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March 6, 2010

In which it pays to be a pack rat

I’ve unearthed a bit more than ten euros (mostly coins but one folding five) from various drawers, mugs, and other receptacles. I know England still hangs on to the pound, but I’m hoping this may buy me something like breakfast in Heathrow’s Terminal 5, assuming I make my connection and don’t get trapped there any longer.

Posted by pjm at 9:35 PM | Comments (0)

December 24, 2009

United Airlines continues to justify my utter contempt

For purposes of visiting our first nephew, we’re flying to San Francisco on Christmas Day. Before you chuckle and say, “There’s your first mistake,” bear in mind that I’d never done this before; my idea of “stressful Christmas travel” is being on I-95 North for the entire afternoon of December 24th. (Been there.)

Anyway, due to reasons beyond my control, I have 47,7xx frequent flyer miles on United. I have loathed United Airlines for over a decade and for a while refused to participate in any “loyalty” program of theirs, but the first time I went to Japan someone else was booking the flights and I decided it would be silly to pass up that many miles. Two Asian trips and a few miscellaneous European and/or domestic flights later, I’ve stacked up some credit for a service I don’t really like.

So I figured I’d use some of it on upgrades for A and me on this flight. It’s 15,000 miles per person per leg of the roundtrip, so we could do one way or the other but not both. I’ve requested upgrades before, and generally haven’t gotten them, so I figured I’d request for the outbound leg and if we didn’t get it I’d request again for the return.

Hold that idea, then: I asked United, “Based on all this business I’ve done with you, I’d like to take you up on your offer to make my flight a little more pleasant.”

Flash forward to today when I try to check in online. The second screen I see says, in effect, “Please confirm your upgrade method.” I am shown menus next to each of our names asking for such a method, but there are only two options, the null option and using “500-mile certificates”. (These certificates are sold in packs of 4 for about $315. This upgrade would cost us 12.) I try selecting that option and am delivered to a page where United asks me for ~$900 to complete the upgrade. I go back and try not selecting that option, but I get a warning box telling me I need to select a method.

This is frustrating me. I go back out and log in to my frequent flyer account. I verify the number of miles in my account and the number needed for an upgrade. I go to my itinerary which shows we’re already confirmed for an upgrade on the outbound leg. (So why can’t I check in?) I click around trying to find a setting which will let me check in.

Finally I call United’s 800 number. I am willing to bet 30,000 frequent flyer miles that the person I spoke to was geographically located south of China and east of Pakistan, not that that matters. I explained that I wanted to check in but that I was unable to get past the upgrade screen. He says several things which are confusing to me—he speaks often of 15,000 miles, which worries me because I’m not interested in one of us being upgraded without the other. He talks about the miles being already deducted, which doesn’t look right to me; I’m still showing 47,7xx on the website. Finally he puts me on hold for a few minutes and I listen to Gershwin music for a while.

When he gets back on, he tells me that because I just created a request for an upgrade on the return leg, he can’t deduct the miles for the outbound leg. Apparently he can’t remove the return leg request either. And we can’t do online check-in, we’ll have to check in at the airport.

So, as a direct result of that thought above—me taking United up on their offer to make the flight a little more comfortable—we’ll have a little more time at the airport in bureaucratic purgatory sorting out just where the hell we’re supposed to be sitting.

So to sum up, I asked United, “Based on all this business I’ve done with you, I’d like to take you up on your offer to make my flight a little more pleasant,” and they replied, “Sure! Here, let us make your flying experience more confusing and stressful!”

Is anybody surprised these guys need government bailouts and bankruptcy protection every decade or so?

Posted by pjm at 5:15 PM | Comments (0)

September 2, 2009

Something for everyone

My editor at the IAAF is a fan of Finnish athletics, and he inadvertently reminded me that the idea of “Munich tragedy” is different for everyone.

When I visited the Munich Olympic stadium, I looked at the start and finish of the men’s 5,000m (Prefontaine’s race), and I looked over at the tunnel where Frank Shorter entered the stadium (and resisted the urge to yell, “It’s a fraud, Frank!”) I also looked over at the housing complex which used to be the Olympic Village.

Later, Chris asked me, “Did you pause for a moment of silence at the spot where Lasse Viren fell?”

Posted by pjm at 10:36 AM | Comments (1)

August 10, 2009

Amberg's spectacles

I’ve probably seen more of Germany in the two and a half days I’ve been here than I saw of China in two weeks, largely thanks to my cousin and her husband, who met me in Berlin and rambled around that city with me before driving me down to their place in Amberg (right smack in the middle of Bavaria). The best part was that they had been on bicycle tours in several cities already with these folks and wanted to do this one.

The bike tour meant we saw most of the sights of the city and covered a heck of a lot of ground in a pretty compressed span of time. (Including the beer garden stop, a bit more than four and a half hours.) Now I also know where to go back to and how to get there next week, when I’ll be working with small bites of time between morning and evening sessions.

My favorite part of Germany, though, which I’d forgotten, is the many nicknames the Germans have for their geography. The Victory Column, for example, has a small rod holding it upright, leading to its nickname, “Chick on a Stick.” The East Berlin TV tower is known as “The Pope’s Revenge” for various reasons. And now, in Amberg, I discovered a bridge arch known as the Spectacles of Amberg. The few sentences describing it in English, of course, don’t explain why. You have to look at it for a while before it dawns on you…

Amberg's spectacles

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March 3, 2009

A press release, or a taunt?

Somewhere along the line, I found myself on the press mailing list for the 2010 European Championships, which will be held in Barcelona. (I suspect there’s enough overlap between the Barcelona 10 organizers and the Valencia ‘08 committee that they simply grabbed the email addresses of all media from the World Indoor Championships last year.)

This would be eminently reasonable except that there’s no good reason for me to get any assignments to attend a European Championships. That and the Commonwealth Games are the two big meets I’m pretty much unlikely to see unless I go as a tourist someday.

(If I work a big meet in 2010, it’s likely to be the World Juniors, in Moncton, New Brunswick.)

There’s no way for the Barcelona team to know this, of course. After all, I came to Valencia, why not Barcelona, right?

Posted by pjm at 12:23 PM | Comments (0)

January 3, 2009

Airline reservation systems make no sense

I’ve mentioned this before. But earlier this week I made reservations for a flight using frequent flyer miles. (Yes, JohnL, you may assume I’m headed your direction again.) I have enough miles for a cheap ticket on three different airlines, assembled over the last six or seven years. (Mergers may bring me another ticket sometime soon.)

I checked Delta, which offered to sell me a ticket on the right dates, but with lousy travel times (arrive at 11 PM, depart at 6 AM). Before committing to this, I tried my other two airlines, and sure enough, Continental would do the same dates for the same price (miles plus fees) with better travel times.

Of course, Continental barely flies out of one of my departing city and doesn’t go to my destination at all. The flights I’m booked on all have Delta numbers. It seems bizarre to me that to get the better flight times on the same airline, what I needed to do was use Continental miles, not Delta miles.

Posted by pjm at 9:24 PM | Comments (2)

November 21, 2008

What's reflected in an airport?

It’s been about a year since I traveled to (or through) Indianapolis airport. (I was here three times in 2007, twice in 2006, and half a dozen times before that.) Since then, they’ve moved from the crammed and cramped terminal they were in (which nonetheless had some high points, not least being the plentiful power outlets) to a shiny new facility they started a few years ago.

It’s like many other airports, of course; a bit of Detroit here, a bit of PDX there. It has a nice central food court, food on both sides of security, still a few power sockets around, etc. etc., and probably the best improvement, free wireless internet. I’m sitting in baggage claim waiting for the rest of my car pool, plugged in, hooked up, and fed.

But baggage claim is nearly empty. It’s a big, airy, light hall, and there’s practically nobody around, especially relative to the perpetually mobbed state of the old place. Which leads me to wonder: did Indianapolis build this terminal because the old terminal was significantly over capacity? How much did they over-build this one? Maybe they’re planning on spending a few decades growing in to it?

