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Greetings from the road

Filed in: personal, travel, Sun, Oct 7 2007 05:08 PT

From: Madrid, Spain

Wow. What a week. It’s been good enough that I’m actually blogging again. (Hey, remember when Matt used to blog?)

I spoke at Fundamentos Web 2007 in Gijón on Wednesday. The topic was designing new technology to build on the accessibility we already have, rather than stripping it away. The audience was fantastic, and the people who put the show on deserve recognition as the best conference organizers I’ve ever worked with. All of that more than made up for the fact that I was speaking some 20 hours after arriving in town, after 25 hours of travel, and that my MacBook Pro crashed while I was plugging in, and wasn’t in a usable state for another 20 minutes, and that I had to follow Jeremy Keith and Jeffrey Veen. You know. No pressure.

I’m in Madrid today, and I’m officially on vacation. It’s a great feeling to be in a city that makes time for napping, especially since the bar-restaurant-club progression usually starts around 8 or later in the evening, and doesn’t finish until 3 or 4 in the morning, if you’re lucky. And I can never sleep in past 8:30, so the siesta is very worthwhile.

Last night, my former coworker Charles took us out to the neighborhood bar. After the bartender poured us our cañas (small beers, always served with tapas), I offered one of my hosts some cash, and Chaals, an Australian who knows his way around this part of town, told me: “They won’t take your money here.” When I inquired further, I was informed that until he was finally able to order drinks like a local, they refused to let him pay.

At all.

For two years.

Later in the evening, after the sit-down dinner, we played darts in a Communist Party headquarters. The place was covered in pictures of Che. It was a pretty trippy evening. 🙂 I’m leaving in a bit to try to see a Real Madrid match. (Getafe, where I’m staying, and Atlético are both playing away matches.) I was going to try to make it to Bilbao to see the Guggenheim, but I don’t think the travel gods are with me this time around. I’ve only been gone a week, and already I’ve had a full trip. Just wait until I get to Cairo.

The return of eh

Filed in: personal, travel, Wed, Aug 3 2005 21:39 PT

I’m leaving in the morning (in, er, five hours from now) for a town on Lake Huron to attend my friends’ wedding. To celebrate the husband-to-be‘s home and native land, I dug up a theme (called “eh”) that I designed for my last fantastic adventure in Canada.

I have an ulterior motive: I’ve been working on assimilating with our north-of-the-border friends. So I’ll need to get Eric’s in-laws to believe I went to college… er, university with him at Waterloo. My bag is packed with clothing from Roots, I’m craving Timbits, and I could talk for hours about the trapezoid, dump and chase, the end of the two-line pass, or why they should have gone to no-touch icing. We’ll see if my cultural experiment succeeds, or whether my wily American ways will get the best of me. Now where’s my poutine, dammit? (Yes, at A&W, I know.)

How to travel, part 3

Filed in: travel, Thu, May 12 2005 20:43 PT

Etiquette inside the confines of an airplane is a lost art. A time existed when the plane was a cylindrical gentlemen’s club, where rich bastards smoked stogies and pinched asses with impunity, but these days, they let just about anybody on, and you’ll need to deal with many of them in one way or another.

This is something that everyone who travels has to deal with at one point or another, something that causes an unbelievable amount of confusion and frustration. I’m talking about control of the armrests.

Nobody wants to have to fight over the armrest, and yet everyone wants a way to stake their claim, without ever actually verbally negotiating with your neighbor. I think that I’ve worked out the better part of that. Here, I present my Armrest Protocol:

  • People in the window seat must at least share their common armrest. They can lean fully against their side. The window’s outside armrest is the best candidate for concession.
  • People in the middle seat do not automatically inherit both armrests. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. There’s a reason they don’t ask “window, middle, or aisle?” If you’re in the middle, it means that either you are traveling with someone else whose armrest you can share, you showed up later than the other two people, or you were on standby. None of these things rates you Dual Armrest Status.
  • The aisle seat has its own armrest, that’s true, but they also have to dodge the beverage cart for most of the flight. For this reason, they have a claim to at least a share of the other armrest.

