Monthly Archives: August 2002

Travel Agency Blunders

The rise of internet commerce was just about the time that I started making my own travel arrangments. As a result, I don’t think I’ve ever purchased an airline ticket except on the web. This week, though, my advisor asked me to go to Victoria, BC for him at the end of next month; being the generous guy that I am, I agreed. Now, getting to Victoria had the potential to be rather complicated. I am willing to fly out of either Ithaca or Syracuse, as always. But, if it saved the university a lot of money, I was also willing to fly to Seattle or Vancouver and drive the rest of the way to Victoria. (The drives from both Seattle or Vancouver involve really nice ferry rides, and I like ferries.) With so many choices, I thought it might be best to leave it to a travel agent. So, I told the administrative assistant in my department when I needed to arrive in Victoria and when I could return, as well as the possible options on airports.

This afternoon, the administrative assistant Emailed me a proposed itinerary from the travel agent. The times don’t work at all. She has me arriving in Victoria (or so I thought, anyway) late Sunday night, when my presentation is first thing Monday morning, and she has me departing Victoria early Tuesday morning, which is before the conference ends. To the travel agent’s credit, I think this could be our admin’s fault, because she wasn’t terribly specific in her request. In any case, I emailed our admin back and told her why it wouldn’t work.

After I got home tonight, I took a closer look at the proposed itinerary that I had been sent. I noticed that my destination airport was listed as YYC. For some reason, this seemed wrong to me. (I had searched for a couple of airfares myself earlier in the week; I don’t have a mental database of Canadian airport codes. Yet.) As it turns out, YYC is not Victoria (or Vancouver, for that matter). It is Calgary, Alberta. A mere 611 miles from my destination, according to Mapquest. At this point, I could have bought the tickets myself.

Sorry to be so journally and so full of complaints this week. I’ve just been so busy that I haven’t had much of a chance to take a peak around the web or at the world. Maybe this weekend or next week will be a bit calmer.

[Later…] After 15 minutes of searching, I found exactly the flights I wanted at $500 less than the price quoted by the travel agent. (Of course, she was quoting a price to Calgary, so it’s probably not a fair comparison!) I went ahead and purchased. I’ll sort it out with Cornell on Monday.

Blood Donation

I gave blood today.

As I am currently working on my second gallon of donated blood, I think I am entitled to my opinion on the process. I always have an appointment, but nearly every time I give blood I wind up waiting for about an hour. That’s not time spent doing the required paperwork, having my iron checked, or choosing my “Use My Blood” sticker. That’s the amount of time that I sit in a chair and wait.

I can’t remember the last time I waited an hour at the doctor’s office. I know that lots of people compain about doctors, but at least when you go to the doctor’s office you are going for your own benefit (presumably). When I go to give blood, I’m going to contribute to a cause that I think is important. It sure would be nice if they would respect my time enough to come up with a scheduling system that works.

I’m feeling extra bitter today for two reasons. First, the phlebotomist who took my blood was very short with me. She didn’t smile once from the time she took my history form until the time she thanked me for donating. Second, her supervisor, whose badge said, “Operations Manager,” was the guy who removed my needle. The whole time he was removing my needle, he was telling the rest of the phlebotomists, “Stick ’em, stick ’em, stick ’em. I don’t want to see any idle beds.” (I’m not quite sure about the last part, but I’m pretty sure about the “stick ’em, stick ’em, stick ’em.”) Thanks for making me feel like a piece of meat, buddy.

In some sense, I guess it seems contradictory that I’m complaining on the one hand about my long wait and on the other hand about the ruthless efficiency being doled out by the phlebotomist and the supervisor. In both cases, though, all I’m really asking is for a little respect. And people wonder why there are blood shortages in this country.

At What Cost?

You may have noticed that things have been slow here. That’s because I’ve been working on another project. I think it’s time to let the world have a peek. We’ll be hanging up posters tomorrow and Tuesday, and I’ll probably have my first hate mail by the end of the week.

You are cordially invited to visit AtWhatCost.Org.

