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Archive for June 2006

lyon on foot

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It’s Saturday, so I must be in Lyon. I made a minor navigational error as I left Le Perrache station, after catching the TER train from La Verpilliere. I headed south along the Rhône riverside, only to find out that I was cut off from the river by major roads, and the next crossing was further away than it appeared on the map.

So, after crossing the Pont Pasteur, I took a few minutes to chill in the east bank park, in earshot of the Samba band playing in the garden of a pharmaceutical company building nearby. For the rest of the day it was very humid, trying to rain but never quite getting there. It took another twenty minutes walk before Lyon started looking like a city, instead of an industrial suburb.

The first group of Saturday shoppers I saw were at some ad-hoc flea market, where some of the financially-challenged were selling anything they had to hand: socks, lids without pots, toys. Even a possibly-used contact lens cleaning case, an absolute no-no for anyone who values their sight. Sad.

After strolling through the Universite district I crossed the footbridge to the shopping district, stopping for a sandwich at Hotel de Ville, then zig-zagging south to Bellecour. My plan was to buy a 2-hour unlimited Metro ticket by 3PM, to get me back to Perrage by 5PM, but something was happening there that I was more than ready to delay my plans for.

As I arrived at Bellecour, a large dusty square with a statue of Louis XIV, I ran in to a parade of vintage cars, which parked in the square and soon gathered many admirers. About half the cars were French, including early Talbot, Simca, Renault and Peugeot, and several marques I had never heard of before, such as Hotchkiss. Among the foreign cars were Jaguars from Mark II on, Porsches from 220 to 944, Many Chevrolets from 40’s-60’s, Fords from 30’s Models T and A through 60’s Mustangs and Taunus, to 80’s Escort XR3 and RS Cosworth. No Duesenbergs, but that would have been a bit much to expect.

After that I could use a break from the heat, so I got the 2-hour ticket and jumped on the Metro to Vieux Lyons, for the Funicular up to St.Just. It wasn’t that much cooler up there, but I stopped for a bit at the Gallo-Roman Amphitheatre, and took in the Lyon view from the cathedral at Fourviere. I don’t know much about the history of Lyon, but I wonder if there’s a reason why all the roofs, thousands of them, are red?

I’m finishing this entry off at the hotel bar with a big glass of Heineken, an indication of how thirsty I am, but I’ll switch to to the good stuff next, with dinner. I’m outside, out of consideration for the other bar patrons: after a sweaty day like this my deodorant has long since given up the ghost, and I shudder to think what I’ll find when I take my shoes off. I’m going to get slightly toasted, have a long bath, and crash.

I have an early start tomorrow, with the train to Lyon, shuttle to the airport, two flights with a stopover at Schipol Amsterdam, and work on Monday. Let’s see if I can get through the summer months without any more aggravation.

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Written by brian t

June 24, 2006 at 9:39 pm

Posted in travel

gourmandise

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No update for over a week, mainly because I’ve been in France, at another of my company’s offices near Lyon. The main reason is a training course, but the subtext behind the visit is a company “jolly”, or junket, a chance to schmooze with various loosely-connected colleagues and make a few more professional connections. The course is now over, everyone else has left, and I’ve moved to a nicer part of the building to use the Internet in peace and quiet.

The training was on another of my company’s “string and sealing wax” products, this time based on Linux, which I now describe as “something I hope no customer ever sees”. A real “old-school” Linux application, or set of applications, held together by custom scripting and assumptions about the stability of the computing environment it will be used in. My fellow students were generally more experienced in Linux and the related applications than I am, yet we all had severe difficulties in getting anything working at all, uncovering whole classes of failures not seen before.

Yet it is already out there, and while I was bemused by the push to get so many of us trained so intensively, I’m not any more. It’s going to need a major support effort to keep its customers happy. We don’t expect that many customers on it, but those few will need all the help they can get.