From these rules, we can state that in the typical airplane setup, armrest control works, from the aisle out: aisle, aisle/middle, middle, window. However, there are some modifiers, for the sake of completion:

  • Passengers over 6’3″, or with legs long enough to touch the seat in front of them, are exempt. They’ll have to contort themselves all trip long anyway. Consider this punishment for thinking it’s a good idea to ask tall people if they play basketball.
  • Consider an optional armrest detente: the area known as the funny bone on your elbow is a very convenient armrest holder. If you can handle that, both of you will be able to rest your arms. If not, one person’s arm in front and the other toward the back is possible.
  • Laptop users don’t need armrests. They can either sit the thing in their lap, or on the tray table.
  • Touching arms is acceptable, if both of you are comfortable in each other’s hygiene and your own sexuality. Jabbing is not.
  • The only case where actual discussion is necessary is when someone’s arm has crossed the armrest to take up some of the space within your seat. At this point, it is appropriate to ask them to pay for a portion of your ticket, since they’re occupying your space.

Now, with all this in mind, you’ll have to think about whether you prefer to be in a window or an aisle. Once the thrill of looking out the window is a distant memory, this becomes a tactical decision. There are a handful of variables, such as your physical condition, bladder control, and any tendencies to having a claustrophobic frequency. For me, I take a window for anything under, say, four hours, and an aisle for anything longer. I would rather be disturbed than disturb. Especially since I rarely sleep on planes. As someone who is sensitive to the social aspects of flying, I just don’t want to wake someone up if I don’t have to. So while on the window, I can usually stay still for those four hours, provided I’m not chugging ginger ales all flight long.

Which reminds me. There are issues with drinking and distance that require consideration. Some people will advise that you drink only water during the flight. Boring. Now, I tend to avoid anything that messes with my system before or during the flight. That includes alcohol and caffeine. But this is all the free soda I can drink, dude. I’m not going to waste that. Ginger ale and Sprite are always safe. Tomato juice and V8 are substantial, and make me feel good if I have been feeling particularly unhealthy on a given trip. I avoid beer and wine on domestic trips because, aside from being alcohol, they’re also generally piss, and drinking booze from a small cup has some residual association with the keggers I went to when I was 17. It’s just not what we civilized people do.

When I’m in first, on the other hand, all bets are off. There’s something about drinking wine from a glass on an airplane that makes the eighth serving better than the first. (Don’t drink and drive, kids.)

Next time, we explore the problems you’ll deal with at your destination, starting with language barriers.

How to travel, part 2

Filed in: travel, Tue, May 10 2005 17:21 PT

So far, I’ve given my guidance on how to pack for that important trip. This section is about the airport: How to get there, score the good seats, and not piss off the wrong people.

Getting to the airport is half the fun. For me, my mode of ground transportation depends on how long I’ll be away. For shorter trips, I drive down and park — but never at the airport proper. I consider airport parking a necessary evil reserved for pickups, lateness caused by traffic jams, and suckers. It’s $24 a day to park in Seattle, and $7-11 to park offsite. (As a compromise position, I spend the $11 and park at an offsite valet, which buys me time getting in and out.)

For longer than a week (where $77 for me is basically the cost of getting back and forth to the airport), I request a shuttle to the airport, and take a taxi home. When I get back to Sea-Tac, the last thing I want to do is wait an hour for the shuttle to fill up so I can get to bed. I do on occasion take the bus, if I land during the day and I’m not in the mood to hurt those around me. Unfortunately, neither of these cases occur very often.

I frequently fudge the shuttle’s recommended pickup time by at least a half-hour, because I know that if I’m flying on Alaska, I can use my frequent-flier card with them and be ready to brave the security line within minutes of arriving. If you accrue enough miles annually (usually about 20-25,000) to get on a frequent-flier elite program and yet don’t have the card, you are wasting tens of hours and thousands of bonus miles a year. Shame on you, slacker. Go fill out that card right now.

