The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The perils of travel

It's not really that perilous to travel from the US to the UK, unless you're in a step challenge.

This past week, I was traveling for almost 40 hours—including 14 yesterday thanks to ordinary aviation delays. When you're on a plane, it's pretty hard to get steps. Fortunately the time change from the UK back to the US is in my favor, so I got 6 extra hours in which to walk, and I also got Parker back. Still, I barely squeaked in with 10,689 for the day and an unusually low 81,638 for the week (helped immensely by Wednesday's 18,319).

The nadir, of course, was last Sunday, when I flew to London. The lost 6 hours occurred right in the middle of the day, so not only did I get the fewest steps (7,407) since June 11th (7,044), but also this happened:

Sheesh.

So naturally, I walked to work today. I'm already at 9,770 and heading towards 20k (assuming I walk home, too).

Noted, with sadness

I'm back from the UK, and I hope my laundry will be done soon because my body thinks it's 1:30 in the morning.

I did want to note the horror in Virginia over the weekend, and James Fallows' observations about the President's abject failure to respond appropriately:

Donald Trump had an opportunity yesterday to show that he was more than the ignorant, impulsive, reckless opportunist he appeared to be during the election. To show, that is, that the  burdens and responsibilities of unmatched international power had in fact sobered him, and made him aware of his obligations to the nation as a whole.

Of course, he failed.

And those who stand with him, now, cannot claim the slightest illusion about what they are embracing.

It was so tempting, being at O'Hare with my passport and a packed bag, just to hop on another plane...

Byeslay

Despite (or because of, unclear) normal Scottish weather, we killed an hour at the Laphroaig Distillery before heading out on the ferry back to the mainland. I claimed my rent on my one square foot of land* and my dram of the 10 year old. Then we got a couple more drams (in takeaway containers), a book, some lip balm, and rained upon. But I did manage this photo through the window:

And then we headed to the ferry and said goodbye to Islay (for now):

Now, as was common in days of yore, we're taking a few days to get back home. We stopped for lunch at the Drovers Inn outside Loch Lomond, and now we're in Glasgow.

* The coordinates on my certificate are the coordinates showing on the map there, but there are differences between what GPS says and what maps say all the time. I'm not sure if this is a mismatched datum or that Laphroaig's GIS don't agree with Google's. There are tons of reasons why this would be. But it's fun anyway.

Not how I expected to spend the day

When we started planning this trip in May, it didn't occur to us that we would spend half a day at the Ileach equivalent of a county fair, complete with purple sheep:

The day started here, however:

We took part in the warehouse tasting, in which Lagavulin's Iain Macarthur let us taste some malts pulled right out of the barrels, including a 35-year-old and a 23-year-old, worth well over £150 each.

Now we're chilling before catching live music at the only venue that's open anywhere near us tonight, the Islay Hotel.

Port Ellen

Today, after a 6 km walk through squelchy bogs from Ardbeg up to Solam, and a drive to Bowmore, we had dinner in Port Ellen just before sunset. This was the scene after dinner:

I've got 759 photos to get through when we get back to the US in a couple of days. Meanwhile, my phone camera seems to be doing an adequate job, as the shot above shows. I think my SLR will yield better results overall, but for holiday snaps, the phone doesn't suck. I like living in the future.

Why can't we have these things in the U.S.?

I'm on a train hurtling through the English countryside at 200 km/h and using WiFi.

Seriously, why can't we have a train like this back home? I mean, some Amtrak routes have WiFi, and Acela maxes out at 240 km/h between Boston and New Haven, Conn. But that's it. Chicago to Milwaukee trains plod along at half that speed, and the trains to St. Louis are even slower (and frequently delayed by freight traffic).

Where's the President's infrastructure investment plan that we've heard so much about?

London again, for a few hours

This turns out to be my 35th trip to Heathrow this century. Of those, 20 have flown from O'Hare, and of those, 11 were on American flight 90. This is, however, the first time I've flown on AAL90 in something other than a Boeing 767, and I have to say I really like the business class in American's 787-8 planes.

This is not my first time in a 787, nor is it my first time in business class on one. (It's my second for both.) I flew from London to Montreal in British Airways' coach class in 2013, and from Los Angeles to Dallas in American's (domestic) business class in 2014. Since then, American has reconfigured its business class to fit in more seats in a diagonal front/rear-facing jigsaw. The result is that only six business-class seats actually put your head next to a window; the other 10 "window" seats put your feet by the window so they feel more like aisle seats. Thanks to SeatGuru, I got some warning about this so I could choose wisely when my upgrade went through.