Before I came to France, I had hoped it would be possible to experience some fine dining; what actually happened is an interesting story in itself. Each working day this week I’ve had lunch in the office cafeteria, which is in a whole different league to that back in Dublin, starting with double the variety of dishes. They serve starters as well as freshly-prepared desserts, even beer and wine. They don’t charge for garnishings like olives or pickles, something I only noticed today and am kicking myself over, being an olive addict who balks at the high prices charged at home.

Most importantly, the quality of the dishes starts with the quality of the ingredients, and they don’t need to do that much to them to make a fine dish. What happened each evening this week is a salutary lesson in how to do it, or not.

Sunday’s dinner in the hotel bar, as tonight’s will be: I don’t remember what I had, so nondescript was the meal. However, the hotel has my new favourite beer: Abbaye Affligem Blonde, a Belgian “blonde” abbey beer that really works for me, in a quality vs. quantity sense: I couldn’t drink a lot of it, but I enjoy the whole glass. This is considered a “commercial” beer in Belgium, so I clearly have a lot of drinking learning to do on this topic.

On Monday a bunch of us headed out to the neighbouring village of Bourgoin-Jallieu to see what we could find. Not much was happening, and we landed at the Grande Cafe (I think it was), under the TV, with a bunch of Tunisia supporters shouting over our heads. Annoyingly, the advertised dish of the day was gone, and I had to make a snap choice from an all-French menu. I think I landed on my feet, with a small rack of beef and vegetables, but the wine was indifferent and the Crème Brûlée was a bit tasteless.

Tuesday was the semi-official dinner of our visit, for which we all went to Bernard Lantelme‘s highly-rated family restaurant in Saint-Alban-de-Roche, with its small-but-classy menu of traditional dishes. After a well-balanced starter of red pepper with anchovies, the main course was rabbit with shallots and new potatoes. We went with the house recommended wines: I stayed with the red all evening, which was excellent, but my colleagues heaped praise on the white.

Wednesday was an evening off, so I walked up to the town of Villefontaine, to do a little shopping. A sudden summer thunderstorm hit as I was in the centre, an excuse to hang around with the locals as they fought to get themselves and their things under cover. The storm disrupted an outdoor music festival of sorts, so quickly that a young girl had to be rushed off stage, mid-song, in case her trumpet and microphone gave her a shock. Some chips and petits fours were all I wanted that evening, and a book.

Thursday, last night, was when things got a little out-of-hand. It was the last night for most of the gang, so we all trekked up to a place one of them had been to before: L’Alouette, in Bonnefamille. The initial signs were not good: we sat outdoors, on plastic chairs, in a courtyard next to a busy road, while insects swarmed around us and the house Alsatian stuck his nose round the door and stared at me. After sunset, the traffic subsided and the insects were attracted away by lights.

As with Lantelme on Tuesday, I can find no English information online, but the menu is readable under “les menus” on the site I linked to. I had the “small” Menu de l’Alouette, starting with Une Tranche de Foie Gras frais de Canard, Mélange de Salades maraîchères à l’huile de noisette. (A slice of fresh Duck Foie Gras (liver), with a market salad in filo pastry, with hazelnut oil.)

The main course was un suprême de Caille cuit en croûte, farci au foie gras, un jus de viande réduit aux betteraves et à la crème de Cassis. (Quail Supreme in pastry with Foie Gras stuffing, served with a beet reduction and blackcurrant sauce.) The presentation included small dishes of vinaigrette vegetables and creamed broccoli. I don’t have much to say about that. except perhaps… Wow.

Two separate amuse-bouche dishes were also included: followed by a loaded cheese board. After all that, the house Vin d’Orange (Champagne and Orange wine), and several glasses of excellent white, I had forgotten about dessert: a mix of ice creams and sorbets that put a silly grin on my face. The caseophile in me had gone a bit ga-ga at the cheese board, where I overloaded on Roquefort and good Camembert (among others I can not recall the names of), but I made it all the way to coffee in one piece. I wasn’t the only one to overindulge a bit: one of the others, despite going for menu dégustation, the 3-course gourmet menu, polished off double desserts after an ordering mistake left a spare.

