Recharging Roadtrips

Last week, Megan and I went to the opening ceremony of the first electric vehicle charging station in North Carolina, on the corner of W. Hargett and Dawson in Raleigh.

Megan wrote up a short blog post about it, and we talked about what this might mean for the future of our national infrastructure.

We have a Prius, so if we got an electric car (I like the Nissan Leaf, and not just because they use SVG on their site), we would probably use the hybrid for longer trips, so we could refuel easily. But in 10 years, that might change. Since it takes around half an hour to fully charge modern electric cars using the class 3 charger (the heavy-duty one), and 4-6 hours using a class 2 charger, electric road-trippers will need something to do while they wait. Megan mentions this in her blog:

Would owners of this type of business be motivated to install charging stations as a way to attract customers and hold them captive while their car is charging?

I could see a whole new class of businesses that cater to waiting customers, that charge the charging, so to speak: movie theaters, theme parks, mini-zoos, gaming parlors (multiplayer videogames or casinos or both), strolling gardens… activities that emphasize a more leisurely pace of travel. The return of the roadside attraction!

Here’s to the retro-future!

Translation Services at a Loss for Words

Text in SVG is text. Visually, you can use webfonts like WOFF or SVG Fonts (where they are supported, like in Opera or the iPhone) to make it look cool, and you can style both the stroke and fill to make it all fancy, or apply filters to pop it out or make it glow or give it a dropshadow, but it’s not just a raster image like many text headers… it’s human- and machine-readable text, as nature intended.

So, SVG is translatable, right?
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Successful Launches

Today has been a good day for launches! In my last post, I mentioned the successful launch of the W3C Audio Incubator Group, which I’ve been working on for a few weeks.

The second launch is a bit more visceral. When I realized that there would only be a few more space shuttle launches, Megan and I decided that we would try to see one if we could. This occurred to me about a month ago, but I wasn’t sure we could fit it into our schedule. But this week, Megan had to cancel a long biketrip, and that opened up a spot for us to drive down. So, we drove ten and a half hours to Cape Canaveral, slept a few hours in a cheap hotel, and got up early (for us, 8:00 AM is really early) to drive to Jetty Park, which was already crowded by the time we got there.

But we still landed a good spot right on the waterfront across from the launch site. A few low clouds threatened the launch early on, but it cleared up by early afternoon. A passing Korean car cargo ship gave us a little anxiety, fearing it might block the view, but it cleared in plenty of time.

Finally, the countdown blared out of someone’s radio, and the whole waterfront chimed in. 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…

We were pretty far away, but the rocket flame was impressively bright in person, and when the sound reached us, we could almost feel it. This is the final flight of the Atlantis, which makes me a bit sad. I’m ambivalent about retiring the shuttles… single-launch rockets are probably a cheaper option… still, it’s drawing to the end of an era, and I hope we keep pushing forward. Gauss-gun launch rails, anyone?

So, it was a successful launch, which makes me glad. Definitely worth the trip.

We did come away from it with reddened, painfully sensitive skin. I assert that this is rocketburn, not sunburn. Need a higher Rocket Protection Factor next time.

A Sentimental Journey

Megan and I travel back to my hometown of Jefferson City, Missouri every year, at least at Christmas and sometimes in the summer when we can, to see my family; most of them still live within an hour or so of where we grew up.  Xmas get-togethers are always fun… with a family my size (I’m the youngest of twelve), we have to rent a hall, and the adults do a playing-card white elephant gift exchange (the kids do an open Kris Kringle).

Since Megan is in graduate school this year, and has a longer break than when she is working, and I can work from anywhere I have a Tube connection, we decided to make it a little longer than usual.  En route, we visited a couple of friends and a few cities.

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Last Day in Tokyo

I wish I kept a more detailed journal… I have chat logs and emails as a quotidian reminder of my doings, but it doesn’t capture all the great conversations and interesting people I meet when traveling.  This short trip to Tokyo, only 10 days or so, was jam-packed with cool folks with cool ideas.  But now I’m jaunting back to Tokyo from the W3C-Keio office, and then to the airport, so no time, no time…

Maybe on the plane I will sketch out my erstwhile meanderings.  The short version: spoke at Web Directions East (and will speak again at Web Directions North) about SVG and Canvas, was blown away by the other presentations there, hung with cool Web community folks (locals and internationals) who I hope to see again, ate good food, wandered the streets of Harajuku and Shibuya and Asakusa and Ebisu, watched mochi being made at a temple festival and ate the results, met with the Japanese chapter of the SVG Interest Group and some Japanese Industrial Standards folks regarding SVG 1.2 Tiny and further on, and collaborated with my awesome and inspiring W3C-Keio teammates.  Had no access to my cash because of a mixup with Visa/RBC.  Stayed in another capsule hotel, in Fujisawa.

And saw Mt. Fuji two clear days in a row, with lovely warm winter weather.  Sayonara, Japan!

Canadian Roadtrip

The SVG Working Group met in Ottawa for the SVG 1.2 Tiny Test Fest this week, which went very well.  The Test Fest was sponsored by BitFlash at the Brookline Hotel, which is where the Bilderberg Group met last time I was up here.

With airlines prices being what they are, and anticipating having to rent a car, I decided to drive up instead of flying.  I actually looked into train tickets, but was sorely disappointed… it would have taken 2 days, required finding a hotel room in NYC, and booking a connecting train in Canada, and it would still have been the same price as a flight.  Apparently, Amtrak is not only not ramping up their service to meet what you would think is a growing demand for cheap, eco-friendly travel… they are actually removing passenger lines, because the freight industry controls the rails. What a pity… I would like to have taken a train.

