26 July, 2005

You can wander around London all day and just keep finding signs designed specifically to make Americans laugh.

Of course, this one is everywhere, oftentimes repeated through recordings.

"Way Out" actually means "Exit" so if you see a sign that says "No Way Out" it doesn't necessarily mean you've walked into a trap. (Unless you're in Holland where trap means staircase which usually does lead to a way out. Yes, this can get pretty confusing.) Also, note the sign in the background that indicates how long until the next train arrives and where it will be going. These have been in every Underground station for ages but we're still struggling to get them installed on a single line in the New York City subway system.

A typical tube with its rounded top. There are some cars that are bigger but most of them have the tubular look.

This is what happened to the entire Eurostar network soon after I tried communicating with it.

Do not ever use those candy machines in the Underground. They never work. In fact, most machines seem to have trouble functioning in London. This includes telephones and elevators. Just tonight, I saw a sign announcing the cancellation of an entire film festival due to a projector malfunction.

This was a theater where things did work and where a message of defiance was proudly displayed.

26 July, 2005

Day 10. I usually don't oversleep but I guess if it was going to happen, now was the time. I woke up at around 1 pm which right away posed a problem since the checkout in my hotel was noon. This is what comes from staying up until 6 in the morning working on various things and dealing with all sorts of crises. Redhackt and I had to figure out how to get a vital piece of equipment from New York to the conference which took several hours of coordination between different people back home. I also had the fun of seeing a mouse scamper across my hotel room in the middle of the night. That little incident got me transferred into a "double," which basically means a room about a square inch larger than a single. I have to say I love the Regent Palace in Piccadilly Circus where I've been staying. It's got personality, history, all kinds of interesting people passing through, and it's really conveniently located. Not to mention cheap. But it's about as sleazy a place as you could ever hope for. The mouse actually made perfect sense. Why I hadn't seen one before is the real mystery. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I don't encounter another one in the new room or perhaps even something bigger. I wonder how many other QM2 passengers immediately went to stay in rooms with mice in them. Nothing like a little variety to spice things up.

So getting up late completely messed up my plans of going to the campsite in Holland today. I'll simply have to go tomorrow and spend another night in London. There are far worse fates to suffer, I suppose.

I met up with Russell in the afternoon to do some interviews for the movie by the fountain in Piccadilly Circus. It's really hard to go up to people out of the blue and ask them to go on camera. Overall, I think we did pretty well. It was rather funny though that virtually nobody we spoke to there spoke English as a first language. And once again, we ran into London bureaucracy as some city workers came by and ripped down our signs, telling us we weren't allowed to film with a tripod. I really wasn't trying to be a wise guy by letting them know it was actually a monopod but that seemed to be the way they interpreted it. Whatever. I was expecting this kind of official resistance in the former Soviet bloc. I have to be extremely suspicious of anyone who thinks simply using a camera and microphone on a public street is somehow a threat. If we were impeding traffic or harassing people, I could understand it. I don't expect I'll have this problem in Holland.

I pulled off an impressive feat today when making travel plans. I was having a really tough time getting a ticket to the campsite. London to Boxtel (the nearest station to What The Hack) requires no fewer than three transfers. But the ticket to Brussels (the first transfer point) was clocking in at 150 pounds or close to 300 dollars! Planes were so much cheaper but I promised I wouldn't leave the ground. (Yesterday's ferris wheel excursion doesn't count since it was still attached to the ground, even though they actually refer to the ride as a "flight.") On a whim, I checked online for a round trip fare and made up a return date I had no intention of keeping. Doing this I got the price down to 29 pounds each way! That's a savings of nearly 200 dollars along with a wasted return ticket. I'll never understand the travel industry. I still have to buy a ticket in Brussels for the rest of the journey but I should be able to manage that without too many complications.

One thing that really drives me up the wall is badly written software. I had to deal with that yet again when I went to Waterloo Station to pick up my ticket. It was supposed to have been relatively simple. They tell you to bring the credit card you used to buy the ticket online and you can get it from a machine at the station. I should have known when the word "machine" was used that there would be trouble. Machines just don't ever seem to work properly in London and here was yet another example. First, the thing asked for my confirmation code which I didn't realize was needed so I had left it on my laptop which I didn't bring with me. But there was a selection for people who had "forgotten" their code so I clicked that and was asked to insert the credit card I had used. It accepted it, gave it back, and then asked me for my confirmation code. I played this little game a few times on several different machines before seeking a human who told me never to use the machines. After giving up and heading for the exit, I noticed that all of the machines had crashed.

Then there's my "new" GSM phone that I've tied to a Liechtenstein SIM card so I can get free incoming calls in almost every country I go to. The problem is this phone (made by a company called Haier) doesn't seem to understand the concept of key locking. If you unlock it to check a missed call or even the time, it goes into a mode where you have to specifically ask it to lock again after a period of time. This is while it's already in automatic lock mode. Surely someone designing the phone could have seen how this might be a problem. Just like every GSM phone I've ever used insists on displaying the numbers you've dialed (including voicemail passwords) until you specifically clear them. I've never had a CDMA phone do this. Again, it's just bad design that seems so obvious to me.

Anyway, I finished off the day by taking a ride up to Camden Road, one of my favorite parts of town. There are lots of music stores and coffee shops. It was after 11 pm though so the trains were crowded with people heading home and most of the shops were shutting down. That's the problem with most cities outside New York: they aren't 24 hours. Of course, not everything closes but enough of the infrastructure stops operating so that people's lifestyles get affected. I just hope someday there are more places where you can wander around freely at midnight.