Posted by pjm at 12:34 PM | Comments (1)

October 19, 2008

What am I being charged for, again?

I just made a flight reservation for next month, and was aghast to spot a “September 11 Security Fee” of $10 in the list of fees and charges over and above the actual fare.

I have to wonder what’s covered by this fee. The cost of reinforcing cockpit doors? I hope it’s not the cost of airport security, considering the damning evidence in the November Atlantic.

Airport security in America is a sham—“security theater” designed to make travelers feel better and catch stupid terrorists.

And we’re paying for it. Whether it’s a September 11 Security Fee or through the ominously-named “Department of Homeland Security”. Especially now, don’t you think we should be getting better value for the money?

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September 1, 2008

The Olympic bubble

However much I posted about the Olympics, I didn’t post much about China. There’s a perfectly good reason for that: I barely saw it.

Great Wall at BadalingI could blame this on the Chinese government and BOCOG, who really wanted me (and all the other foreigners in China for the Olympics) to stick around the Olympic Green and talk about, write about, and generally appreciate what Great Olympics they were putting on. I didn’t meet any bureaucratic resistance to tourism, but the Authorities had the power to make some things easy and other things complicated, and “staying close to the action” was made easy and “rambling around Beijing” was made hard.

I could also blame my work, which (quite correctly) required me to focus monomaniacally on the inside of the Bird’s Nest and the awesome things happening in there. Most days, my schedule involved being up at 7:15, showered, fed, and out of the hotel by 8:15, and on the job at the stadium by 8:30 or so. (Yes, it took anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to cover the 200m straight-line distance from the hotel to the stadium, thanks to multiple security checks, limited entrances, etc.)

I’d have a window starting anywhere from noon to 2 PM until around 5, when I needed to be working my way back through security to the stadium to eat (I had access to an IAAF VIP lounge—note that access to the lounge did not make me a VIP—which was where I ate dinner most nights.) Subways downtown were free but required at least two train changes and took as much as an hour, between walking to the Olympic Green stop and the actual travel time, which doesn’t leave much exploring time. The Forbidden City, they say, can take a full day to “do” properly, even when your credential (again) gets you in free.

Forbidden City sceneAnd then the evening session would have me working until midnight (earliest) or 2 AM (latest), giving me somewhat less than enough time to sleep before starting over, which meant I liked spending that window time sleeping.

Certainly these conditions made things difficult, but I can’t help feeling I could’ve applied myself more. I did make it up to the Great Wall on one of the days with no morning session, and down to the Forbidden City on the other, but in tourism terms that means I just managed to clear the opening height. If you asked me, I’d have to say I still haven’t really seen Beijing, let alone the rest of China.

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August 19, 2008

Heck of a track meet

I’ve been a lousy tourist. A solid week in Beijing as of this afternoon, and I’ve left the Olympic Green twice, both times to downtown hotels for various dinners. (Hooray for traveling with a jacket and tie.) The schedule, which generally keeps me in the stadium past midnight and requires me to be up around 7 for morning sessions, has had me too tired to concentrate on anything but my work. I hope to change that, but aside from the firewall and the large numbers of Asian spectators, these Olympics might as well be in Spain. (I can’t even blame jet lag; I’m tired in all twenty-four time zones.)

The trade off has been that it’s been an awesome track meet. Three world records might not sound like much after the swimming section of the program, but track, as one of my colleagues sniffed, does not give away World Records like door prizes. Most of these events have been around decades, if not centuries. World Records mean something.

To put it another way, I’ve seen three world records in three days. In my entire career to date, I’d seen three other world records in outdoor track, and for one of those I didn’t actually see it; I was in a press conference when it happened. I’ve seen probably around five more for indoor track, with one of those now likely to be revoked under doping suspicion. And one in the marathon (again, I didn’t see it; I was in the press room). So maybe around ten in twelve years. Now I’ve seen three in three days. And there are at least two more events in which world records are possible this week.

Also, I have to say the Olympic mascots, the fuwa, have to be the best mascots I’ve seen at a major event in ages. They’re actually kind of cute.

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August 18, 2008

Not quite a free pass

Well, despite our earlier success in gaining entry to other venues, today’s expedition was less productive. We walked over to the team handball venue, almost as close to our hotel as the Bird’s Nest is, in hopes of catching a game between sessions. Unfortunately, it turns out those venues, on the south side of the 4th Ring Road, are not part of the Common Domain.

Our OIACs, I should mention, do in fact have some kind of RFID insert, because we hold them up to a reader when we go through security. Usually the reader’s red light goes green, but today it turned yellow, which I presume means a valid credential but no entry allowed. (Invalid credentials would stay red, I guess.) Spectator tickets have the same kind of machine-readable tag embedded, because the spectators do the same stunt with their tickets at security. So we weren’t allowed in.

I’m speculating that had we gone up to the Main Press Center and caught a media bus to the venue, as we did when we went to archery, we would’ve been fine, because we wouldn’t have had to go through that security gate. But maybe they would’ve checked our credential to get on that bus? We don’t know.

Most of the events we’re looking at conflict with the track schedule. (Field hockey, for example, has a lot of interest for us, but they play their games in the morning and evening, which is also when the athletics sessions are held.) The soccer (excuse me, football) final is in the Bird’s Nest, but on Saturday, which is one of our precious no-morning-session days which means we’ll likely be trying more non-Olympic tourism. It may be now that our other-events exploring will be less than we’d expected.

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August 16, 2008

About those credentials

So if I’m a “sport-specific journalist”, what was I doing in the media seats at the archery venue?

It turns out that unless the event is “ticketed” (think finals of marquee sports like the morning sessions of swimming) the access control is relatively loose. Rather than looking closely at the sport blocks on our passes—mine says “AT” for Athletics—they just look for the number which denotes level of access. I have a 4, which is the print media number at all venues. (5 is broadcaster, which is a higher level of access; the others are in different classes altogether.) Unrestricted media have a infinity symbol for the sport listing.

So as long as nobody is looking closely to see my AT, I can get in most venues. We’ll see what I have time for in the next week; I’m pretty exhausted already and today’s between-sessions time may just involve a nap.

There’s another advantage to the credential: when entering the “OCD”, credential code for the Olympic Green, there are generally long, long lines. When we leave our hotel in the morning, the line already passes the hotel door and extends up the street out of sight. But we obnoxiously walk up to the front of the line, wave credentials at the volunteers at the gate, and are waved through to a “fast lane” of security checking. I try not to look back at the faces of the people we’re passing as they stand in the sun waiting.

An official in our hotel referred to his credentials as his “Get out of jail free card.” No wonder they’re so careful about who gets them.

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August 15, 2008

No fans like Korean fans

Well, that’s not really true everywhere. But where I’m sitting now, specifically the press tribune of the archery venue, it is true.

The quarterfinals start any minute now. There are maybe three sections of the bleachers opposite which are pretty near full, and one of them is almost entirely full of Koreans. They’ve spent the last ten minutes chanting, bashing thunder-sticks, and waving scarves. I’ve seen less-organized football fans.

Supposedly there’s at least one American shooting. I’m wondering if I’m the only American here.

(Later)

No, not the only American; when the American (Kirk Wunderle) shot in the last of four quarterfinals, quite a few Americans came out of the woodwork. The Korean had to go to fourteen arrows to put away his Cuban challenger; normally they shoot twelve in a match, scoring a maximum of ten points per arrow. After twelve, they shot a thirteenth where both scored nine, and then it was a ten from the Korean in the fourteenth that advanced him to the semifinals. Was it ever loud.

(The Ukrainian and the Russian have gone to fourteen arrows in the semifinal as well.)

