Pinch me, I think I'm dreaming

While I’m in the air over the Pacific, the Belgian Grand Prix will be taking place. I just “watched” the qualifying over at the BBC’s live text commentary, and like everyone else I was totally gobsmacked: Giancarlo Fisichella put his Force India Mercedes on the pole!!! And just to rub it in, Hamilton was 12th and Button 14th.
This is a very strange Formula One season.


Another day, another airline

Having travelled out here non-stop on Cathay Pacific (CX), I’ll be flying home tomorrow on ANA through Tokyo (NH912 HKG-NRT, NH008 NRT-SFO). I guess there are a lot of people flying between China and the US right now. (Of course booking at the last moment didn’t help.)
I’ve never flown ANA before. NH912 is on a 767, and I have a window seat; NH008 is on a 777, with no seat assigned. I hope that isn’t a bad sign. At least I can credit the miles to UA.
So here’s the full trip, courtesy the Great Circle Mapper:



Food, glorious food

Some food porn…
It’s my last night in Shenzhen; I fly home tomorrow. It’s been a very busy week, with meetings running late into the evening, and so meals have been snatched where and when the opportunity arose. (Pizza Hut, for example.) But tonight I decided to treat myself.
Last time I was here, I usually ate at one of a number of restaurants in a small planned community a couple of blocks south-east of here. It’s a strange area – a bit like an Italian hilltop village via Disneyworld, complete with Campanile – but the restaurants are clearly used to a diverse clientele. Most have English language menus, or at least good photos of the various dishes. But tonight, I decided on a different approach. I walked north-east, and found myself negotiating a sea of vegetable stalls and outdoor restaurants, with cheap pink plastic chairs and low tables. It was packed. I crossed the street (a six-lane highway) and found a more upmarket restaurant. The front wall was covered in fish tanks; I had learned that clean tanks are a good sign. So I went in.
No English menus. A few postage-stamp-sized pictures of dishes. No English speaking staff. No foreigners among the diners. The perfect set-up. I decided to order three dishes at random, reasoning that if everything went wrong I could head up the street to Pizza Hut. So I pointed at three dishes, added “mi fan” (rice) and “pi jiu” (beer). Signed, “big beer”? Yes, big beer.
Tea, beer, and a plate of hot peanuts arrived. I amused myself by trying to manipulate the oily peanuts with my plastic chopsticks. (Note: everybody in China seems to use plastic chopsticks. Wooden chopsticks are an ecological disaster, and should be banned everywhere.) I read my Kindle.
The first dish arrived. Chitterlings, in hot oil with garlic and more peanuts. When did I last try those? They were actually quite tasty, though as they cooled they quickly became chewy. Not too bad, though.
Next, a plate full of tiny (1 cm.) shrimp, with scallions, chopped peppers, and more peanuts. The crispy shrimp actually worked OK with the scallions. Still, not one of my favourites.
As I was crunching shrimp and chewing chitterlings, the third dish arrived: a hemispherical black stone dish, obviously very hot, with something bubbling fiercely under the lid. It turned out to be a seething soup of soft tofu with finely-chopped vegetables and seafood stirred into it. And it was glorious – one of the finest combinations of flavours and textures I can remember. Wonderfully balanced. I filled my soup bowl, waited for it to cool, and ate it slowly. Then I reloaded my bowl, drank some “pi jiu”, crunched a few shrimp, and repeated. Somewhere along the way some rice appeared; it was dry and not very good, so I mostly ignored it.
I finished the whole stone bowl. My waitress was amazed, and delighted. And the total bill was 93 RMB, which is $13.61 US.
And now it’s time to pack, an exercise which I will lubricate with my last can of pineapple beer. (Yes, really.)



Faith… it’s not just for religion any more. I just bought some I’believe potato chips:
Faith... Not just for religion any more! I just bought some "... on Twitpic