New York

September 11 Commemorative Sculpture

I wasn’t sure exactly what to do with this entry. I started to make it three or four seperate entries, but I decided that would be excessive. It was just a 3 day trip, after all. So, it’s one entry, but it has many, not necessarily related, themes. I’m not even going to describe my New York City traffic woes, which were many. (I promised Becky that we would not be driving an automobile into the five boroughs again without a street atlas.) It’s also not going to be a full-fledged story like our Seattle trip, and I’m omitting a great many pictures from the trip that I’m tempted to post. If the public demands it, then I might post more later.

In any case, we went to New York City last weekend (August 17-19). The primary purpose of our trip was to attend the wedding of my former office mate, Bhaskar Krishnamachari, who, in addition to getting married last weekend, started a job as an assistant professor at the University of Southern California this week. The wedding was Sunday morning, though, and the reception was Sunday evening. Since we were going to be staying for two nights anyway, we decided to plan on some sightseeing on Saturday and Monday.

Due to the aforementioned traffic problems, we got a bit of a late start on Saturday. We took the subway into Manhattan, though, and made our way down to Herald Square. We wandered around Macy’s for a few minutes, just so Becky could say that she had been there. Then we walked over to the General Post Office. I had read in our guidebook (which was purchased last summer at the Borders in the World Trade Center, incidentally) that there were self guided tours at the General Post Office 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I’m a bit of a pushover for tours of buildings with lots of exciting engineered objects, so I thought we’d check it out. Unfortunately, since the events of September 11 and the anthrax laced letters, the tours are no more. It was still interesting to vist the building, which is a magnificent Beaux Arts building occupying two city blocks. We then ate dinner at the Stage Door Restaurant and Deli, which is across the street from the Post Office and diagonally across from Madison Square Garden. I think eating at the deli and watching the people and taxicabs on the street was Becky’s favorite part of the whole evening. The food was good, though, if a bit expensive. A banner on Madison Square Garden was also my first glimpse of the NYC bid for the olympics. The ad campaign is very clever, and I checked out the website. I think their concept of an Olympic Games heavily utilizing public transportation is a good one. I hope they succeed.

After dinner, we went back into Penn Station to the subway, when I spotted it. The sculpture which I photographed in Dewitt Park last October (one of my first entries ever) now resides in Penn Station, New York. I believe it is by an Ithaca artist. (FYI, the title of the sculpture is “September 12, 2001.” I don’t know the name of the artist.) Cool!

We then proceeded on to Times Square, the New York Public Library, and Rockerfeller Center. There is very little to see at Rockerfeller Center on Saturday night. We peered into the Today show studios, though, which was our main objective, anyway. (Yes, the Today show makes an appearance in our home almost every morning. We usually don’t actually watch very much, but it’s part of our morning routine.) After that, it was back to the hotel.

Bhaskar and Zhen's Wedding Ceremony

On Sunday morning, we took an illegal cab to the Hindu Temple in Queens. (Our hotel was in the Chinese section of Flushing. We asked the hotel desk to call a cab because I had no interest in giving up my parking spot and finding another. A few minutes later a Chinese driver in an unmarked car pulled up, rolled down the window and asked if we had called a cab. We were afraid that if we tried again we might be late, so we went for it.)

The Hindu wedding is difficult to describe. I have a program from the event listing the various parts of the ceremony, which were of course considerably different from a typical Protestant wedding. That’s not what was different, though. I’ve been to quite a few weddings (all in the U.S., granted): Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and non-religious. At all of them, the audience sat quietly and more-or-less reverently observed some sort of ceremony. At this one, there was a ceremony going on at the front of the room, but most people in the audience weren’t paying a great deal of attention. There was Indian music playing, which made it impossible to hear. (Not that it mattered, most of the ceremony was in Sanskrit.) Throughout the ceremony, people wandered about and chatted with each other. (At first I was concerned that people were just being rude, but when the groom’s father left the platform several times to greet people in the audience, I decided it was the norm.) It seems that in India, a wedding ceremony is primarily viewed as a great social gathering for meeting friends and family. I think that Bhaskar and Zhen admirably brought that tradition into their own ceremony. It was a bit disorienting for those of us used to being reverently silent during weddings, but it was a learning experience, and we enjoyed it.

After the ceremony and the Indian brunch that followed, we went with several Chinese friends from Cornell into the Chinese section of Queens. I was pretty excited about exploring the neighborhood with people who could read and speak Chinese, but we ended up sitting in a teahouse drinking cold beverages. After that, the others went off to see a movie (an American one), but we went back to the hotel room to relax for a while.