Just make sure it’s a good one. My primary account is with Alaska, since their hub is Seattle, they serve Boston with two nonstop flights, and they are partnered with more other airlines than any other plan I’m aware of. That card gets me 50% bonus miles on Alaska, American, Northwest and Continental; priority boarding and standby; and often times free upgrades to first class. I’ve used the card to get onto the top of the standby list for an earlier flight, bumping 30 others in the process. Membership has its privileges. I also have a Northwest Silver Elite card, but I only use Northwest for trips to Europe, and they don’t give you any real love until you have a Gold Elite, so I’m putting all my miles on Alaska this year so I can get the Gold status I should have gotten last year, but missed because of poor miles planning. That should get me priority service on Northwest and the others, and let me bypass the security check line in Seattle.

If you don’t fly that frequently, no big deal. You’ll have to budget in a little time for lines, and be aware of high-traffic days (the weekends of spring break for example, but more on that later), but most of the worry involved in making a flight is done before you get to the airport.

Airport security is a necessary evil. Nobody particularly likes it, but that’s not going to make it go away, so do what you can to glide through it. Have your electronics in a place where you can dump them into the container quickly. And don’t whine if they tell you to take your shoes off. We all hate that, I know, but the more you protest, the more they’ll insist. Just wear slip-on shoes while traveling. (They’re also easier to take off on those long flights.) In fact, you should pretty much avoid arguing with the authorities entirely. It’s a waste of time, which is your main consideration.

With one exception: If you are traveling with someone else who gets pulled out for secondary screening, you must demand to follow them. It will probably get you a secondary screen as well, but it guarantees you one thing: you will either make or miss the flight together. I was once on a trip with my wife to Las Vegas, and due to it being spring break, my Flawless System failed thanks to high passenger volume (the dreaded spring break) and one checkpoint being closed, which resulted in the largest security line I’d ever seen. K got a secondary screen and made the plane. I did not, and missed it. When the plane pulled back without me on it, she demanded to get off (which, while it will get you some nasty looks from fellow passengers, is your right pretty much right up until takeoff). My elite card got us onto the next flight with no problems, while the customer service agent happily bumped the drunken jerkoffs next to us to a long-shot standby on a flight 2 hours later. Being nice has its privileges, too.

This is an important point when dealing with airlines, or for that matter any service-oriented business. Do not piss off the help. I have had some pretty unpleasant trips, but even then, I never took it out on the customer service people. If you’re in the US or UK, and you want to know what these people deal with on a daily basis, you should watch Airline. Passengers are a who’s who of personality disorders. Anyway, if you look them in the eye, act like they’re humans too, and have your documents prepared, you’re apt to find that they’re quite friendly and helpful, and that you’ll get checked in within a couple of minutes. I’ve often wondered why it is that it seems to take me only 90 seconds to check in wherever I go, but the guy in front of me is always a 10-minute ordeal. Maybe they’re shipping weapons-grade einsteinium or something.

Mind you, if you feel you have just cause to be pissed off (for example, you’re there two hours before your flight, tickets in hand, and they bump you for no reason and without compensation), you will need to talk to a manager. Again, don’t blame the help. If it’s a policy problem, the agent wouldn’t have any latitude to change it anyway, so you shouldn’t go off on her or him in front of the manager unless they’re just giving you a hard time for shits and grins. Anger is natural in this situation, but it is a barrier to getting what you need. Take that anger and swallow it for a minute as you calmly make your case and say what you expect to be done about it. Then call your partner or friend and tell them how badly everyone sucks.

Now then. You’re at the airport with your gear, a boarding pass, and an ocean of glass knick-knacks and overpriced candy in your field of view. The next step is getting on the plane, and there are some tricks to be learned there, too.

I can’t emphasize this next point enough. When it comes time to board, or it seems like it’s time to board, wait your goddamned turn. Almost invariably, people will form an impenetrable semicircle around the gate as soon as someone clicks on the PA. And almost as frequently, the ones who are the closest in and least willing to budge are the ones who aren’t going to be allowed on for 20 minutes.