Cathy Pacific to Hong Kong

Yesterday’s flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong was my first ever on Cathay Pacific, and I thought that I might post a few thoughts about it. After all, “CX” (Cathay Pacific’s IATA code) just got voted airline of the year, and where they lead others are likely to follow.
I was sitting in 66A in one of CX’s RR-powered 747-400s. If you’re going to be in coach on a CX 747, row 66 is a good choice: it’s the first row where the tapering of the fuselage causes the seats to go from 3-4-3 to 2-4-2. So I had plenty of space next to my seat, where I was able to keep my carry-on. Given that I didn’t want to put anything in the seat-back pocket (of which more anon), this was very convenient. The downside, of course, is that you can’t actually lean against the cabin wall. And of course being so far back meant that disembarking was exceptionally slow, which might have cost me an hour at the other end.
So there I was, in 66A, with a large man who tended to sprawl while sleeping sitting in 66C, and I was due to be there for 13 hours. So what could CX offer to make it enjoyable?
First, the in-flight entertainment system. Nice monitor in the seat back, with multifunction remote, and tons of content. Video-on-demand, with at least 50 different current and classic movies, plus audio, videogames, and so forth. Unlike US airlines, movies are not censored for content; it’s nice to be treated like an adult.
With all this going for it, it’s a shame that things went so badly. First, you have to use CX’s own headphones, with a unique three-pin plug. The phones are crap, and don’t block the considerable airframe noise that one gets from sitting just behind the wing. Second, the “airshow” moving map wasn’t working. And finally, I managed to completely wedge the system! About 2 hours into the flight, I was distracted by the fact that they offered that most addictive game “Bejeweled 2”. I sometimes play it on my iPhone, and I was curious how the user interface would work on the IFE handset. I played a couple of levels, then chose “Main Menu” and “Exit”, and my screen froze. The flight attendant tried twice to reset my IFE system, without success. She offered to reseat me, but there were no decent seats open.
So much for IFE. How about service? We got two meals, each with multiple choices (listed on the menu – CX still has menus in Economy!). All of the dishes were western-style; there was nothing particularly for any Chinese passengers. ((And speaking of passengers, I was struck by the different demographics of the CX flight compared with my UA trips last month. On UA, the mix was roughly 50-50 Western and Chinese. On CX, at least half of the passengers were Indian, presumably connecting at HKG to Indian flights on CX. The practical difference was that the CX flight was full of babies, small children and extremely elderly passengers. (One more reason why the CX headphones were inadequate.) )) As for the food itself, it was excellent: balanced, well presented, and tasty. The coffee and wines were just right, and the cheesecake was better than most US restaurants serve. In between meals, the water and juice kept coming at 50-60 minute intervals, and the flight attendants seemed happy to take special drink requests.
And that just leaves the seats. CX are introducing the so-called “shell seats” in Economy. The seat structure does not recline; instead the “recline” button causes the seat bottom to slide forward. The obvious benefit is that the guy in front of you can’t encroach on your space, but how well do they work? For someone like me, the answer is “not well”. I prepared for the experience by buying myself an inflatable lumbar pillow. (Some people use inflatable neck pillows for that purpose, but in my experience they aren’t firm enough.) This helped, but couldn’t make up for the uncomfortably firm seat bottom. I removed the magazines from the seat-back pocket to try to give my knees some extra space, which made things a little less cramped.
When large people sit in adjacent seats, the biggest area of conflict is not at the waist, but at the shoulder. (That’s why some airlines are looking at slightly staggered seat rows.) The good thing about the classic seat recline mechanism is that adjacent passengers can tilt their seats at different angles, reducing shoulder contact. With the shell seats, this possibility is eliminated.
The bottom line for me is that the seats in CX are so uncomfortable that I probably won’t fly them again. This is a shame, because in other respects it’s a great airline.
What of the trip itself? Boarding was well organized and accomplished quickly. We left late, and there were spells of severe turbulence, but we arrived on time. Disembarking took so long that I just missed the 7:30 ferry to Shenzhen Shekou, so I took the 8:30 boat. As I was about to get off the ferry, I realized that no-one had given me an arrival/departure card to fill in. (Who goofed? CX? The ferry crew?) Anyway, I noticed a box of various forms on the counter of the ferry snack bar, and found a blank arrival/departure card; I had just enough time to fill it in before I got to the front of the Immigration line. From there it was easy: I lined up for a red taxi (fending off all of the cowboy cabbies), gave the driver the cheat-sheet I’d prepared, focussed on my cellphone and ignored the crazy driving, and sat back until I saw the distinctive “KFC” a block from the hotel.
And here I am.