We’ve retreated to the workroom to watch the semifinals in air conditioning, but we’ll go back out for the medal rounds if we have time. We figure it should be less than an hour to get back to the Bird’s Nest from here, and they should finish by 6. Competition resumes there at 7.

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August 14, 2008

This wouldn't happen in the States

Well, maybe it would. But I doubt it.

It’s raining this afternoon in Beijing. (On the plus side, the rain clears the smog up nicely; it rained on Monday and my arrival on Tuesday featured nearly-blue skies.) In a lull, I started walking back to my hotel from the main press center, but the pouring accelerated as I passed the Water Cube and I took shelter along with a few dozen others under the umbrellas of a snack counter on the Olympic Green.

After I’d stood there for fifteen or twenty minutes with my feet getting wet, a young man came up to me and offered me an umbrella. By that I determined that he was happy to walk me wherever I was going, under his umbrella.

And he did walk me all the way around to the exit closest to the hotel. He was on vacation for the day and had no tickets to any events; he was just walking around the green soaking up the atmosphere. He was very excited to learn that I was American; he’s been studying English for about seven years and did pretty well with it, though I doubt he’s reached the point of thinking in the language. He was quite effusive about how happy he was about the brief encounter.

I left him at the exit gate and started splashing up the sidewalk to the hotel. I hadn’t made it fifty meters before a woman going the same direction ran a few steps to catch up with me and hold her umbrella over me. She didn’t speak a word of English; she was just going the same direction, and I clearly lacked any kind of rain gear. She stopped at the volunteer’s booth near the hotel, and I had just a few more steps to go.

Ever had total strangers offer to share an umbrella with you before?

(Things I wouldn’t be seeing on US TV: women’s archery. The woman shooting in the bronze medal match for South Korea has a pink bow and a pink shoulder guard with hearts and pandas on it. And she’ll put a shaft of aluminum in you at fifty meters.)

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August 13, 2008

24 hours in Beijing

I’m in a hotel room in Beijing, watching the Italy-Cameroon soccer game with the sound off (the commentary is in Chinese anyway) and trying to get caught up. The ethernet connection in the room is slow, but free.

I spent a lot of time in the air to get here, right over the Arctic. Might as well take the shortest path, I suppose. I went through the border control at the airport behind the Kenyan Olympic team and Brian Sell.

The sky was almost blue yesterday (before I collapsed and went to sleep) but it’s grey and brown today. Some of that’s increased overcast, but it’s also much smoggier. It hasn’t bothered my breathing much yet and everyone’s continuing to dismiss it (“It’s foggy,” says the IOC president) but yikes.

The Olympic park is crowded with people taking photos of themselves with the Bird’s Nest and the torch in the background, and the fences around the green (the secured area) are also lined with photo takers.

I seem to be doing OK with the time change so far, in the sense that my level of fatigue doesn’t seem to have a direct relationship to either local time or U.S. Eastern time.

The most interesting problem with the so-called “Great Firewall of China” is that Runner’s World has a lot of its coverage on sites hosted by Typepad, and Typepad’s IPs are largely blocked. So it’s easy for them to log in and post stories, but they can’t then check that the stories look right online. I can get their feeds but can’t click through.

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August 8, 2008

When anticipation gives way to panic

As I write, the Opening Ceremonies are happening, twelve hours ahead of me in Beijing. Three days from now I’ll be on a plane.

I’ve been trying to keep a lid on it, but I’ve been anticipating this trip since the prospect arose last fall. Until a few weeks ago, it had the feeling of a long drive: as long as the destination is over the horizon, eight months and two months are pretty much the same. I accumulated some unread guidebooks, a fresh passport, and a trickle of organizational paperwork.

Now things seem to be approaching at a terrifying rate. I’m looking at my to-do list and wondering how much of it will actually get done, and getting a little stressed out about making sure all my ducks are in a metaphorical row by the end of the day Sunday.

Last night this was reaching the point of a tension headache as I peered at the command line of a new server. Then the house went dark. A downed tree somewhere in town had cut power to our neighborhood. My laptop would still run on batteries, but the network was down, so what was the point?

I used a flashlight to dig a few candles out of a box in the basement, and went to bed early, reading by candlelight for an hour or so. I woke up in the middle of the night—probably hearing the buzz and whir of powering-up printers in the office—to discover a light on in the dining room, and the power back on. But I slept better than I had in days.

Update: …and the Onion is not helping.

Now Playing: King’s Crossing from From A Basement On The Hill by Elliott Smith

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July 28, 2008

Let's just get the embedded RFID chips and be done with it

James Reynolds, the BBC correspondent in China, posted a blog entry today in which he discussed, along with the arrival of parts of the British Olympic team and the air in Beijing, the OIAC.

Officially accredited journalists are all given an official yellow-lined Olympic Games pass—which gets you past police checkpoints and into Olympic venues (this pass is so sacred and impossible to replace, that if you lose it, you might as well quietly emigrate, start a new life under a false name and hope that no-one ever tracks you down to tell you how stupid you were to lose your pass).

But this one official Olympic pass doesn’t get you everywhere. You also need a special pass for your car, and you need a special sticker for your video camera as well. If you’re going into the Olympic village, you’ll need another, completely different pass as well—which you have to apply for well in advance.

All in all, it might be easier—and quicker—to brand your forehead with your name, date of birth, passport number and DNA sequence.

I can’t say that I’m excited about the pollution numbers.

Posted by pjm at 9:27 AM | Comments (0)

July 12, 2008

Pre-valid OIAC

Normally, I show up at a big meet, go to the accreditation center (often “centre”), wave around some government-issued photo ID, and get handed a card to wear around my neck. Never before has the card arrived with me in advance of the meet.

But then, the Olympics is not a normal track meet.

Just as with the application, the degree of care used with the package dropped dramatically once it crossed the Atlantic. I’d given a slightly inaccurate address, and the package was delivered to my neighbor, who had it half open (not signing for it, I assume) before he realized it was for me. He left it on our side-door step, where I only noticed it because Iz was intently watching one of the neighborhood cats who was camped out next to it for a few minutes.

OIAC

Opening up the package reminded me of the phenomenon of “unboxing” which seems to have come with the fetishization of various technology products. Courier envelope, IAAF envelope, note. Then the BOCOG envelope, containing a slip of paper explaining “to whom it may concern” that “The OIAC will be accepted as a multiple entry visa to China (including Hong Kong SAR and Macao SAR) … along with a valid passport. … Please accept this OIAC as proof of the individual’s entry/exit visa to China.”

And then the OIAC (Olympic Identification and Accreditation Card), easily the most sophisticated credential I’ve ever been issued. It’s visually similar to most credentials, a laminated card about seven inches high by four wide, with an appalling picture of me (extra feature: there’s a copy on the back as well), a number of small squares describing where I’m allowed to go (media transportation, the Olympic Common Domain, whatever that is, the Main Press Centre (sic), and Athletics) along with a big letter code I don’t understand and a bar code. (The bar code is a new one, almost certainly a security feature: it’s more accurate to scan bar codes for access than to eyeball cards.) My passport number is on there somewhere. There may be an RFID wire in the card somewhere, but I can’t tell.

Unusually, there’s no indication of my citizenship. Normally at overseas meets I find the stars and stripes somewhere on my credential; this one simply has my name, the phrase “sport-specific journalist” (which means I can’t use it to get in to the Water Cube, more’s the pity) and the phrase “Pre-IAAF” which apparently means I’m a temporary citizen of the nation of the International Association of Athletics Federations.

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May 28, 2008

An efficient way to get thrown out of the country

We got word today that housing for the Olympics is 99% certain, and the hotel is 50m (meters, not miles) from the Birdcage, the main stadium (and, of course, the track and field venue.)

The message included this endorsement:

To quote the accommodation manager responsible, “I could hit a golf ball off the roof and it would land in the shot put area!”

