Archive for January, 2012

Facebook Notifications

2012/01/31 3 comments

Contrarily to most people, I don’t have a lot of friends on facebook. The notification bar at the top of the web site is usually empty. Once in a while, there is a bit of red, indicating that something happened somewhere, that may or may not be related to myself.

But some rare times, there is a lot of red. There can be a red squared “1” on the message icon, and a red squared “2” or “3” on the notification icon. Maybe even the rarest of “1” on the friend icon. And it’s when that happens that I know one thing.

Shit just got real.

Categories: Thinking

London – Departure

2012/01/28 2 comments

I didn’t expect to write a post about my departure from London, but considering what happened, i’m pretty much obliged to.

I woke up at 08:00, had a normal morning, preparing all my stuff for my hotel check-out. I had planned to leave at 10:00, but it was 09:00, and everything was done, so I had two choices: either stay in my tiny room for another hour, or leave right now and spend an hour more at the airport. I checked-out, and asked for a taxi to the Heathrow Airport. It wasn’t a very long wait, but the vehicle surprised me – it was a black Audi Q5, possibly 2011, with no taxi sign that I could see. The driver was pretty chatty, and it looked like his personal vehicle, which was weird, because all the taxis in the UK were actually designed as taxis – different seat layout in the back, intercom system, glass between the driver and the occupants (bulletproof?). At two times, as he was talking about his daughter and what she was doing while he was driving with her, he groped my arm. That was really displeasing, and more so because the ride started to seem very long.

In the pamphlet, it was written that the Caesar hotel was 12.5km from the airport, but as I figured out later, London has more than one airport. The international airport is actually 16 miles (26km) from the hotel. I had £30 in notes in my wallet, £10 in coins in my pocket, and the small plastic bag of coins in my luggage. Since there were no price counter inside the car, I hated the feeling of not knowing how much it would cost. The guy stopped, and I saw as he was writing the receipt £70. 120$ for a f-ing taxi! The hotel clerk could have told me something about that! I also had 40$ in Canadian money and he was about to accept them, but I needed them for when I got back to Quebec. We went to the back and counted how much I had in the little bag – about £32-33. Wow, that really was a luck! On the positive side, I wouldn’t have a lot of “lost” money in Canada, but on the negative side, I didn’t have all that coin collection to show people around. Particularly, I was out of £1 and £2.

I got in the airport and wandered for a few minutes. It was a bit past 10:00, and I was starting to be hungry already. With no money left other than a 20$, I changed it, which got me £9.75. I got myself a sandwich and started reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. When it was time to board, the plane started to lag behind, so we took flight 20-30 minutes later than we were supposed. No problem, I thought, since I have over an hour at the Montreal Airport. I was a good flight, with normal good food. I read a lot, and watched the movie Footloose when they started serving the lunch. I also watched an episode of Just for Laughs (season 7, episode 1), which was the best of stand-up comedy. I didn’t laugh out loud once, but at least, it was mildly entertaining. In the plane, we got into a turbulent zone, and went into free-fall for a second (I really liked it).

We got at the Montreal Airport, and were told by the captain that there was another plane at our gate, so it will be a few more minutes. By then, just before landing, we were told that many of us were switching planes because we were running late. Among them was the Quebec City connection, switched to the 20:30 or 21:30 flights. I didn’t have my ticket within reach, so I couldn’t confirm that I was switching. I had enough time on my watch anyway, so it didn’t make any sense.

After ten or fifteen minutes, the captain told us that the plane in our gate actually had mechanical problems, and all the other gates are taken. Oh, really? I was starting to get angry inside. We had to wait for 45 minutes (total) before we could get out. They could have let us leave the plane by one of them ladders, but to be politically neutral, they probably weren’t expecting this to take that long. It was 17:00 (local time, so 22:00 on my internal clock), so I had missed the Quebec flight no matter what. I would have missed it, because I had to go walk a long way, go through customs, walk a long way, go through security, walk a long way, and wait. Before security, there were a line for connecting people like me, and they gave me my new ticket – of course, I was on the 21:30 flight. They put me on a waiting list for the 18:00 flight, but there were already a lot of people on it. I also bought a vegetarian subway wrap, but I found out that I had to go through security again, so I quickly ate it in case they would take it away. Turned out that the guy in front of me also had a subway in his hands, and was let in.

I got to the gate at 17:45, and apparently nobody on the waiting list was called. My flight was at 21:30, so I went to the pay phones to call my boss, to tell him that I won’t be there to the farewell party tonight for the lab boss. Put 50¢ and dialed, and then, because it was a long distance, the phone asked for 4.90$ more, for one minute. Wait, what? What else could go wrong today? My cell phone was at my sister’s, and the iPhone3 I had in my pocket is not connected to anything. I really, really, don’t want to pay 5$/min, and I remember the internet stations in the UK, where you pay £1 or £2 for a set amount of minutes. I don’t remember seeing anything like that in Canada, but I can check around – I have a lot of time.