Insanely busy

I seem to be slipping into a mode where I spit out a handful of blog posts and then subside for a week or more. C’est la vie. Since last blogging, we’ve made great strides on getting the apartment up and running. We have TV, Internet, and VOIP telephony. (And on the TV, mirabile dictu, we have SpeedHD! YES!!!) We have shared printing, albeit with a replacement printer: my HP All-In-One didn’t survive the move, so I went out and bought a Canon MX860. The idea of a WiFi-enabled device that does full-duplex printing and feeder-based scanning/copying for under $200 strikes me as vaguely amazing.
The car is almost sorted out. Some friends of mine decided to buy a new 2010 Prius, and offered me a great deal on their 2007 Prius Touring. It took a few days for everything to come together, but we’ve done the deal, I now have a California license, insurance is sorted out (which was more of a hassle than it should have been), and tomorrow I’ll go to the DMV to make it official by paying the sales tax and a gazillion other little fees. There’s not much point in me posting a picture (it looks like every other silver Prius you’ve ever seen), but it’s a true geek’s car. Now to pick out a personalized plate – maybe “CLOUD C” or “ESSEX U” or “AVEBURY”…
As we unpacked all of the boxes, I was all for crushing them and getting rid of them as fast as possible. Instead, Kate advertised them (for free) on Craig’s List, and we had grateful takers for all of them. Lesson to the impatient: recycling stuff is worth the small effort. We haven’t unpacked the books yet, so we’re going to have plenty more.
An on top of all this, I’m busy making plans for another trip to China! I’m flying out on Friday. This time, my plans are so fluid that for now I’ve simply booked a one-way ticket to Hong Kong; we’ll make up the rest of the itinerary over the next few days. There’s a nice urgency in all of this which I also found at Amazon (and didn’t experience during the last few years at Sun). But at Amazon, the urgency was of the short-term variety: small teams, short projects, quick pay-backs. Not here.
(Weird travel detail. I’m flying out on Cathay Pacific, and I thought that since I may wind up on quite a few CX flights over the next few years, it might make sense for me to join their Frequent Flier program, the Marco Polo Club. I went through the long online application form, right up to the point where they told me that it would cost $50 to join. I checked the out-of-the-box benefits: nothing special. So I think I’ll be accruing my CX miles on AA or BA.)



Just installed Eclipse and the Android SDK on my Mac Mini, plugged in the G1 that I bought in China, and built and debugged a couple of really simple apps – first in the emulator, then on the phone. That felt good.



In Seattle we were stuck with Broadstripe for Internet/TV, and bandwidth was so-so. Here in Palo Alto we’re using Comcast, and I like the speed:

Download Speed: 14366 kbps (1795.8 KB/sec transfer rate)
Upload Speed: 4406 kbps (550.8 KB/sec transfer rate)


What a week

This has been an incredible week. 10 days ago we shipped all of our belongings off to California. Since then:

  • We’ve stayed in four different hotels (one in Seattle, three in California). The California shuffle was because of having to continually adjust our expectations about when our stuff would arrive from Seattle, and because many hotels were sold out because of a sporting event for the older set over at Stanford.
  • We’ve set up local bank accounts, and found to our delight that Bank of America is California is actually wired in to the rest of the network, unlike BofA in Washington State which seems to be a poor stepchild.
  • We’ve bought two cars. Well, actually Kate bought her car; I’ve agreed to a purchase which will be consummated next week.
  • We’re moved in – finally. (Yes, the movers were a day late on an expedited move for which we paid an extra $500. Yes, we’re pissed. Yes, we’ll get over it.) Of course “moved in” is a relative term: we still have around 50 boxes to unpack or commit to the storage area. But the furniture is in place (the movers only broke three pieces), the kitchen is up and running, and we have somewhere to sleep.
  • We have internet connectivity, WiFi, and VOIP phone service. We would have TV as well, except for the creative ingenuity of someone at Comcast. And the (non-Comcast) VOIP setup was tedious, involving 40 minutes on the (cell)phone to tech support (including opening up the WAN side of the VOIP box so the tech could ssh into it), followed by a reconfiguration of the Time Capsule that we use for WiFi. TV should be set up on Monday.
  • We’ve discovered three wonderful Italian restaurants nearby, ranging from the fabulous to the neighborhood (in walking distance) to the delightfully creative. And we realized that this was something we missed in Seattle; while there were tons of good seafood places and eclectic nouveau wine bars, there were relatively few good Italian restaurants. Perhaps we missed them; it’s academic now.
  • I spent a relatively full week at work, including several breakfast meetings. Busy, busy, busy. I’m having fun.
  • And this evening we finally got to see the latest Harry Potter film. It was good. Watching the scene where they magically restored a house which a wizard had trashed, we both (a) thought of Mary Poppins, and (b) wished we could use some of that magic on our unopened boxes. Ah, well.

Tomorrow we’ll tackle the clothing and the rest of the geek infrastructure. (Printing would be good. Music too.) And we’ll do a grocery run, which will involve a tough choice: we have Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Safeway within a few blocks….


Building an IaaS team

If you’re curious about what I’m up to, I just posted a piece over at my Cloud Computing blog.