This image leads me to speculate on how hard it would be to borrow some clubs in Beijing and test this assertion… how quickly I’d be on a plane if I actually did… and whether I could hit a golf ball that accurately in the first place. (The javelin sector would be easier.)

This may be a contender for the closest I’ve ever stayed to a competition venue. Stuttgart will be hard to beat, though.

Posted by pjm at 3:07 PM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2008

Tempting

Figuring out how a particular junk-mail sender got my address and decided I would be a good target can be a mildly amusing game, but I’m still trying to work out how I got the big first-class-postage mailer from the resort in Bermuda. I mean, I’ve been to Bermuda, but several address changes ago.

Now Playing: I Better Be Quiet Now from Figure 8 by Elliott Smith

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March 10, 2008

When a line is not a line

I was trying to figure out why I was so bothered by the general behavior of people in the airport lines I saw this week, and I realized that my most-recent experience in European airports was entirely German and Swiss, where lines are taken seriously.

Apparently in Spain and Italy, lines are more of a suggestion. I watched people in security lines and boarding lines (not check-in lines, but I would’ve been much more upset there) casually walk past me and join the line close to the front. In some cases (boarding, generally, but also the passport control line in Milan) the line wasn’t even sharply defined, just a generalized mob with a front and a back through which people filtered at varying rates of speed.

For the most part, it didn’t affect me—I got where I needed to go and didn’t miss anything—but it was a little annoying.

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March 9, 2008

Fallas fireworks

The Spanish, they love their gunpowder.

We’re in Valencia in the early stages of the Fallas festival, which involves (for a very, very brief summary) large papier-maché statues, copious fireworks, and fire—every statue but one is burned at the culmination of the festival, which comes later this month. (And alcohol, of course.)

Part of the festival includes fireworks at 2:00 every afternoon in the plaza in front of the City Hall. I was there on Thursday, because our press conference was there, and got some video clips of the conflagration. Because the festivities are held in full sunlight, the pyrotechnics rely heavily on noise and smoke, so the racket is tremendous. I briefly suspected that the technicians on the ground had accidentally set off a detonation of all the remaining gunpowder on the ground, before they were launched, but on further consideration I realized the raucous banging and plume of smoke was intentional.

Whenever I’ve been outdoors, particularly this weekend, there have been occasional crackles and bangs of firecrackers on neighboring streets; it’s easy to imagine the city engaged in some bizarre guerrilla warfare with skirmishes breaking out day and night.

The sprint races have seen a rash of false starts here, and I’ve occasionally wondered if the starters are simply joining the celebration of Las Fallas by letting fly a few rounds from their pistols.

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Scouting

I was sitting in the sun in a plaza downtown on Thursday, having just finished writing a third postcard, when it occurred to me that I rather liked the kind of tourism I was doing. I wasn’t struggling to visit a length list of “sights,” nor was I footsore in a museum somewhere. I spent the afternoon going where my feet took me, visiting things which looked intriguing but ignoring the “Don’t Miss” lists.

Sometimes I think of these work trips as scouting, as though one of these days I’ll come back to all the places I didn’t really have time to visit the first time, and see the rest of it. I had only an afternoon here in Valencia, but I feel like I filled it well, and I’ll leave early tomorrow with a list of “next times” but without any great regrets.

Turia fountain

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Posted by pjm at 9:52 AM | Comments (0)

Another content-free post

One pleasant side-effect of jet lag is that I really won’t notice the daylight savings time shift. I just discovered this morning that I’m now only five hours ahead, instead of the six I’ve been for the last several days. Since I’m averaging about five hours of sleep a night, working until one or two and rising with the sun, my time zone has ceased to have much connection to my physical state.

Last night’s work: the wrap for Saturday and the preview for Sunday. I’m sort of proud of successfully working in the Morceli reference in the preview and making it work. They tell me I will only be doing the summaries, not the previews, in Beijing, which is a good thing. I think I’ve already mentioned several times how much I don’t love doing previews.

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March 8, 2008

The resignations will continue until staffing problems are resolved

Choreographing the many details of an event such as the World Indoor Championships can’t be simple, and the Local Organizing committee (who have undoubtedly been working on these three days for as much as two years, if not more) have to be under a lot of stress.

There’s a lot to go wrong. Like yesterday, when the bus I rode from my hotel to the venue appeared not to know how to actually reach the venue. He looped it twice, and when he appeared to have missed it the third time, the Spanish journalists in the bus crowded to the front, calling to him, “Enough, enough. Stop here.” So finally he did, and we walked from there. Apparently there were other issues with buses not turning up on schedule at all, or nobody knowing where the drop-off and pick-up points were. One of my colleagues made it back to the hotel via the subway system and about 15 minutes of walking, more quickly than I did on the official shuttle bus.

Today, it develops that the transport manager has resigned. Which leaves us wondering: who’s managing the buses for the remaining two days of the championships? (Not to mention the airport shuttles on Monday, now that I think about it.)

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March 6, 2008

I love having my language skills minimized

I’ve discovered something in Spain (or perhaps in Valencia, which like many regions of Spain has its own special dialect; I’ve heard some, I’m not sure if they’re local, who sound like they’re speaking with a lisp, but it’s just their dialect) which I haven’t encountered anywhere else that I recall.

Specifically, I’ve run into Spaniards who take an entirely American approach to their native language. When they realize you don’t speak Spanish, they slow down and speak louder… but stick to Spanish. Because, of course, the problem is really just that I’m hard of hearing, not that all my language-learning efforts were for languages other than theirs.

Today, I ran into a friendlier guy. First he asked if I was German. (The word is similar to the French, “allemagne” or something like it.) Then if I was British. When I said I was American, he asked if I was from New York. Then I think he offered to sell me hashish. But maybe I misunderstood him.

Now Playing: Scratch To Void by People In Planes

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March 5, 2008

Running in the river

This morning I ran in the Jardines de Turia, a long park about 150m-200m wide which runs in a broad arc around the historic center of Valencia. It’s a pretty decent place for a run; I had expected the park to end, eventually, or to be constantly stopping to wait for lights at major road crossings. Instead I found paths which apparently run somewhat more than five miles (I didn’t reach the end) and largely pass under bridges at major roads. In fact, the whole thing was, oddly, ten or twenty feet below the rest of the city. A minor stream ran along the park, but it’s a domesticated thing with pools and, I imagined, pumps somewhere to keep it flowing.

I saw quite a few runners down there, many apparently running with groups. (I also spotted a few Kenyans in town for the meet, so I knew I was in the right place.) It’s mainly concrete paths, but there are some dirt paths of the sort which have been hammered into stone by the tread of however many hundreds opted to avoid the too-hard concrete. (In other words, not much improvement.)

I discovered later that the park was, in fact, the old bed of the River Turia, and that the river had been rerouted to the south of the city after a catastrophic 1957 flood and turned into a massive park, not unlike if Boston drained the Charles from, say, Watertown to the sea and turned it into a park (though narrower, I suspect.)

One of these days I plan to run over to the port where the America’s Cup bases are (with the Swiss winning again last year, the expectation is that the next Cup will be held here as well, so the bases haven’t been dismantled—though the shop at the Alinghi base was running a 60% off sale when I walked there yesterday.) My hotel is as far as they get from the meet venue, but as close to the sea as any of the official meet hotels, so I’m happy to ride a bus back and forth. You can enter the beach there, which also goes for miles, but today the wind was brisk enough that I might have been sandblasted had I tried to run there.

Now Playing: Singing In My Sleep from Feeling Strangely Fine by Semisonic

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March 3, 2008

Confusing the TSA

I was thinking of approaching airport security this afternoon wearing my “WWBSD?” shirt (that’s “What Would Bruce Schneier Do”) but decided against.

Instead, my civil disobedience will be to go through security with an empty half-liter Nalgene bottle and powdered drink mix, which I will use to generate insecure! liquids! with water freely available beyond security.

Honestly, security fear is going to make this decade like the ’80s: a source for satire long after it’s gone.

