site. The screenshots clearly used IE, though — despite the fact that CNN.com is part of a company that itself provides at least two browsers (AOL and Netscape), and has funded the development of at least four more (Firefox, Seamonkey, Camino, and the Netscape-branded Firefox). The funniest thing, though, is that you can see a Netscape link in the screenshot. If employees of the company itself can't take the time to download the browser to use it in its own advertising material, how can they expect anyone else to do so?

Friday. Dean and I met for an hour or two this morning to talk about my SVG last call comments. A very productive discussion at a Starbucks.

In the afternoon I walked around Düsseldorf looking for board games. I found plenty of shops selling them, but none of them had any of the games I wanted, sadly. I also found several shops selling Märklin stock, which is cool; Obviously Märklin is bigger in its home country than in the rest of the world.

I did make one purchase, though, SG-1 Season 7. I've been waiting for that to come out for months. It's a different box set format than my other seasons, and there is a chance the menus might be in German, but so long as the special features haven't been dubbed I don't think I really care. I'm assuming it isn't out in Oslo yet. It wasn't available when I left on Monday.

I was tempted to also buy a portable DVD player to watch the episodes on the flight. I saw several for under ~400, but unfortunately I didn't have enough cash left (and still lack a credit card). Probably a good thing.

Düsseldorf isn't that pretty, although its old town is ok. On par with Oslo. After walking around enough that my feet threatened to go on strike I took the subway and the train to the airport. It's boring with no particularly interesting shops, but on the plus side it has comfortable seating, is reasonably clean, and mostly quiet.

Sadly the signs depicting cigarettes with a red line diagonally bisecting them don't seem to mean the same thing in Germany as in Norway.

My reading material for the flight is a book I got for my birthday a few weeks ago, Café-crime à Champel. It's a crime novel based in Geneva, my home town. I like what I've read so far, but that's not much, as this week has been pretty busy.

A few hours later...

Unfortunately, I just finished the book and I'm still at Düsseldorf, so I don't know what I'll be doing on the flight. Good book. Quote:

— Ce n'est pas possible! dit-il. Ce n'est pas croyable! On ne trouve de telles coïncidences que dans les livres!

I know, it's not really funny, but it was so out of character for the book that I laughed out loud, much to the consternation of the people around me in the waiting lounge.

I'm starting to think I should spend less time in airports. I just got polled for a consumer survey for the second time in the last year. They didn't even really ask me any interesting questions, I don't know what information they were trying to obtain.

Pingbacks: 1