After last night, anything will be a let down, but my notebook battery is on its last legs, so I should stop typing and return to the hotel soon. I hear they make a decent basic pizza, and there’s always the Affligem and the football. Tomorrow I have a day in Lyon, sightseeing, and I fly back on Sunday at noon, sharp. I don’t care if my boss doesn’t let me put the two gourmet meals on expenses: I can afford it, so rarely do I get the chance to dine well. Bye.

Written by brian t

June 23, 2006 at 4:45 pm

Posted in culture, food, travel, work

notebirthday

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I’d just like to take a minute to say “Happy Birthday” to… a computer.

presario 2815
I took delivery of my Compaq Presario 2815EA four years ago today, and it’s turned out to be the best piece of computer hardware I have ever owned. It was among the last to be released by Compaq, the company, before the merger with Hewlett Packard was finalised, though it was made by LG in South Korea. There were a few teething troubles, and I sent it back for service after a few weeks. Any attempts to use a USB 2.0 device caused it to crash, and it wasn’t software. It came back from service with a new system board and a new hard drive, which the engineer replaced because the old one was noisy. (I hadn’t noticed.)

It spent most of the four years running Windows XP Professional, but for the last six months it’s been running Ubuntu Linux exclusively, without problems. That first 30GB drive lasted over three years before failing; I replaced it with an equally old 30GB drive that I had lying around, which lasted another few months.

Now it’s running with a 6GB drive I have had lying around since some time in 1999. Not fast, but reliable, and more than enough space for Linux. I have an external 80GB disk that I use for archives, that I take to and from work and back up regularly. Now I have Internet access at home, I’m finding that I don’t need that many applications installed on the system.

Still, I was rather pleased to see that Google Earth version 4 is out for Linux, and I just installed it. Nice and fast on this old machine, so let’s call it a birthday present, shall we? Here’s to another year.

Written by brian t

June 14, 2006 at 10:30 pm

Posted in technology

golden eagles

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Saturday night, and there’s probably nothing on TV. I say “probably” because I haven’t checked; too busy reading, and enjoying a free concert. The Eagles are well in to their second set at Lansdowne Road, about 200 metres from my window. Right now I can hear Joe Walsh soloing on Don Henley’s Dirty Laundry, the third of his solo tracks they’ve played tonight, along with at least one of Joe’s and one of Glenn Frey’s (I think).

An interesting post tonight, from the Radical Mutual-Improvement blog, asks: What are your beliefs about money? It has a list of questions I’ll try to answer:

Do you believe more money will make you happier?
To a point. Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy off the causes of unhappiness, after which you have no-one to blame but yourself.

Do you spend money as soon as you get it?
No – I’ve been in “saving & investment” mode for at least 5 years now, eventually I’d like to buy a place to live. The house price situation in Dublin makes this impossible for the forseeable future.

Do you have enough money?
For my current needs, yes, but the future is uncertain.

Where does money come from?
It’s an expression or relative value: it’s a number that specifies how people see the values of various things at various times.

Does making money require hard work?
I think there’s enough evidence to suggest that the easiest way to make money is to have money.

Does money corrupt?
No. If a person is corrupt, money is just the vehicle that carries them across that burning bridge.

What can money buy?
Anything acquired or created by people. Including people.

Is there a shortage of money in the world?
See “Where does money come from”, and Economics 101 about what happens when governments try to print money with no value behind it.

Do you want to be rich?
Do you deserve to be rich?

Depends on how you define “rich”. In some ways, I feel that I am already rich, but it’s not reflected in my bank balance.

How much money does it take to be rich?
If you don’t have to worry about money, you’re rich. There are people who don’t have to worry, but still do, which is missing some important point.