I’ve been trying to minimize the shock of jet lag by getting up early for most of the last week. If there were no other considerations, I would’ve been up before 5 this morning, but the problem has been getting to bed early enough to do that. Maybe tomorrow I can tell you how it worked.

Now Playing: Army from The Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner by Ben Folds Five

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March 2, 2008

Six hours ahead tomorrow night

By this time tomorrow, I’ll be on a plane for Spain (no word on rain in the plane.) I should be writing a story about my favorite non-running event which will come out, along with a story on a particular sprinter, in the next few days.

I will be spending most of my time, starting Friday, on the event “blog,” as I did in Osaka. (It’s not really a blog; my entries will be time-stamped, but they will also be very brief, and can’t be permalinked or commented on.) I will supposedly have a few “guest” bloggers, including Sanya Richards, Jeremy Wariner, and Janeth Jepkosgei; you’re now either impressed or mystified. I will also have a Spanish-language colleague working next to me, a first for the IAAF. I wonder if our readership will be compared.

I’m also writing the event previews each day, a prospect which fills me with some dread as I look back over my Osaka work and notice myself assuring the world (or, at least, the fraction which reads the back pages of Running Times) that “Alan Webb has beaten Bernard Lagat twice this season, and it’s reasonable to say he owns Lagat now.” That didn’t exactly pan out as I expected.

Now Playing: Cool James from Little by Little by Harvey Danger

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February 29, 2008

Currency balancing

I took a look at the exchange rate for dollars and euros this afternoon, which is a win-lose situation for me at the moment. My expenses will be higher in Valencia, on the losing side; on the winning side, the IAAF started pricing my time in euros this year, so the dollar’s slide means more dollars for each job. (I’m delaying invoicing for a lot of this spring’s work for just this reason.)

What puzzles me is that the announced prize money for the World Indoor Championships is still in dollars. There may be systemic reasons for this, but it seems like an increasingly bad bet for the athletes. I wonder what the political ramifications of the IAAF switching to euros as the currency for its prize-money events would be? One more blow to consumer confidence in the US? Would anyone notice?

Now Playing: Blackbirds from Distillation by Erin McKeown

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February 6, 2008

Paying for those tickets

I suppose the airlines’ struggle to reach (or sustain) profitability this decade has led them to try to squeeze as much direct revenue from their frequent flyer programs as possible. (This is as opposed to the indirect revenue of supposedly motivating travelers to fly more often with them.)

What brings this to mind is the deluge of credit-card offers I’ve been getting tied to my several frequent-flyer memberships. (I have five with some amount of miles in them.) The credit-card companies probably pay the airlines some fee to be allowed to mail to their list; whether it’s a straight-out fee per flyer, or a bounty per member who actually signs up for a card, either way it’s revenue to the airline. I’ve been getting these offers for years, but the frequency of their arrival in my mailbox seems to have increased.

(Yesterday, I even got a solicitation to get an affinity card for US Masters Swimming, but they’re a non-profit, so the “help us generate revenue” pitch can be a good bit more up-front.)

I feel a good bit of cognitive dissonance about this, considering that we’re being hammered with news stories telling us how our borrowing habits have led the country to the brink of recession. (If you haven’t had this connection traced out for you already, ask; I won’t do it right now.) On the one hand, it’s entirely reasonable for a company to say, “Wow, American consumers borrow a lot; is there a way we can make money from this?” But the idea of using a national problem like this for specific gain feels a lot like marketing liquor specifically to alcoholics, and the consumer who signs up for the credit cards is like someone curing a hangover with “the hair of the dog.”

On a more personal level, I’ve never signed up for one of these cards. On one hand, I must look like a great potential customer, because I’ve never defaulted on a loan, but since several years ago I’ve also made a point of never carrying a balance on a card if I can help it, so I seldom pay interest. Also, these cards almost invariably carry an annual fee, and why would I want a credit card with an annual fee when it’s so easy to find ones without?

Now Playing: Lucinda from Glitter In the Gutter by Jesse Malin

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January 31, 2008

Choose your disaster

I left the house at 6 AM yesterday, with plans to catch a train around 8 in New Haven, arriving in Grand Central around 10 for a 10:30 meeting. I stopped at a drive-through ATM on my way through town to pick up some cash, having all of $1 in folding money with me. Put my card in the slot, and with a hum the machine slurped it up…

…and did precisely nothing. Nothing on the screen, no responses to buttons, silence. I pushed buttons at random for a few minutes, then arrived at the conclusion that missing my meeting would have larger consequences than losing my ATM card. So I abandoned it.

I was upset about this for an hour or so, but I changed my mind as I approached Hartford. At the left ramp where people heading south on 91 exit for 84 East, someone in a white sedan appeared to have missed the turn completely. There wasn’t much visible damage to the car, but the crash-protection barrels were in disarray and the car’s airbags appeared to have been triggered. The driver looked like they were on their cell phone, hopefully calling 911.

I decided that, given the alternatives, I was happy with my own misfortune and didn’t want to trade.

(For the record, the bank canceled my card and is sending me a new one.)

Now Playing: When You’re Near Me I Have Difficulty from Drums And Wires by XTC

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January 15, 2008

Accreditation application, by the numbers

  • People who actually signed for the “courier” delivery: 0
  • Pages of the application: 1
  • Blanks on the application: 27 (not counting photo)
  • Blanks I actually needed to fill out: 18 (not counting photo)
  • Pages of the accompanying manual: 98 (plus ancillary CD-ROM)
  • Pages of that manual which are in English: 43 (the French section is inexplicably longer)
  • Pages dedicated to examples of acceptable and unacceptable photos for the OIAC (in the English section): 5
  • Number of impenetrable abbreviations like OIAC (Olympic Identity and Accreditation Card): I lost count

(Update, the next day)

  • Cost to send it back to Monaco, counting photo(s): ~$55

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January 12, 2008

By courier

Since some time Thursday, I’ve been watching a package-tracking page from another country.

The Olympic media credential form, apparently, includes a fifty-page instruction booklet. I’m told that the credential itself “acts as a visa,” so I won’t need to go through the process of applying for a Chinese visa, but the accreditation process is the most elaborate application I’ve encountered since applying to grad school, and I haven’t even laid eyes on the paper yet. Part of this is the unavoidable bureaucracy of the Olympics, but part of it is because through my IAAF.org work, I’m not going through the usual USOC channels.

Instead, the IAAF is sending me a form “by courier,” and I am sending it directly back to them. Along with several others, it gets endorsed by the IAAF’s General Secretary, and then sent to the IOC; in essence, the IAAF is acting like a country, and it has adopted me as a citizen for this event. The form is on its way to me now; I have to turn it around next week.

It’s not clear to me exactly what “by courier” means in a literal sense; the phrase brings to mind images of the Pony Express or airline passengers handcuffed to their briefcases. (Try taking that through the security screening!) It seems more likely that it’s almost synonymous with DHL or FedEx. It does, apparently, mean that someone has to sign for the package on arrival (and not just sign a slip that says “leave it on the porch.”)

The French-based service which is handling this credential was quite brisk about getting it from Monaco to trans-Atlantic departure from Roissy, but it looks like they’re at something of a loss when it comes to getting from New York to Boston; there has been no new tracking message for about thirty hours.

Now Playing: Night Time (Bonus Track) from Let’s Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later On Tonight by Marah

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December 20, 2007

Small town, big city

My home town was in the Globe’s Travel feature yesterday. I should qualify this by noting that I actually grew up in an even smaller town (by population, anyway) just to the south, but even in-state it’s easier to just name the “city” than try to explain where the small town is.

I learned about the Globe feature through an evening email from my aunt, who hadn’t been able to get a copy up in Maine and was asking the Massachusetts wing of the family if we could save a clipping somewhere. I walked up to Teele Square a little after 11 and picked up one of the last two copies at the convenience store there; they didn’t sell out because, after all, their city is in the paper every day, and not even buried on the back page of the Food section.