Helpful hint: there’s more space and fresh air outside the airplane than inside. Enjoy it. Have a Coke and a smile. Read your row or group number off of your boarding pass, and stay seated until they call it. But mostly, stay out of my goddamned way. All that poking and prodding at the security checkpoint has made me cranky, and you don’t want me taking it out on you or your carry-on.

In part 3, we will explore getting on and off the plane, how an apple lodged in gelatin on top of graham crackers passes for dessert, and what I consider the most fascinating and least understood facet of the travel experience: the Armrest Protocol.

How to travel, part one

Filed in: travel, Sat, May 7 2005 09:11 PT

This is the first of what may be more than a few tips on how to get around. It has been said that I have some experience in this area that I may be able to impart. Let’s start with packing.

There are those who counsel people to travel light. You know, pack only a couple of light shirts and 2 pair of underwear for any given period of time up to six months.

Fuck them. Seriously.

Here’s what I have packed for the current nine-day trip:

  • six t-shirts
  • nine pair of underwear
  • brown shoes, sneakers and sandals
  • travel kit including electric toothbrush, shaver, contact lenses, and two kinds of shampoo

And, of course, my kit:

  • Pocket PC
  • ThinkOutside Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard
  • Motorola HS850 Bluetooth headset
  • Etymotic ER-6i headphones
  • 20GB portable hard drive loaded with a variety of music and TV
  • mobile phone
  • Sony CyberShot 3.2Mpix digital camera
  • chargers for all of the above

Could I have cut back on this? Sure, but why? I did manage to leave my laptop at home, and for that, I think this is already a success. Even with all the adapters, this setup saves at least five pounds. I may in the future do short business trips with this kit, because there’s little I can’t do with what I have.

This is how I’ll be posting my stories from Mexico, in all my heavy-packing, heavy-geeking glory. Maybe I’ll even do a podcast or even a videoblog from this device, while I’m at it. I’ve got nothing but time.

Mexican road trip

Filed in: personal, travel, Mon, Apr 18 2005 21:35 PT

I have been in a sort of mental haze these last few weeks, or perhaps months, and during times like this, I tend to do some strange things. Usually, it means that I do a large number of things halfway, and spend the rest of the year tying off those loose ends before going somewhere completely different a year later. It’s a condition I call The Cloud. Sometimes it passes in a few days, but this particular Cloud has settled in, and needs to be pushed out somehow.

For reasons which will make themselves obvious in the near future, I’ve had my mind on a lot of important stuff recently, and in recognition of this fact, I’m taking a week off and going to Ixtapa, Mexico next month for a little mental spring cleaning.

It’s funny, but I’ve never been to Mexico. Not even Tijuana, or any of the border towns like Nogales, even when I was living in Arizona. It’s a little strange for an American to have been to Malta but never Mexico, but I suppose this will be remedied in due time. How often I have an old Wall of Voodoo track stuck in my head while I’m there remains to be seen.

I plan on doing a lot of reading and writing, and a lot of not being on the Internet. Though I am shopping for a good portable keyboard for my Pocket PC, because these days any writing I do invariably ends up on a computer anyway, so I might as well keep it all digital. But I’m having trouble choosing between the cheap, often chiclet-sized IR keyboards and the delightful but expensive Bluetooth models. A dark horse is the <a href=”http://www.cherrycorp.com/english/slim-line/keyboard-ultra-low-profile-g84-4100.htm”>compact USB keyboard</a>, which is substantially larger, but much more friendly-feeling, and reasonably affordable. If I choose wisely, I may get to start traveling without a laptop more often.

Apropos of nothing, the next Staccato should materialize tomorrow. Sorry for the delay. I’ve been working on something that’s big enough that I’ll need all of Staccato 16 to evangelize it.