Just before I leave the gate, I decide, as I have done many times in Edinburgh and London, to check the wi-fi networks. The airport has an unsecured one, as can be reasonably expected, so I connect to it. The airport internal website loads. Just to be sure, I load, and the page loads. Website caching. I open my bookmarks, click on Reddit, see the loading animation, and actually see the page load (albeit slowly). As I understand it, the Montreal Airport is the only one I used this year that has free wi-fi, and this is the first good news of the day. I connect to facebook, send a message to my boss, and since it’s getting a bit late, also send a message to my sister asking her to call him for me.

I read again after buying an expensive muffin, then at around 18:45, they start calling names on the intercom, about 20 of them. I’m on the list for the 19:00 flight! Two good news in a row! We get outside (my first draft of cold Quebec air), leave the big carry-ons on a large metal tray that goes in the back of the plane, and board. The plane leaves several minutes too late, but whatever – maybe I’ll be lucky enough that there will still be some people left at that farewell party!

Uneventful flight, in which I continued to read. We land and wait a couple minutes, suspicion rising once more. The captain says to us that the cargo door, where all the baggages are, is frozen (welcome back to Quebec). Normally, they are supposed to get the tray out so we can get our carry-on as we leave the plane, but after another 2-3 minutes, we’re told to go to the airport – the carry-ons will arrive on the conveyor belt with the registered baggages. Getting worse again. I only had carry-ons, so that my going through the airport be as swift as possible. We all wait near the conveyor belt, waiting for the luggages to arrive, when someone from the airport come to us and say that the cargo door is still frozen but mechanics (or whoever else) are currently warming it.

Ten more minutes (twenty minutes since we landed) – the same guy comes back and tell us in a triumphantly proud manner that the cargo door is unfrozen and the baggages are coming. The conveyor belt starts, but after a minute or so, it stops. What now? False alarm – it starts again, and the baggages arrive some time later. Let’s add another good news, because I need some at this point – my small carry-on was the fifth or so on the conveyor belt. I grab it and leave the Quebec Airport, following the increasingly long path to follow to get at the taxi section.

Just before I pass through the door, I notice a sign that says the taxis are fixed-price – there is a constant fee of 14.50$ for rides near the airport. I live about 3km from the airport exit, and I expected paying 8-10$ maximum. I asked the driver about the fixed price, he replied by a positive, I sighed and said “I’ll walk then”. I did that partly because I was still mad about the 120$ taxi ride in the morning.

I started walking through the small airport streets, feeling the direction I was going, hoping I was taking the right turns. It was very cold (-20°C), but I had expected to feel colder, considering my three weeks at 2-9°C. It took me about thirty minutes to walk, during which I was imagining what else could go wrong – like that I lost the keys to the apartment, that they wouldn’t work, that my car wouldn’t start, or that my luggage would break open. Nothing happened, except a deep relief when I finally entered the apartment and put the luggage down.

It was now 21:00, or 02:00 on my internal clock. I wasn’t tired. I quickly changed some clothes (for the first time, wore a white shirt, black jacket, and blue jeans, which I think looked good), and left, still hoping some people were left. I got there at 21:20, and most were there, to my relief. They had just finished eating, and I even got a free desert.

The rest of the evening was pretty great. I took two pints of Rickard’s dark, to commemorate my lack of drinking in London, and to get my mind off what happened today. It was a ‘Ginger’ restaurant on the ground floor of the Plaza Hotel in Quebec. The lab boss had taken a room for the night, and when there were only five of us left, we went to the room to talk. There were a lot of laughs too, and a hotel clerk knocked to our room to remind us that people were sleeping. We left one by one, and I was the last one to leave at 02:20, or 07:20 on my internal clock. Still not really tired.

Got home, made my bed, and went to sleep.

Trip over.

Categories: Traveling

London – Day 6

My last day in London! Normal morning, and left at 09:45, towards the London Bridge. I knew it was going to be a long walk, and it took me two hours to get there, excluding a quick stop at a Sainsbury’s Local to buy a piece of bread. I learned that the London Bridge is not the same thing as the Tower Bridge – the one I actually wanted to see. No worries though, it was just one bridge away, near the Tower of London.

The Tower of London.

Just before I entered the Tower of London, I went to EAT and ate a humous wrap. For the tower, I didn’t really know what to expect – maybe some one-hour tour of something mildly cool… It turned out to be an old fort, and I took the audio guide and spent three hours walking around. I saw the crown jewels, and the armor collection, and other cool stuff. It was increasingly disconcerting to see so much money in so small a place… I took the time to take a picture of the Tower Bridge before I left.

The White Tower, inside the Tower of London.

I went to the British Museum again, arriving at 16:45, but didn’t have much time, because they started closing the exhibitions at 17:20, and I couldn’t see all that I was missing from my tour yesterday. At least, I saw the whole Japanese exhibit.

I left and went to Wasabi for a delicious pack of sushi, and slowly made my way to the Comedy Store, stopping again at the same WaterStone and read, again, a bit of Death Note.

A tea ceremony house replica, in the British Museum.