As it turned out, though the drive was long (about 13 hours), I didn’t really mind it.  I kind of enjoy road trips.  I loaded my iPod with podcasts and audiobooks; I loved the podcasts so much, I haven’t even gotten to the audiobooks yet.  This is the first time I’ve ever listened to a podcast, and I am definitely going to subscribe to some feeds (I know, I’m behind the times, but I work from home and normally just listen to NPR or music while I’m driving).  The changing leaves were beautiful, too.

On the way back down, I decided to detour to Niagara Falls.  The only other time I was in this area, as I was roadtripping across the States with a friend (on my way to move from Missouri to North Carolina by a very circuitous route), she didn’t want to go to the Falls, and I’ve been wanting to go ever since.  So, I figured, hey, since I’m in the area… But we worked pretty late last night, so I ended up leaving the hotel just before midnight… I was pretty drowsy about half the way to Niagara Falls, so I pulled over and slept in my car in a rest area.  But that gave me a chance to see a bit of Toronto by day;  I detoured from my detour to see the CN Tower and Kensington Market in Toronto, which seems like a nice city… it’s one of the few major Canadian cities I’d never been to before, so I’m glad I did it.

In Niagara Falls, I did the normal tourist thing, strolling along the walkway above the falls, snapping pictures, and taking the Maid of the Mist boat tour that takes you into the deluge under the falls.  I got soaked, naturally, and the roar was deafening. It was pretty fun.  The falls –American Falls and Horseshoe Falls– are pretty impressive, with the rainbows and towering mist and translucent water rushing over the edge.

So, off to dinner, then I’m hitting the road again back home to North Carolina.

Home Safe

As I grabbed our last bag off the carousel, my mobile rang with a call from my sister C.  This was the first I heard about the devastating earthquake in Sichuan, China.  We had considered traveling there, based on a recommendation from a Sichuan local we’d met while visiting the rice paddies, but the stomach flu cut our travel schedule a day or so short.  So, we were never anywhere really near the danger zone (though some did feel it in Beijing, I understand).

Thanks for everyone who contacted us to make sure we were safe.  This adds a sad note to our great experiences in China, with the warmth of the Chinese people and the beauty of the country.  When I visit a place, I get an emotional connection to it, making it more real for me, and I hope we can somehow help… though with so many lives lost, so much destruction, it’s a little hard knowing we can only help the survivors, and then only so much.  M and I feel really lucky.  (Sorry, this comes out rather clumsy, but I don’t really know what to say in the face of something like this… I guess I just wanted to let everyone know we’re safe.)

Back in Beijing

We stayed in sleek Shanghai for several days, recovering (first M had the stomach flu, then I played the copycat the next day, though with much milder symptoms).  We saw the impressive Shanghai Museum and the amusingly propagandistic Museum of Urban Planning, shopped in a trendy hutong and in the shops outside (and inside) Yuyuan Garden, walked the Bund and saw the Pearl from across the river, and spent a rainy day in art galleries, all with free lodgings, bikes, and frequent use of a driver.  Our hostess was very gracious, which I hope we can repay when she visits her daughter (our friend K) in Chapel Hill.  I worked a bit, too, attending a few telcons and answering some emergency emails.
But we’ve been back in Beijing for a few days, seeing a few sites we’d missed the first time we were here.  Today we saw a Taoist temple; it was quite a welcome novelty after seeing so many Buddhas in temples and museums… I’m as weary of images of Buddha as I was the ubiquitous “Madonna and Child” motif after months traveling Europe years back.  We also visited a small unrestored temple with gorgeous carvings and statues… they had the original intricate paints, not the cartoonish solid-colors of most of the refurbished temples we’ve seen here.

I was surprised at first to see so many active Buddhists praying in the temples here, since I thought most religion was wiped out in the Cultural Revolution, as it largely was in Soviet Russia.  But M pointed out that the larger number of religions here may have led to a more adaptable approach… Communism is just one more bureaucratic religion that will be absorbed into China, the latest of many.

We then went to a huge bookstore, bustling with hundreds of people; I was hoping to find some English-language translations of Chinese science fiction stories, having read some Soviet sci-fi stories in the past and being interested in the Chinese take on it.   No such luck, though we did get some music CDs and a novel about the Mongolian steppes.

Finally, we ended our stay in China in teahouses… first in one in a hotel, then, coincidentally, dinner at another in the lakes district.

Dust to Dust, Fez to Xi’an

We rented a taxi van for the day at the Xi’an airport, along with a Danish couple we met there, to take us directly to the terracotta statues before going to Xian proper.  We had only a day here, and wanted to make the most of it.

The rows of warriors were truly staggering in scope.  Apparently some 600 sites have been discovered, according to the guide we hired.  Qín Shǐhuáng líng, the man who united China in 221 BCE, believed his soul would return to the clay, so he created not just legions of soldiers to serve him in the afterlife, but an entire army infrastructure, including a command and control center and camp followers.  I was reminded of Ozymandius’ two-fold message, and of the Pharoahs.  But he scale here is more vast.

But the driver turned out to be another Fez… he drove us not to our hotel afterward, but detoured to a silk factory… so we could get him a commission.  Then he futzed around taking us to our hotels, with the end result that M and I were too late to see the museum we’d planned on.  We raised a little Cain, and he relented and took us to another site, the Big Goose Pagoda, and got us a guide there.  I was thrilled to find there a shrine to the monk Xuánzàng, the real-life inspiration behind the novel I’m reading, Monkey (an abridged version of Journey to the West, I found out).

We also missed walking on the wall of Xi’an.  But we did get to see the very cool Muslim quarter and the bizarre Chinese mosque there.  The streets of the bazaar outside were so much like Morocco that we’d have found it hard to believe we were in China.  What an odd confluence of events.