The concert is almost over; a single encore (Hotel California) isn’t enough, they’re doing a Joe Walsh number, possibly Rocky Mountain Way. Half the taxis in Dublin are tailgating outside my door, cruising round the block, as the first crowds hit the street. That extended voice-box solo would clear any venue, which must be why it’s at at the very end of the show.

Not had enough? A Don Henley number, All She Wants To Do Is Dance. Already Gone? Or staying for the closer, Desperado? The thousands who have already left probably didn’t know that was coming, and so what if they went past the 11PM watershed? Good Night, Dublin.

Written by brian t

June 10, 2006 at 11:03 pm

rebooted

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Ugh! I got photographed! That’s me in the middle, somewhere between two and three cans of Tuborg Green, on a boat in the middle of Copenhagen Harbour, about a week ago. The booze cruise was the precursor to the reboot 8 conference I attended, to bone up on my Web 2.0 2.1 concepts and knowledge.

The term Web 2.0 is slightly deprecated these days, ever since O’Reilly Publications started trying to stop anyone else using it in the context of a conference. I have my own concerns about the term, too, and while the conference gave me much food for thought, it hasn’t done much to quell my misgivings.

The short version is: it’s looking more and more like a cultural or even artistic phenomenom, rather than a business. A few (not many) of the speakers touched on “monetizing” Web 2.0 – making money out of it – but they generally appeared to be doing it out for fun and interest first, with business sense way down the list. I don’t have a problem with that at all: try too hard to make money from any form of culture, and you risk alienating an audience who generally does not need any of this – which ties in nicely with Brian Eno’s concept of culture as “everything we don’t have to do”.

I enjoyed a breakout session on “Sociology ABC”, which tried to condense a year’s worth of Sociology lectures in to 40 minutes, and was pretty successful at it too. My notes are quite long but contain gaps I’ll have to fill from memory or imagination.

Extreme Closeup!I didn’t stay the full length of the conference: getting out to the farm to see friends and chill out was more important. I made several new friends there too: one Irish Cob horse, two Shetland ponies, three dogs, about seven sheep, and a Common Buzzard. Here’s one of the sheep, getting up close and personal before trying to eat my trousers.

Written by brian t

June 7, 2006 at 11:36 am

Posted in culture, reboot, travel, web 2.0

wonderful wonderful

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Ah, Copenhagen. Where else could all the following happen to me in the space of a few hours?

  • a walk along the Strøget, where global brands mingle incongruently with small local businesses;
  • sampling some local fast food: røt knæk mit pøls (sausage & bread) and a bizarrely-named lemonade; the lemonade was like water, the sausage was frank-ly awful;
  • using the excellent public transport system, which has a limited-time pass system much like that found in New York;
  • meeting a local pervert, while crossing the road at Rådhuspladsen. In just about the most public place in the whole of Denmark – Copenhagen’s answer to Piccadilly Circus or Times Square – this walking cliché was apparently trying to get me to drop my trousers, so he could play with their contents. I don’t know what he was expecting to find in there, it may have been my choice of underwear that gave him a false expectation. Either that or he was genuniely subhuman, and will not survive on the streets much longer. If he had touched me you would have seen an Atheist acting out a scene from the Old Testament, religion not a factor.

Copenhagen Harbour Architecture 1Despite this, Copenhagen passes an ad hoc “friendly city” test, much as Paris, London and Lisbon do (and Dublin and Porto do not). This time it involved my journey to Nyhavn to meet up with the reboot crowd for the boat cruise around the harbour. I managed to miss the bus stop, and had to walk through an unfamiliar part of town, in the general direction of my destination. Not only was my dead reckoning on the mark, I got there in plenty of time. A grand evening it was too, and I have many photos of the striking bayside architecture to post, when I get back to Dublin next Monday.

Written by brian t

June 1, 2006 at 8:36 pm

Posted in culture, travel