On Heathrow this week

Just inside section D at Heathrow Terminal 3

Heathrow was a mess last week. I got stuck in it. I got lucky.

I was teaching mathematics in Hertford, covering someone on sick leave. Was due to finish at the end of December. I returned to Canada for a couple weeks in August, and chose the 20th of December as a return date for the flight back. I finished work on the 17th, figured I’d have a day or two to pack, and then a cheap Monday flight back to Canada. That was my logic when I booked the ticket in July.

The end of term approaches. During the last week of school, I decide to book a hotel near the airport for the day before the flight. I was thinking it might make things a little bit easier. I used Priceline for the first time, and ended up with a really good deal on a room at the Heathrow Hilton, attached to Terminal 4.

Come Saturday, we had the most snow that we had all year in Hertford. I probably wouldn’t have ventured out, but I had bankers to piss off. They don’t like it when you sit there sorting loose change while they want to close early. I don’t like it when I visit the branch on Monday to discuss transferring funds back to Canada, have them tell me to come back on the weekend and when I do, to tell me it takes 3-5 to create a bank draft. I’ll go with electronic transfer when the pound rebounds.

I hit up twitter with a slightly ominous post:

Ugh, lots of snow in the UK. Flight to Canada on Monday, hopefully there won’t be any issues. Don’t have my hopes up though.

Haha. Everything seemed so simple then.

I managed to compress everything into two suitcases and make it to the hotel the next day. I enjoyed my large bed, the gym and the pool. I ate incredibly over-priced hotel restaurant food. I checked the internet, and found my flight had been pushed back about four hours. I slept.

With unexpected time in the morning, I hit up the gym again. I figured that it might help me get some sleep on the plane. I returned to my room to shower. There was no hot water and little point in complaining, man up. Afterwards, I opted for the incredibly over-priced hotel breakfast rather than “finding something” when I got to Heathrow. It was a wise decision.

I had trouble getting from T4 to T3, the Heathrow Express had trains stuck in the tunnel. I bit the bullet, topped off my Oyster and took the Underground across the airport. I arrived just in time to spend an hour attempting to get into the terminal. It was ridiculous, no one had any idea what was going on. Eventually, I got in. The photo above was pretty much what it looked like in the check-in area. Normally I don’t talk to people at the airport, but a few hours hours of mutual agony will turn anyone into a stalwart friend. After a few hours of watching other flights get cancelled, we rejoiced with the news that we could check our bags.

The flight got pushed back multiple times, eventually to the next day, although it wasn’t posted on the big boards at the airport. Yea internet!

Shared misery meant meeting lots of people in the same situation. Amongst others, I talked to professors, a software engineer, an Australian secret service agent, a med-student and a shiatsu masseuse. Almost everything in the airport closed in the evening. The duty-free shop stayed open late, and offered free drinks while they were closing. It was the leftovers from their sample process. The bar was limited to various whiskeys, Bailey’s and an assortment of soft drinks. I took some Glenmorangie and didn’t complain.

I stayed in the departure lounge the entire night. Some people got kicked out early. I imagine the guards thought we were supposed to be out on a late rescheduled flight. They wanted to kick us out in the wee hours but realized it wasn’t worth the hassle of sending us through security again.

In the morning, the internet told us what gate our flight was supposed to leave from. Air Canada operated in true ninja fashion, they told no one of their flight status. I think it was so they could get customers onto later planes, rather than having randoms pestering them about any flight to North America. With all of the flight crew ready to go, we had to wait an extra hour for BAA security to show up and look at our passports. The bouncers moaned about cranky overtired passengers making fun of their pleas for us to move along so the plane wouldn’t be delayed any longer.

We finally made it airborne about twenty hours after scheduled departure. The toilets stopped working halfway across the Atlantic, so we had to divert to Newfoundland to have them fixed.

All-in-all, I made it back roughly on time, a lot of people weren’t so lucky. That said, the entire experience was a giant cluster-fuck of disorganization. No one had any clue what was going on. At the time, I said:

The communications infrastructure at Heathrow reminds of of playing broken telephone when I was a kid.

Purple monkey dishwasher. I’ll stand by that.