I reflected that there weren’t many places where I could walk a few blocks and get a paper, a gallon of OJ, and a spare battery for the smoke alarm after 11 PM up in my home town—particularly in the small town, where most people aren’t in walking distance of any store. On the other hand, I reminded myself, this is the first time I’ve done that in over two years in the Boston area, and it’s possible it will be the only time.

Now Playing: Birdman from Live Light (France, 11/1994) by Ride

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December 13, 2007

I've been away

Like nearly everyone else in the country over the age of 20, I’ve had mail lately from the Currency Conversion Fee litigation people. I don’t have the kind of records that would let me itemize my overseas purchases for the last ten years, but that passport I just retired got used once or twice, so I decided to pass up options A (take $25 and run) and C (itemize everything and we’ll figure a refund) in favor of B, in which I estimate the days I spent outside the USA in the ten-years-and-a-few-months from 1996 to 2006, and get a refund based on “average spending” multiplied by that number of days.

The number I came up with was 60, which surprised me a little. I’m no hardened traveller, as you can tell by the enthusiasm I approach my trips with, but I didn’t imagine that I’d averaged nearly a week outside the US for the last ten years.

Too bad the window doesn’t extend to the end of 2008; I’d be over 100 days total and the average would be over a week.

Now Playing: Fortress from Summer In Abaddon by Pinback

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November 23, 2007

That was fast

Mindful of many warnings that it would take a long time to get my passport renewed, I followed these instructions for printing my own passport photo and sent in my application on November 7. Because my old passport was issued less than twelve years ago (I think that’s the interval) I was able to print a form and send form, photos, and the old passport by mail rather than having to do anything in person.

I was expecting the process to take a few months, but the new passport arrived today, just over two weeks later. The photo is a little dark, making me suspect that my home-printed version doesn’t handle the heat of sealing to paper as well as a “real” photo might have, but it looks like me and the passport office was OK with it, so I’m not complaining.

The accompanying flyer (and a little symbol on the front cover) explain that I do have one of the new RFID-equipped passports, so now I have to consider how paranoid to be about that. (When I search for “RFID passport”, the entire first page of results are from sites panning the technology.)

This will be my third passport. The second came back in the same envelope, with two holes in the front cover and a “cancelled” stamp on the first page, where my signature is. I’ll stow it in the same box as my first, once I can find that.

Update: Found the first passport and stowed the second with it. First was issued in 1990, good for five years, and picked up some nifty stamps but nowhere near the quantity over ten years of the second. However, it was stuffed with cash: early-90s Polish bills, some mid-90s rubles (both probably valueless by now) and a Bermudian $2 bill. Also, three 35mm film canisters (remember film canisters? Remember film?) loaded with coins, which I didn’t go through. I need to add some yen and euros which are currently kicking around in Somerville.

Now Playing: Two Princes from Pocket Full of Kryptonite by Spin Doctors

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November 22, 2007

Tourism advice for me

Thanksgiving dinner involved no turkey for me, since A’s family went for ham this year. I like a good turkey, of course, but I don’t much like the resulting tryptophan stupor, so I was all in favor. I recalled my brother’s stories of a former teammate who would express great anticipation of going home to his mother’s “Thanksgiving lasagna” so skipping the poultry is certainly not too far from the mainstream.

The crowd in Amherst was a varied one, as they invited several parties who might not have done Thanksgiving otherwise. We had an economics professor from the college A’s sister lives near, who’s Turkish and has no family in the area; a student from The College who hadn’t gone home for break; and a family (mother, father, daughter) of Chinese immigrants who have been getting ESL tutoring from A’s mother.

These three were wide-eyed to hear that I was headed to Beijing next year. For various reasons, return to China is not an option for them, so they were enthusiastic with suggestions for what I should do with what little free time is available to me. I should go to Xian (only an hour by plane!) and see the terracotta army, and of course, I should see the Great Wall. If all I see is Beijing, “you will not have been to China,” they told me. Just an extra day or two!

I suspect that has been true of several countries I claim to have visited (two trips to Japan and I still haven’t been to Tokyo, or even seen Mt. Fuji?)

They also assured me that (a) having my housing and travel already arranged would be a lifesaver, because it probably couldn’t be done anymore, and (b) my first impression of Beijing was going to be, “too many people!”

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October 24, 2007

Don't drive to the Olympics

No, not Beijing: 2012 in London. The Times is reporting that the 2012 organizing committee is “adopting the most aggressive anticar policy ever applied to a major event.”

The details include an almost complete lack of parking areas around the venues (exceptions, of course, being made for “a small number of disabled people”—I wonder if public transportation will be Paralympics-friendly?) and extensive promotion of mass transit, including free all-zones travelcards for many London venues. A more disturbing note is the creation of “Zil lanes” on many motorways for transportation of the “Olympic Family.” These are reserved for athletes, officials, and media, and named for the “routes reserved for Soviet Politburo cavalcades in Moscow,” an uncomfortable allusion at best. (A commenter on the article suggested renaming them “pig lanes” after Orwell’s Animal Farm.)

On the one hand, this is fantastic; London has had four years to get used to the idea of “car exclusion zones,” and this is a massive expansion of them, encouraging people to establish new transit habits. London, at least, has an adequate rail system, unlike, say, Boston.

But the need for such buzz around a low-car Games points to England’s almost American dependence on cars. For comparison, I think of Osaka: Nagai stadium had very few nearby parking lots. Nearly all spectators arrived the way I did: by subway or light rail. (Many thousands doubtless also arrived by bicycle, since the racks I saw were jammed full every night.) One hopes the 2012 committee puts up adequate bicycle racks as well as promoting rail.

I wouldn’t have been a “Zil lane” user had there been any in Osaka, traveling as I did on the subway every day thanks to the pass which came with my media credential. (As I recall, we took light rail to the stadium in Edmonton most days as well.) If I’d stayed in one of the official media hotels, I could have caught a “media shuttle,” a bus which would whisk me to the stadium, but the subway worked fine.

In Seville, we used those buses, but on many occasions we walked. I also remember seeing David Monti riding a bicycle back and forth to the stadium; he had the foresight to send one over. I contemplated renting a bicycle in Osaka, but in hindsight I was fine without one. I dislike being dependent on another (either a bus schedule or a driver) and I like being able to “get myself there”. I wonder how I’ll get to the Bird’s Nest?

Now Playing: The Creep Out from Come Down by The Dandy Warhols

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October 11, 2007

Almost official

I can speak a bit more confidently now about the “pair of exciting assignments” I’ve been alluding to. I’ve been invited to be part of the IAAF.org team for the Beijing Olympics. According to the tentative plans I’ll be writing the “competition blog” again, and this time also writing more extensive previews and highlights stories for each day of competition. There are some complications and sacrifices to be made on this end, but I’ve never yet been to an Olympics (nor to China, for that matter) and it seemed like too good an offer to pass up—especially considering how notoriously difficult it is to obtain press credentials for the Olympics as a freelancer, or even in some cases as a magazine editor. I’ll be paid slightly less (though this is slippery: I’ve been paid in dollars before, but this offer was in euros) but I won’t need to make my own travel and housing arrangements, which is a big deal.

The icing on the proverbial cake is that the “dress rehearsal” with the systems and processes we’ll use for Beijing will be the “second-biggest event” of 2008, the World Indoor Championships, a biennial event coming up next March in Valencia, Spain and another major international I’ve never been to. (I suppose, when I think about it, that before 2006 the only major internationals I had been to were the 1999 and 2001 World Championships.) Leaving aside the inherent appeal of the event, the idea of going to the Mediterranean coast of Spain right about at the point where we in the Northeast U.S. are thinking winter has overstayed its welcome sounds tremendously appealing.

So, the almost-for-real track-writing career will continue for at least another year. And I’ll need to renew my passport (which will expire after Valencia.)