Today, my back wasn’t as sore as the other days (my body must be getting used to all the walking and standing), but by then, my right calf muscle was hurting. I arrived at the Comedy Store at 18:30, waited and found the show to be so-so. It was similar in vulgarity to the tuesday show, and I definitely loved the improvisation guys more. A lot more.

I went back to my room and checked if I had everything ready for my departure tomorrow.

Categories: Traveling

London – Day 5

2012/01/26 1 comment
The entrance to the British Museum, made to look
like the Pantheon.

Got up at 07:50, ate breakfast, prepared for the day, and left at around 09:20, going towards the British Museum, arriving there at a bit past 10:00. I had thought it was more like a paintings museum that I would quickly browse through, but it was all kinds of artifacts and old stuff made by humans throughout history. Most notably, I liked the Egypt exhibition, Greece/Rome, and Mexico (with the Aztecs and Mayans). I did not finish everything, so I will come back for Asia tomorrow, which should take about an hour to go through, two hours maximum.

A model of the Pantheon, as it would have been initially.

For lunch, I went to the museum restaurant. I saw the prices, but didn’t really realize how expensive that was. There were a couple of food courts that I should have gone to instead. I took the vegetarian tortellini, and it was delicious, but the cream was just way too fat! I also asked for water, and they brought me a 500ml bottle (£1.50). The total was £18 (including service). I left the museum at about closing time – 17:30.

The first mechanical clock.

I didn’t want to go all the way back to the hotel since the British Museum was about 30 minutes from the Comedy Store. It would have taken me about 2.75 hours. I thought I would have looked for a restaurant for a long time, but near the museum, there was this Byron restaurant which specializes in burgers. What a good opportunity to taste my first veggie burger! It was very good – the pattie had been replaced by a portobello mushroom, and it had a slice of brie. Very good! I also ate a small portion of tostitos + salsa + guacamole.

I left too early (exactly 18:00), so I stopped at a WaterStone to browse through some books, and ended up reading quite a few pages of Death Note.

A mummy. Yeah.

I arrived at the Comedy Store at 19:00, and waited for an hour for the show to begin. It was the same improvisation guys than sunday, and it was equally excellent. They did the same basic concepts, but since it was improvisation, everything’s new all the time. I left at 22:00, stopped at Sainsbury’s Local for some yogurts and a pastry, and arrived in my room at 23:00, where I ate some more.

In the surprising event that my family and I would want to have some fun someday and do some improvisation sketches, here are some of the concepts that can be done by non-professionals.

  • Get an animal and a sports at random, have a TV presenter talking with “someone” who succeeded in training some of these animals in that sports, but that someone is 2 or 3 persons, all saying one word each at a time.
  • Have 2 persons have a random position, play from the scene, when someone else says “freeze”, he/she takes the place of someone in the scene, assumes the same position, and starts a new scene.
  • Two people do a scene at random, and once in a while, the emotion theme changes at random, or the theatre type (? – action, comedy, silent, …).
  • Someone speaks another language and gesticulates to the “camera”, while another translates for the crowd.
  • Make a story with the characters appearing and leaving between scenes, with someone sitting and “reading the book”.
Categories: Traveling

London – Day 4

I got up at 08:00 because I now knew the opening hours for the National History Museum. I ate breakfast and prepared myself, and left at 09:20. I got there a bit faster than I had expected, so I had to wait 14 minutes.

Darwin is guarding the second floor.

During the day, I did all the exhibits that I hadn`t done yesterday – insects, nature, evolution, minerals, earth… For lunch, I ate a chef’s salad at the museum’s restaurant. I finished the day there by watching an interactive 40-mins movie about our place in evolution, and quickly going through the cocoon in the Darwin Centre.

I left at 16:20, pretty much the same time as yesterday, going towards Yashin Sushi. It’s a place where they don’t serve soy sauce, and instead rely on carefully-mixed sauces to match different sushis. It is a pretty expensive place, but was the only restaurant that had been referred to me in London. I got there at 16:54, but it was closed, so I assumed it opened at 17:00, and went to the Tesco Metro to buy a dessert and some fruits. When I went back, it was still closed. I asked someone inside, and they open at 18:00 – too late for the Comedy Store show… I went back to the Tesco Metro to buy two sandwiches, and went back to the hotel and ate dinner.

The minerals exhibition.

I left at 18:30, arrived at the Comedy Store at close to 19:30, and bought tickets for tomorrow’s and thursday’s shows. The show was from a group of six comedians called The Cutting Edge. It was good, but not as hilarious as the improvisation group from sunday. It was also more vulgar, and more involved with the public.

When I was going back to the hotel, I ran a bit (1.6km, in my winter coat). It felt really great – my knees felt warm (though they hurt a bit the day after, most likely because of my shoes), and my lower back didn’t hurt anymore. After a few days of walking around 20 to 35 km everyday, my lower back was feeling sore, to the point of being uncomfortable sometimes, and hurting a bit some other times.

I took a shower, read a bit, and went to sleep.

Categories: Traveling