Upcoming talks

Filed in: accessibility, travel, Mon, Jan 24 2005 15:49 PT

I’m now on the list of confirmed speakers at SXSW 2005. I’ll be on a panel with my colleague, Wendy Chisholm, on how to use accessibility standards, on Sunday morning, March 13th. Come on in and get some of the old-time religion!

I will also be presenting at the CSUN Conference on Technology and Persons with Disabilities, on the current state of browsers and media players vis-à-vis the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines 1.0. That’ll be on Saturday morning, March 19th. (hrm. That’s two weekends in a row. Hope they’re not trying to tell me something.)

And I’ll be at the W3C Technical Plenary in Boston at the beginning of March, but to my knowledge I’m not presenting anything. (And I’m not working the weekend.)

Doctors, dentists and $5 headphones

Filed in: travel, Sun, Dec 5 2004 11:50 PT

From: American flight 229 to Seattle

Given the recent unpleasantness, during which I lost my laptop and iPod, I found myself in need of a set of headphones so I could listen to the in-flight entertainment. On American, this means buying a set for $2 — still far more pleasant than the $5 “viewing fee” on certain airlines simply for jacking in.

The flight attendant in the first-class cabin announced that the crew would be coming through the cabin delivering $2 headphones to occasional travelers and idiots who just lost their laptop bags. Or so we all assumed. The demand as they came through was now $5.

Naturally, passengers protested, but the price just wasn’t coming down. As one flight attendant relayed to the row behind me. “Oh, she’s wrong. They’re $5. It changed on December 1st. She just doesn’t know that because she’s married to a dentist.”

The woman behind me in 15F was puzzled. “What does that have to do with the cost of the headphones?”

“Oh, well, it’s just that when you’re married to a doctor or a dentist, you don’t have to work as much. When you have to come in every day, you know the prices of things and when they change. So she announced it wrong.”

Hmm. Maybe next time she comes through with cabin service, I’ll ask her if she has any more sour grapes.

Good things come in twos

Filed in: accessibility, personal, travel, Web, Mon, Nov 22 2004 23:38 PT

I’ve got two new announcements from the last couple days, so I’ll just lump them together here.

First, the Last Call Working Draft of the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 was published today, along with its Implementation Techniques document. This is what I pull down the mad Sacajaweas to do, so moving it up the W3C’s ladder toward Recommendation is stressful, but ultimately gratifying. And I did it in time for our semi-annual W3C Advisory Committee meeting, and my keynote panel at the Gilbane CMS conference next week in Boston, so I can flog it to my heart’s content.

Incidentally, if you’re writing a blogging or CMS app, or any other authoring tool for that matter, this would be a really good time to start implementing these Guidelines, since we’re going to need developers’ help to get through the upcoming Candidate Recommendation phase. There’s probably beer in it for you.

And in other news, Episode 2 of Staccato is now online — that’s my weekly-ish show featuring Creative Commons-licensed music. (It’s the podcast that doesn’t talk about podcasting!) It’s worth the download at least for track 1, a country cover of the Wesley Willis classic “Rock and Roll McDonald’s”.

Now, it’s coming up on 11 at night, and I have to be up at 4am to get to the airport tomorrow morning. Catch you on the flip.

The latest search

Filed in: travel, Thu, Oct 7 2004 16:41 PT

I hate getting pulled aside on the jetway. It’s happened to me four times in recent memory: in Tokyo, Chicago, Boston, and now Toronto.

My attitude when this happens is increasingly piss-poor. I used to smile, or pretend to smile, as they rooted about through my bag and searched me for piercings. But I can’t help but feel targeted — victimized, even, in my own frequent-traveler way. As I’m sitting here, shoeless, having my gear gone through, somebody else is taking the overhead space that I got in line for like a good little prole.

Three or four minutes pass, and the what-ifs get the best of me. I start thinking: What would you rather have happen to you: a secondary search for no good reason, or a kick in the nuts? After the fourth occasion, I think I’m leaning toward taking the shot in the junk. It’s faster, and at least as useful a deterrent against terrorism. But maybe I’m just bitter.

What am I saying, maybe.

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