A couple more observations. First, it seems that GPS signals have a harder time penetrating the composite skin of this airplane than the aluminum skin of the other Boeing models in American's fleet. In consequence my phone can't tell me where I am right now, so I'll have to grab the coordinates retrospectively from FlightAware. Since I'm posting this entry retrospectively anyway, this isn't that big a deal.

Second, despite the widespread passenger loathing of American's 767 fleet—at least for everyone who didn't get a "twilight zone" seat in rows 10 through 13—the flight attendants I spoke with actually preferred the 767s to these new 787s. Apparently the galleys on the 787s are cramped and lack adequate counter space.

Third, I'm not sure if we should give kudos to American for ditching the 2-4-2 seating arrangement in coach in favor of 3-3-3. This increased the number of passengers by increasing the number of middle seats. But more passengers on the airplane generally translates into lower fares. Also, it means that American can move their 777s (which are still 2-5-2 in coach) to their Asia routes and fly 787s exclusively on the Chicago-London route. The 787 is just enough smaller that it doesn't feel like a freight car in coach. Even if American moves to 3-3-3 seating on their 777s, the planes still carry almost 100 more people, which makes boarding and baggage claim that much less enjoyable.

I'll have a couple of photos at some point. A couple of four-hour train rides and two-hour ferry rides will give me some downtime to edit photos.

Yesterday and today

At the Bristol Renaissance Faire yesterday I caught my friend Megan trying on earrings:

Today, though, I'm getting on this gorgeous machine and flying to the Ancestral Homeland:

I'm also operating on about 4 hours of sleep, since my plan to wake up at 10:30am British Summer Time (4:30am Central Daylight Time) worked a lot better than my plan to go to sleep around 3am BST (9pm CDT). For that I thank the squad of Irish bros across the alley who had one of the louder parties I've ever witnessed until...well, there were still stragglers on the porch when I took out my trash at 5am.

I did get upgraded today, however, so at some point over the next couple of days I'll have a photo or two of Amercian's B787-8 business class.

What Brexit means to Crossrail

Crossrail, the UK's £14.8bn rail line connecting London's far western suburbs with its eastern ones, either represents the end of an era or the beginning of one, according to today's New York Times:

Before Britain voted last summer to leave the European Union, Crossrail was conceived for a London open to the world and speeding into the future. Now, with Brexit, the nightmare scenario is that this massive project, to provide more trains moving more people more quickly through a growing city, ends up moving fewer people more quickly through a shrinking city.

Extending roughly 110 km, it is built to speed about 200 million passengers a year in a kind of Y from far to the west of the city, in the county of Berkshire, through Heathrow, to the heart of London, forking east to Shenfield in Essex and to the neighborhood called Abbey Wood, on the historically neglected southeast side of the Thames River. Linked with the existing Underground subway network, it will be rechristened the Elizabeth Line, inserting what is in effect a new steel-and-wheels spine into Britain’s capital.

“The danger with Brexit,” [George Iacobescu, Canary Wharf’s longtime chairman said], “is that if Britain gets out of the European Union and doesn’t keep the U.K. an attractive place for financial institutions, they will think twice about growing here. The issue isn’t banks leaving Canary Wharf. Most of them have long-term leases. The issue will be the pace of growth.”

But that’s not quite true. Because of Brexit worries, construction plans for several of Canary Wharf’s new buildings have already been put on hold. And long-term leases can always be broken.

The subway will open to passengers in 2018.

The women who broke Nazi codes

Via Bruce SchneierTech Republic tells the story of the women who worked at Bletchley Park during World War II:

Because [Alan] Turing's individual achievements were so momentous, it's sometimes forgotten that more than 10,000 other people worked at the Government Code and Cypher School, of whom more than two-thirds were female. These servicewomen played a pivotal role in an operation that decrypted millions of German messages and which is credited with significantly shortening the war.

The code-breaking operation was spread over teams working in various huts around the manor house at Bletchley, with the bombe machines situated in outstations nearby. There were about 8,000 people involved in the code-breaking—what was known as the factory—and 4,000 support staff. Each team generally knew no more than was necessary about what the other groups were doing.

Teams worked in different huts on breaking the Enigma codes, focusing on the army and air-force ciphers in one and the tougher naval encryption in another. Unscrambled messages were then sent on to linguists for translation and officials who would decide how the information should be used and, more importantly, whether it could be used without revealing that the Allies had cracked Enigma.

This history is hinted at, however minimally, by Kiera Knightly's character in The Imitation Game.