2006-05-24 18:48 UTC Late Spring 2006 Travelog: Part 10 (Garbage Collection, Blasphemy, Poor Tourists, Prototypes, Apples, and other topics)
I spent the last month or so traveling around the US and Europe. By and large human civilisation is the same wherever you go, with the differences being in the details, like the shape and function of toilet bowls. However, there is one difference that really struck me during this trip. In Europe, the people performing janitorial jobs — cleaning offices, housekeeping in hotels, garbage collection, etc — are representative of the society as a whole. In the US, they are all from racial minorities. For example, in Atlanta, everyone I saw doing janitorial jobs was black. In California, they're all Mexican. It's freaky.
Last week I was at XTech 2006. To be honest, there wasn't much new stuff being presented. It was mostly the same talks as the year before. The big change was that the world view that we've been pushing with WHATWG is no longer blasphemous. People seem to be getting more realistic, and the talks proposing radical changes sounded much more defensive than last year. So nothing new technically, but the atmosphere was different.
It could also have been because about half the people there were from Mozilla (or so it seemed), with Opera having a fair few people present too. Even Yahoo was there in force.
I didn't give a talk. I have nothing new to report — HTML5 (along with it's cousin "XHTML5") is still a proposal,
still being worked on, like it was last year. I suppose I could have given a talk
explaining how the W3C has started group(s) to look at standardising the stuff that WHATWG
has been working on (like
XMLHttpRequest), but dino did that
for me. Or I could have presented some of the cool
<canvas> demos that
have cropped up, but Vlad and Håkon did that for me.
Maybe next year I should give a comedy routine showing fun browser bugs/differences, like how they handle parsing of broken HTML. It'd be more fun than most of the talks people give at these conferences.
After XTech and a week of free food in Amsterdam (yay for lots of people submitting expense reports!), I made my way to Geneva for the weekend. I love my home town. (Well, technically I guess Carouge is my home town, but the difference is academic.) (Actually, legally I think I'm from Neuchâtel. But that's another story.)
Then I went to Zürich, by train. The Swiss train network has three names, one for the German part of Switzerland (SBB), one for the French part (CFF), and one for the Italian part (FFS). I have no idea what you're supposed to call it in English. Maybe SBB CFF FFS, which is what they put on the trains themselves.
One detail which I found amusing was that the computer-generated announcements regarding approaching stations and so forth were subtly different for each stop. For example, the order of the languages was always the appropriate order for that stop — the computer didn't always give German-French-English. In Geneva it started in French, then gave German, then gave English. At the "minor" stops it didn't bother with English at all. In French and German it listed the next stop and the stop after that; in English, it never gave any more than the next stop (presumably to prevent poor American and English tourists from getting off one stop too soon).
About an hour away from Zürich, somewhere after Bern, the Re 460 that had been pulling us on our journey across Switzerland broke down (!), and what I believe was an Re 4/4, or possibly an Re 4/4 II, pulling a long set of mismatched passenger carriages, came to rescue us. We had to walk from the sleek modern double-decker IC 2000 carriages to the old carriages via gang planks. It was fun. From the rescue train I observed a MaK 1700 hooked up to our poor Re 460, presumably preparing to tow it to a yard somewhere. (I believe the MaK 1700 series is known as the Am 843 in Switzerland, but I'm not sure.)
Travelling by train across Switzerland was a lot of fun. I spotted the prototypes of a whole bunch of locomotive models that I own, like the aforementioned Re 460, as well as some Ae 6/6s, what looked like a 421, and even (much to my surprise), several Ee 3/3s, in active service. There were also a number of Köfs of various kinds. Köfs are so cute! I also saw some Am 842s, several models of which I already have on back-order with my supplier in Redwood City. (I believe these are related to the MaK 1700 series, but whether they came before or after, I'm not sure. The ones I saw had the diagonal white-on-blue "cargo" livery, whereas the Mak 1700 I mentioned earlier had a white-on-red "infra" livery, which I'd never seen before.)
Not all the trains I saw were trains I like. I saw some RBe 2/4s on a siding. I still say those are some of the ugliest Swiss trains.
I saw prototypes of the majority of my Swiss rolling stock, including the privately- owned "Millet" hopper cars, a whole slew of "dreier" cargo containers (presumably on Sdkmms-type or Sdgkms-type cars), at least one green "CAPITAL" container, and huge numbers of the white-on-blue "cargo" livery sliding wall box cars.
We eventually made it to Zürich. I don't know what they did to the people on the train who wanted to go beyond Zürich — like, say, to the airport — since it didn't look like our rescue train was going any further. Nor did I attempt to find out.
I don't know what I was expecting of Zürich. Maybe I thought it would be like German towns. It's not. It's Swiss. My first impression, in fact, was that it was just a localised build of Geneva (all the way down to having a lake and everything — just with the strings translated into German). I shopped at Migros, and they had the same products as in Geneva. Which is all quite logical when you think about it, but I'd never considered that the German part of Switzerland would be so similar to the French part. (I almost said "to the Swiss part".) One thing that confused me a bit is that my brain recognises the local (Swiss-German) accent as French (specifically, the Geneva French accent). I didn't think it was possible to speak German and have it sound French. It's quite odd. Maybe that's why Germans complain about Swiss-German being a different language.
I also discovered, while trying to get back to my hotel from the Google office here yesterday, that the time I've spent in the US has taken its toll on me. The thing is, roads which in Switzerland are considered main roads and marked as large wide yellow lines on the street maps, are so small in US terms that on a US street map they wouldn't even bother printing lines for them. So while walking back looking for the "first left", I completely ignored the street I was supposed to turn on, because obviously, it was far too small to have been printed on the map, and couldn't possibly have been the street I was looking for.
Never mind that it was one of the biggest streets in Zürich.
There's an Apple store here. I don't know why I find this important.
I bought headphones the other day (why do I only ever buy headphones in airports?). This time I decided to try USB headphones, mainly because they were more expensive, and also because I've not had much experience with USB devices before. I'm relatively impressed. I can have some sounds come out of the headset and other sounds not. It's interesting. And the hardware volume control integrates directly with the OS, instead of being a hardware volume control.
The headphones were needed so I could watch Naruto on the plane. I'm not a big fan of Anime, as a general rule, but by golly, this series is very good. It's professionally done, with solid plots, good acting, good (if sometimes a little too philosophical) dialogue, well-fleshed-out characters, good blocking.
I just wish it would have less "previously on"s. When you're watching two years' worth of episodes back-to-back, you know what was previously on. You don't need to be reminded of it!