Now Playing: Sunshine/Nowhere To Run from Tarantula by Ride

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October 9, 2007

Details, as yet, unresolved

…but “renew passport” should probably be on my to-do list.

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September 24, 2007

Stupid details

I’m back on EDT.

Rather than spend thirty-odd euros on a cab to the airport, I walked to Bad Cannstatt and spent 2.50 on an S-bahn ticket which got me there in plenty of time. At some point in the trip I had made a faulty deduction, I think based on obsolete experience in Berlin, that “S-bahn” was “Strassenbahn” or streetcars, and “U-bahn” was the underground. Maybe that is true in Berlin; in Stuttgart, U-bahn is both, and S-bahn is the equivalent of what we call “commuter rail” here in the land of the MBTA.

So the trip was balanced: I walked to Bad Cannstatt Banhof, took a train to the airport, flew to Logan, and took the T back out to Davis Square and walked home, with everything balancing on a close connection in Zurich. (I made it easily, plus a joke from one of the security screeners about my last name, which I’ve heard a few dozen times before, but never with a Swiss-German accent.)

What I really can’t figure out, with such a close comparison to the European rail systems now in hand, is why the MBTA trains are so damned loud. Noise, as I understand it, represents some kind of drag or wasted energy in a mechanical system, and compared to the whisper-quiet S-bahn, most T trains (the blue line in particular) sound like they’re rolling over crushed stone rather than steel rails. I suspect this is a T issue more than a US/Germany issue simply because on the line that passes through Medford, I noticed that the commuter rail trains were louder than the Amtrak trains on the same line by a multiple of at least two.

Can they not take care of the cars, or do they simply not care how much of a racket they make?

(I can’t believe that’s the only thing sticking in my mind now; I must really be tired. I complain about traveling and working, sure, but I like the opportunities my little sideline has opened up for me, and when my life situation changes in a way that keeps me from doing this as much, I will miss it.)

Now Playing: This Light Is For The World from Universal Hall by The Waterboys

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September 22, 2007

Stuttgart at night

Schlossplatz fountainSometimes I carry a piece of equipment around to multiple places without ever finding a good use for it. Tonight I was struck by inspiration, though, and while walking back to the train station from dinner I pulled out my Gorillapod and used it to take some long-exposure shots of Stuttgart at night. I probably couldn’t have taken any of these shots without a tripod of some kind.

My M.O., in general, was to find a place to prop the Gorillapod, frame the shot (a bear of a problem, as you can see; frequently I was resting the tripod on the ground, and I wasn’t willing to lie full-length on the sidewalk to adjust the shot properly), and set the camera for no flash and a ten-second delay. Why the delay? Because pressing the shutter button made the camera shift on the tripod, and since most of the exposures were a full second, I couldn’t have that. So I’d press the button, then take my hands off and let the shot take itself.

I got shots of the Collegiate Church tower, the fountain here, the Neues Schloss (where last night’s dinner was), the Landesmuseum Württenburg, a column I haven’t identified yet, a relief on the facade of St. Eberhard’s Cathederal Church, and some more. For the full set, look on Flickr.

Not all of them are quite as pretty as this, I admit; this is the one I like most, in fact. (You really want to see the full-size version.) I’m still looking for a good shot of the stadium.

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September 21, 2007

Around the neighborhood

I haven’t traveled more than a short walk from the hotel, which is not exactly in the city center, but I’ve done some not-insignificant tourism today.

Counting the main stadium, there are four tracks in a short distance from here. I’ve now run on two of them, one apparently being the warm-up track for the meet, a four-lane all-weather affair and pretty hard, relatively speaking. This morning I did a workout of quarters with short recovery on a second. This one is barely a track any longer; it’s more like a nice trail that happens to be laid out in a roughly quarter-mile oval around a soccer field. The only sign that it was once in use as a track is some traces of the old inside curb and a rail around the outside. The second bend, in fact, goes through awnings set up for the patio of a nearby beer garden. Fortunately for me, they were not serving at the time of my run.

I checked out the stadium following the afternoon press conference (Pierre Weiss of the IAAF, betraying his current workplace in Monaco, said, “We hope the weather is good, and we hope not everyone goes to the beach.”) It was just a short look-around, since I’ll be spending plenty of time there over the weekend, but it was interesting in that it was a stadium for the ‘06 World Cup (there are photos of celebrations in Stuttgart about the German team’s third-place finish) and also the site of the 1993 World Championships. (On the other side of my hotel is the Porsche Arena, which recently (last month) hosted the World Championships in Gymnastics, and beyond that, I think, is Hans-Martin-Schleyer-Halle, which hosts the Sparkassen indoor track meet every winter, one of the top indoor meets in Europe if not the world.)

Unlike many large stadiums I’ve been in, with steeply-raked seating, this one is very gradually banked, more like the front rows of Fenway Park (or what I remember of the old Wembley, which I visited once in ‘99.) I tried, but failed, to get a good photo of it from my next stop.

The Mercedes-Benz MuseumBeing on Mercedesstraße, it’s unsurprising that I’m a short walk away from the Mercedes-Benz Museum; the original Daimler plant turns out to have been here, and there’s still a significant werk over there, I think producing engines. My brother, who used to work in one of the ramified streams of the automotive-industry river, would’ve killed me if I hadn’t visited, being so close. So I went over there and wound up spending three hours, including an extra-fare ride in a racing simulator.

I’ll post some photos and add some links later, but Lamine Diack and the regional “minister president” have invited me (and a few hundred more of their closest friends) to a reception at the Neues Schloss this evening, and I must iron a shirt if I hope to look even halfway respectable.

(Update: Photos and some links added. Reception turned into a multi-lingual dinner in which English was a minority (I listened in on an extended conversation, in Greek, about their elections, and came out wiser than I’d gone in: now I know the topic exists) but wine was provided—my ironing detained me too long to hear the speeches, what a shame. Happily, I was able to catch a ride back to the hotel, rather than having to wait for the train.)

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Posted by pjm at 12:37 PM | Comments (2)

They know me too well

The hotel-room tea is branded “TeeFix.”

(There is also a peppermint tea called “FixMinze”; at first I thought it was “Fix Minus” and was decaf, but now I see it’s “Mint Fix.” The instant coffee, which comes in the same little tubes you get sugar in here, is called “Kaffe Hag,” which somehow sounds much less appealing.)

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Posted by pjm at 6:18 AM | Comments (0)

September 20, 2007

Your running tour

I was faintly interested last week when this article about running tours of new cities ran in the NYT, but it really hit me this afternoon. (It’s afternoon here, by the way.) Not that I saw The Sights in any directed way.

Instead, I sussed out using Google Maps that to the north and east of here appear to be farmlands, and through those farmlands appear to be roads which are little-trafficked by automobiles. Sounds like a great place for a run, so I headed in the general direction of the village of Untertürkheim. By an appallingly roundabout route I found myself in the fields I’d spotted on the map, and discovered the reason behind the pattern of the roads: the fields are vineyards, with grapes fairly dripping off some of the vines, and the vineyards are, as vineyards often are, on hillsides.

So I did a little climbing.

Thing was, after forty minutes of running I ended up about here, which is a chapel on a hilltop near an area marked “Rotenburg” which has stunning views of Untertürkheim, the Neckar River valley approaching Stuttgart, and the stadium complex. Were it not for similar ridges and other hilltops, you could see the city quite well.

Not a bad tour for a little exercise.

(Update: Of course, it would’ve been even better if I carried my camera on all my runs with me…)

(Update 2: This is the chapel, labeled as one of the nice scenic overlooks in the city. I’d go to the TV tower if I could figure out when I’d have time.)

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Posted by pjm at 11:07 AM | Comments (0)

September 6, 2007

Recovery time

I’m back. Mostly. The first 24 hours went well, but yesterday afternoon I found myself in need of a nap around quarter of four, and proceeded to sleep (with some breaks) right through to 4 this morning.

