I went to Edinburgh, Scotland last week on business (a W3C Technical Architecture Group meeting).
Yes, there is some glamor and adventure to international travel, but mostly the hotels and meeting rooms are the same all over the planet, and unless I'm lucky enough to be able to take Mary with me, I hurry home rather than sticking around for sight-seeing. Face-time with people is almost always the highlight, for me, especially since I work from home.
The great thing about travel is that it's different from ordinary life in so many ways. That's also the problem with travel. I find that I can only deal with the disruption of travel once per month. I think I have only made one exception since I made that rule a few years ago. Most items on my travel checklist represent lessons I learned the hard way or things to make long trips a little more peaceful.
In 2001, when I was facing an umpteen hour flight to a conference in Hong Kong, I saw an adapter that meant my laptop would have power for the whole flight. Brookstone wanted $130, and was happy to pay it. These days I use a Kensington K33069 Universal AC/Car/Air Adapter for Apple to power PbJam, my Apple PowerBook. The adapter lists for $119.99, but this time I got it on clearance at Micro Center for for $59.96. This SmartDisk Airline Adapter for Apple PowerBook G4 Titanium has got to be too good to be true at just $19.95; I hear it powers the machine but doesn't actually charge the battery.
About three days before each trip, I visit the American Airlines web site, which is getting better over time; maybe I wasn't the only one that wrote to them a few years ago to ask that they respect accessability and other standards, not to mention basic usability. I also check seatguru. It showed my seat on the long flight wasn't near a power outlet, so I changed it to one that was.
I also requested an upgrade on the last leg of the trip. When I had platinum frequent-flyer status, AA would actually process that request three days in advance. I'm back down to gold status now, so they don't look at my request until 1 day before the flight. But that's still better than flying on some airline that doesn't know me from Adam. About ten years ago, Mary told me to pick an airline and stick with it; I put aside my counter-cultural tendencies for once and took her advice, every time I can skip to the 1st class check-in line, I'm glad I did.
My flight left Sunday afternoon, but I started packing Saturday morning because Sunday morning was full with playing guitar with the worship team at church, Saturday afternoon was full of kids' soccer games, and Saturday evening was full with fence repair. It's hard to remember a coat when it's warm in Kansas City, so checking the weather at the destination is an important part of the packing checklist.
Ideally, I like to take a few DVDs to watch on the long flight or in the hotel. Too bad we couldn't squeeze in a trip to the public library this time; they lend DVDs for free, just like books.
Since they make you "turn off all electronic devices for take-off and landing," which is precisely when you want something to distract you, a paperback book is an important part of the travel kit. Mary picked up Chromosome 6 at a garage sale for me. I enjoyed escaping into Robin Cook's world of Jack Stapleton and company, though the trip was too full for me to finish it.
It's hard to make good use of time in airports. I got to KCI an hour before my flight, for all the usual reasons. In the office, an hour might be enough time to get something significant done. But in an airport, I can't risk getting into something significant for fear that I'd miss my flight. There's no place to eat and no bathroom after you go thru security at KCI, since the post-9/11 remodelling, so the big choice is when to go thru security: do I split up the hour, with the first 20 minutes or so at the expedia.com where I can have free Internet access and a bite to eat and maybe a drink before going thru security, or do I go thru security right away, pay for wifi and relax until they make the boarding announcement? I grabbed some munchies at the newsstand and went thru secruity early.
The airport security ritual in the U.S. is pretty demoralizing these days. I dress specially for it: a shirt with a breast pocket to keep boarding pass and ID handy, and shoes that slip off and on for the x-ray strip-down ritual: coat off, cellphone off, laptop out of the bag, empy pockets, walk thru... put it all back on again. I'm reduced to feeling good that they let me keep my pants on. Sigh.
The next dilemma is: board as soon as you can, to maximize the chance you'll have room for your carry-on in the overhead, or stay out of the tin can as long as you possibly can? I went for the latter, but I missed by a little. When the line for taking tickets was empty, I collected my things, grabbed a newspaper that somebody left in a chair, and had my ticket scanned. But after that was a long, slow-moving line on the jetway, thru the airplane door, and down the aisles. I thought "oh well, I've got this newspaper," but then I remembered that I also had a new iPod shuffle and noise-cancelling headphones. Bose sets the standard, but they want $300 for them. On my way to Basel in October 2004, I had some extra time in EWR and I tried the Sennheiser PXC250; they're smaller and lighter and they go for less than half as much. Mary got me some for Christmas in 2004. The big dongle means they don't replace the earbuds for jogging, but they worked great for standing in line. Cowboy Junkies was so much more peaceful than the airport din around me.
The flight to Chicago was unremarkable. As per conventional wisdom, I set my watch to local time at the destination as soon as I got on the long flight to Manchester and took a sleeping pill because I can't sleep sitting up otherwise. Even so, I struggled to accept the local fiction that it was 7:30am already when we arrived. At least I didn't have to navigate Heathrow in that state. Manchester is much nicer; it was a short walk from my arrival gate to my transfer gate, and the BA personnel were very helpful with navigating passport control.
Henry was a wonderful host. Despite the fact that it was a holiday with much coming and going in his home, he let Norm and me recover at his place for much of the day on Monday.
The TAG meeting itself was great. Our issues list gives a home to all the open problems that were too big for any one Working Group over the last 10 or 15 years. We made some real progress on characterizing the language evolution and data format versioning problem, which is pretty much the holy grail of Web Architecture.
Edinburgh, like Basel and Amsterdam, is a city where you can walk to most parts of it. My hotel was a nice ten minute walk from the meeting room at the University, and many of the restaurants and such where we gathered in the evening were along the way. On Tuesday, Henry arranged for the TAG to have dinner with senior members of the University of Edinburgh and friends of Edinburgh Informatics. Their library is evidently the archtypical European university library.
We had dinner at the Tower restaurant on Wednesday. The view is everything they say...
Spectacular views of Edinburgh's Castle and city skyline feature on the menu of James Thomson's stunning rooftop restaurant, perched above the landmark Museum of Scotland.
On Thursday, Tim gave a talk on the Semantic Web. A very nice reception and dinner followed, where I once met Austin Tate again and met Harry Halpin in person for the first time.
My flight home on Friday didn't leave until after lunch, so I caught up on some sleep and visited some shops to pick up something for Mary and the boys. I got a postcard for my Aunt Margaret, whom I had been meaning to write for some time. I asked where to find stamps several times and failed to follow the directions each time, but then finally remembered that the hotel could take care of that for me. I think I'll make postcards a fixture in my hotel check-out ritual.
I thought I was running late when I got in the cab for the airport, but that was relative to getting there 2 hours in advance, not just one. And besides, my flight was delayed. This reduced my connection time in Heathrow from 1.5hrs to about 40 minutes, which was enough only because I jogged about 20 minutes across the international terminal.
Eight hours later, much to my surprise, I was greeted on arrival Chicago O'Hare with a text message from my friend Andy whose unrelated business trip had him there, awaiting the same flight to Kansas City. A gate change made finding him a little challenging, and then a delay meant that after a full day that started six timezones away, we didn't get to the Kansas City airport until around midnight. On the bright side, my upgrade request was granted and Andy gave me a ride home in his car.
tags: w3c, TAG, travel, health