In the evening we headed out to the reception which was held at the Zen Palate. The food was fabulous. I can’t say enough about how good it was. I’m usually a meat-loving American boy, but if all vegetarian food tasted this good, then I might have to become a vegetarian. Everything was perfectly prepared and seasoned, and I found most of the dishes very satisfying. (One of the reasons I like meat in my diet is that most vegetarian food leaves me feeling as if I haven’t really eaten.) If you’re ever in NYC, I highly recommend it. Of course, I wasn’t buying, but from the website it looks very reasonably priced.

Manhattan Street Scene

On Monday, we checked out of the hotel and headed to downtown Manhattan. We planned to start with the Statue of Liberty and work our way North, but we got on the wrong subway train and couldn’t go further than the Brooklyn Bridge stop without changing trains. Since the Brooklyn Bridge was our planned last stop, we decided to tackle the day in reverse order.

I insisted on visiting the Brooklyn Bridge because I’d never seen it (except from considerably distance), and it is always showing up in PBS specials about engineering. I enjoyed seeing it up close, but I could have gotten better pictures from elsewhere. My favorite detail was the street lights. I took a couple of pictures, but one of them has the Verizon building cluttering up the background and the other is washed out by the bright sun. Maybe next time. After the bridge, we made our way down Broadway towards Wall Street. A block or two before Wall Street, Becky pointed to the World Financial Center and said, “Those are neat buildings.” I gasped. “You couldn’t see those from here before,” I finally uttered. That was the moment when the Twin Towers were really gone for me. We walked down Wall Street. I hoped to visit the NYSE, but it too seemed to be closed to visitors since September 11. A block or so down from the NYSE, I took the picture which is above and to the right. At the time, I snapped it because of the CNBC reporter and cameraman who are in the foreground, but ended up with a street scene that I like a lot. It just seems to capture the essence of NYC, I think. That’s my favorite part of photography – when you get something you didn’t intend.

Anyway, we made our way on down to Battery Park. There, the spherical statue which was once on the plaza at the World Trade Center has taken up residence in the park. You don’t think of artwork as being “alive,” but with its dents and tears, this was definitely a different work of art than it was before. It’s meaning had totally changed.

Downtown Manhattan, From the Staten Island Ferry

The lines for the Statue of Liberty ferry were long, security was tight, and I had already read that we wouldn’t be allowed into the statue itself anyway. I had heard that you could get a nice view of the statue from the Staten Island Ferry, which is free, so we decided to try that instead. I was a bit disappointed. I got some nice shots of Manhattan, but we really didn’t get close enough to the statue.

Thomas Wolfe once said, “One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.” It’s certainly true for me. I doubt if I’ll ever live in New York City, but it still has its spell on me. It’s the greatest city in the world; I’m pretty sure of that.

You’ve Got to Be Kidding

I’ve got several pictures and stuff to post from this weekend, but I couldn’t pass this one up.

The twisted logic employed by the media moguls seeking to control their copyrights truly boggles the mind. In the April 29th issue of Cableworld magazine, Turner Broadcasting CEO Jamie Kellner suggested that taking a bathroom break or otherwise not viewing your television advertisements violates a “contract” between the viewer and the television stations.

Now, we read the following:

Terence Ross of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the news publishers’ attorney, even told me that he thinks Internet users who configure their browsers to disable graphics (a common tactic to boost the speed of Web surfing) are committing copyright infringement because they are interfering with Web publishers’ exclusive right to control how their pages are displayed.

Technology Won’t Save Us

I am a subscriber to Bruce Schneier’s monthly computer security and cryptography newsletter, Crypto-Gram. I’ve been a subscriber for the last 3-4 years because I think computer security and cryptography are facinating subjects. At one point, I even considered studying one or both of them in graduate school. I think I abandoned that plan primarily because of a deep (but difficult to explain) suspicion that the world’s greatest crypto system could never adequately protect our secrets from a determined and well-funded attacker.

There is an outstanding article about Bruce and security in the wake of September 11 in the Atlantic Monthly. What Bruce says is something that I apparently already knew at an intuitive level: computers, databases, and gun-toting pilots will not save us from terrorists. Any real solution must change the way we think about security. It’s a long read, but it’s well-written, easy to understand (even for the non-technically inclined), and worth your time.