The temporary apartment is a bit of a mess, as I try to unpack and figure out where everything goes. I do have broadband, though, so all is not lost.

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August 31, 2007

I'm so tired the bags under my eyes have bags

More Osaka bits:

  • Having had my say about Pat Butcher’s book a few years ago, now he’s sitting in the row in front of me.

  • Simon Turnbull of the Independent, sitting next to me, claims the British press named me “The Inspector” after my 100m pool win. I haven’t had independent (ouch) confirmation, and Simon seems to like pulling my leg, but I thought it was a pretty good joke.

  • Japan’s famously crowded subways had an infamous problem with gropers—men who would take indecent advantage of being wedged in to subway cars close to women. I’ve not noticed such a level of crowding, but in the Osaka subways (and probably others) almost every train has a car near the middle of the train which is clearly marked, “Women only,” in Japanese and English. The entries for the car are marked in the stations. On some trains, I’ve seen men in the women-only car, but at other times I’ve seen men who boarded it (presumably by accident, or in a hurry) moving to the neighboring cars as the train pulls out of the station. Of course, this works best when trains are frequent and run on time, so I doubt the T will be picking it up soon.

  • The Japanese even have better dried cup noodles than we do. Grad school here would be better fed.

  • In Den Den Town, I spotted USB drives that look like sushi. Another one looked like a finger: a thumb drive. Den Den Town is awesome.

USB Sushi

As previously noted, I’ve been working a lot. I get some sleep every night, but the cumulative effect of two to four missed hours every night is significant. The feedback I’ve had on my work has been generally positive, though I’m not really sure what the scale of readership is: dozens? Hundreds? Supposedly visitors to the IAAF website number in the hundreds of thousands, but how many are reading what my colleagues and I are writing? Not that it matters that much, I suppose.

I’ve had tentative signals that this may be considered a sort of audition for future work, much as Fukuoka turned out to be an audition for this. If I say more than that, I think I’d be counting chickens, because nothing is at all concrete, this far in advance.

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Posted by pjm at 10:51 PM | Comments (0)

Dangly thingy

Not enough sleep, not sure if this is coherent.

If you’re Japanese and have a cell phone, which is almost a redundant statement, you have a dangly thingy. I’ve only rarely seen them in America, but everyone has them here (and I’m sure there’s a cute name for them, as well, but I don’t know it.) Look at your cell phone; at one of the corners, there’s a pair of notches which allow for a thin loop of thread to be passed through. That’s where the dangly thingy hangs. You need the dangly thingy to help you fish your tiny and/or light cell phone out of your pocket/purse/backpack; it gives your fingers something to snag. If you’re older, your dangly thingy may just be a short string of beads, or a tasteful medallion or charm. If you’re younger, it could be a stuffed mascot the size of a fist.

My rented Japanese cell phone has been adorned with a stuffed DoCoMoDake, the mascot of NTT DoCoMo, one of Japan’s largest telcos and a sponsor of the championships. It’s supposed to be a mushroom, I guess; it came in a bagful of stuff when I picked up my media credential. (Also included were more useful tools, like the statistics guide.) The phone itself is apparently not on NTT DoCoMo. I’m tempted to leave DoCoMoDake on when I return the phone.

I also caved in and picked up a higher-quality strap for my US phone. It has a red strap that says “Osaka - Kansai” and a small medallion bearing a sponsor logo from Glico, a grocery conglomerate which is apparently another Championships supplier. I can’t find the image on the internet, but it’s all around Osaka; I have a shirt with it as well.

Update: Found the image. The one on my dangly thingy is the same as the billboard; the one on my Mizuno shirt is wearing a Team Japan uniform.

Posted by pjm at 10:07 PM | Comments (1)

August 26, 2007

And more food

I talk about track in too many other places; all I have left to talk about here is food and sleep. And I’d rather not complain about sleep just yet.

Food, then: before returning to the stadium for the evening session, I joined two other reporters staying in my hotel at a ramen joint near the stadium. This is not ramen from a block or a styrofoam cup as we know it in the U.S.; this is the Japanese version of Chinese food, you’re supposed to make slurping noises, and it came with a plate of pork-fried rice which was as stellar as the soup itself. As long as I have time to find places to eat, I will not go hungry here.

The comic part was ordering. One of the guys I was with thought he could keep talking to the house mama-san as though she understood his English; she clearly understood not a word, but he kept trying. The menu had no pictures (unless you count the Japanese ideograms as pictures) so eventually we all trooped out to the front to point at the display case of plastic dishes in the front. Yes, that, and some of that.

Also, no chairs here. We sat at a low table placed on a raised platform; we shucked our shoes before climbing on to cushions on the platform and stuck our feet under the table, or sat cross-legged.

I’m sure Mama-san found us hugely amusing even though we were mutually unintelligible (gestures sometimes worked) and she spoke as enthusiastically to us in Japanese as we tried to speak to her in English. She brought us glasses of iced coffee after our dinner, and I drank two, because one of our threesome is not a coffee-drinker.

Of course, I’m not a coffee-drinker either, but I only had four hours of sleep last night, and I missed my nap this afternoon. So maybe I’m finally becoming one.

Posted by pjm at 5:43 AM | Comments (1)

August 25, 2007

Food now

I’ve done better for eating local food in two meals here than I did in three days in Fukuoka.

Last night I walked out from my hotel back to Festival Gate and found a restaurant doing (I think) sukiyaki. I didn’t know what it was called when I walked in; I went back to my guidebook to sort it out. Sukiyaki might be translated as “breaded, fried stuff on a stick.” I had assumed it was all fish, looking at the pictures, but as I went along I discovered onions, chicken, beef, and a hard-boiled egg. The dinner also included a small salad, soup, and a bowl of rice, plus iced green tea. Fortunately for me, the menu had pictures, so I could point and nod. It was pretty good, but the breading kept the sukiyaki themselves quite hot and I burned the roof of my mouth on the onion.

This afternoon, leaving the morning session, I stopped at a place near the stadium. I believe it was called “Yoshinori” or something like that. I still don’t know what I ate; I sat at the counter and followed my M.O. of pointing at the menu and nodding. I gather it involved pork; there were onions and perhaps some noodles, and rice underneath. Cold green tea in a cup which was regularly refilled. It was very good, and I’ll probably go back, but I have no idea what it is.

If you aren’t handy with chopsticks here, you’re starving. That’s all you get for dinnerware; there’s no more to work with. I won’t be starving here, contrary to my earlier fears, or at least if I do, it will be lack of time rather than lack of food.

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Posted by pjm at 11:27 AM | Comments (4)

August 23, 2007

An urban run in Osaka

(Oops—I meant to post this over here.)

Posted by pjm at 9:21 PM | Comments (0)

In Osaka

I made it. I haven’t slept for a long time, though, and it’s time I did. Wake me in the morning.

Posted by pjm at 10:23 AM | Comments (1)

August 9, 2007

Giving in to anticipation

Over the past few months, I have been attempting to avoid thinking too much about Osaka, largely because I feared that it might grow in importance to blot out all else if I was not careful.

Last week I started sending email to editors I had pitched to, to firm up details. Then Tuesday, while packing up the apartment (more on that later,) I scooped up a small handful of yen left over from last year’s trip and dumped them in my change pocket to keep them from getting lost in the move. Now, whenever I pay for something in cash, I wind up picking through the change I’ll use in a few weeks to find the stuff I can legally use in this country. Yen clink differently than American coins; the entire ensemble of jingles has changed now.

Today I visited the official site and saw the countdown clock, and that really smacked me. Less than two weeks and I’ll be there. Less than fifteen days until the men’s marathon starts.

I guess I’m a little excited.

Now Playing: So it Goes by Anders Parker

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Posted by pjm at 10:06 PM | Comments (0)