In the end, I was just happy that I didn’t receive one of these letters. Valued customer indeed. It would have taken me at least an extra week to leave the country.

All of the flights on the 18th and 19th were cancelled, and my equivalent flight on the 21st was cancelled too. I got lucky.

In hindsight, I should have taken more photos. It didn’t seem like a priority at the time. At various points I took to using twitter, it’s probably my most epic stream of tweets, but it isn’t terribly interesting. Nonetheless, I did want to archive the tweets, just in case a masochistic future-me wants to relive the past.

Patton Oswald on geek culture

Wake up, geek culture. Time to die, a Wired article by Patton Oswald.

When everyone has easy access to their favorite diversions and every diversion comes with a rabbit hole’s worth of extra features and deleted scenes and hidden hacks to tumble down and never emerge from, then we’re all just adding to an ever-swelling, soon-to-erupt volcano of trivia, re-contextualized and forever rebooted. We’re on the brink of Etewaf: Everything That Ever Was—Available Forever.

There are a number of quotable paragraphs in the article, but I went with one that seems vaguely hypocritical for posting. You should read the whole thing. Nerd culture may be harmed by the overabundance of information related to minutiae. The internet creates an instant otaku.

A better Big Lebowski kit

Two Lebowski Kits fight it out

I recently saw a link to The Big Lebowski Kit somewhere, clicked through and was expecting something entirely different. I was thinking it would be The Dude’s kit; everything that one needed to get their dude on. Nope, it’s just a bunch of useless crap… “Ooooh, a mousepad, a fake toe and a coffee cup!” We can do a little better than that.

The Dude’s Survival Kit

Here’s what I think should be in The Dude’s survival kit.

  • bottle of Smirnoff vodka
  • bottle of Kahlua
  • carton of cream
  • Old Fashioned glass
  • ice cubes
  • roach clip
  • rolling papers

We could probably include some sort of bowling paraphernalia: a ball, a shirt, something bowlingish. And we would need something to hold it all, possibly a battered suitcase or a bowling bag.

Decanting wine

When should wine be decanted?

The most obvious reason to decant is that the wine has thrown a deposit, and that’s really only likely with vintage or crusted ports and aged unfiltered reds. For the process to work effectively the bottle needs to have been upright for several hours, then be carefully poured into the decanter in front of a light (traditionally a candle) so you can see as the sediment inches towards the neck. You need to do this in a single movement so that it doesn’t fall back and get mixed up with the wine again.

Eco on Wikileaks

From Umberto Eco’s article about Wikileaks.

I once had occasion to observe that technology now advances crabwise, i.e. backwards. A century after the wireless telegraph revolutionised communications, the Internet has re-established a telegraph that runs on (telephone) wires. (Analog) video cassettes enabled film buffs to peruse a movie frame by frame, by fast-forwarding and rewinding to lay bare all the secrets of the editing process, but (digital) CDs now only allow us quantum leaps from one chapter to another. High-speed trains take us from Rome to Milan in three hours, but flying there, if you include transfers to and from the airports, takes three and a half hours. So it wouldn’t be extraordinary if politics and communications technologies were to revert to the horse-drawn carriage.

An interesting analogy. Political communications probably won’t slide back to horses, but sneakernets are looking good.

The first Christmas card

The first Christmas card

The world’s first commercial Christmas card was commissioned by Henry Cole in 1843. Three of the remaining cards were recently sold at auction, with one of them fetching over £8000. The cards originally came with an illustrated envelope.

These Christmas cards are interesting pieces of ephemera, but I have to admit that David Mitchell’s take on them is more in keeping with my opinions.

It’s natural to think of Sir Henry as an admirable fellow for having established this most respectable of Christmas customs. It’s natural but it’s a mistake. Bear in mind that, before printed Christmas cards existed, seasonal messages were written individually and in longhand. Before Sir Henry’s brain started to gestate, that was the tradition. His idea was to industrialise it.

He mechanised the exchange of greetings so that more greetings could be exchanged more quickly between more people. He considered the previous rate of greeting-exchange to be tediously slow and resolved to speed it up. This way, he presumably reasoned, people can show how much they care with much less effort. It’s carefree caring: now your heartfelt solicitude can reach dozens of people at once. The man must have thought he was actually manufacturing love.