Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Free wireless on Amtrak

Friday, August 12th, 2005

I just had to try this. I’m sitting in the Harrisburg, PA station of Amtrak waiting to depart. I caught some free wireless. How cool. Had to try blogging while sitting on the train. 🙂

UPDATE: Of course, before anyone gets too excited, I should follow up by saying that as soon as we pulled out of the station the connection was gone. But since we had a few minutes at the station it wasn’t completely useless.

Can you prove that you were on a flight?

Monday, June 27th, 2005

The other day I found myself in the curious position of having to prove that I had been on a flight in order to be allowed to return home. The only explanation I could come up with for the airline having no record of my presence on the flight there is that the gate agent had failed to scan in my boarding pass. As far as I can tell I had done everything “by the book”. In this day and age of being tracked in so many situations and so many ways, I found it an interesting twist that I could think of no way of proving (no way that the ticketing agent seemed to find satisfactory) that I had, indeed, been on the plane and should be allowed to return home on my originally scheduled flight. Details follow.

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Back from the East coast

Friday, June 3rd, 2005

I haven’t blogged for over a week. This is partly due to my travels (ICA in NYC and Princeton Reunions) although I’m afraid what really set me back is that I got sick the second day of my trip. It’s never fun to be sick, but it is especially annoying when you are on the road. It is that much harder to recover. Hopefully now that I am back at home I will start feeling better soon.

So I’m afraid I cannot say that overall the visit was fun, but it had its moments. I saw lots of colleagues and friends at the conference and participated in some interesting discussions about research. I also got to catch up with several friends in the city and in Princeton although not nearly as many as I had hoped since I had to cancel half my meetings. I am not sure when I’ll be heading out there again, perhaps I’ll get a chance to stop by in late August.

Cyber-Disciplinarity Conference at Dartmouth

Wednesday, May 18th, 2005

I spent last weekend at Dartmouth participating and giving a talk at the Cyber-Disciplinary Conference hosted by the Center for the Humanities. Panelists explored topics on how digital technologies are influencing the political process, concerns about privacy and surveillance and how the humanities can contribute to the study of culture in a digital age.

Kudos to Mark Williams for organizing and hosting a great meeting! In addition to bringing together a diverse group of interesting people, Mark also did an exceptional job with the various logistics of the conference. The panels were well spaced out and there was always plenty of time for discussion. We also had several occasions to socialize and continue conversations in more informal settings.

You can see a list of participants here. I have also posted some photos.


Monday, March 28th, 2005

You are spending a few days in Budapest and decide to get some souvenirs. You walk down the most famous tourist street (Váci utca) and browse the shop windows. You wonder: should it be an embroidered tablecloth or maybe a plate with a sketch of the Parliament? Neither quite makes sense for your home so you keep on looking. And voila, look no further: a little plastic Hitler figurine. Just what you needed. And so he is not lonely, you can get another guy with an armband sporting the swastika.

Great pastry

Wednesday, March 9th, 2005

The Hungarian Pastry Shop in New York is my favorite pastry shop in the U.S. While in the city last week taking in The Gates I stopped by with a friend to try some of their goodies. We had some poppy seed strudel, a chocolate pyramid, a lemon petit-four (they have that in three other flavors as well) and a rum ball. They were all very good, but the rum ball was especially amazing.

This is a very pleasant coffee shop. You order at the counter, go find a seat and a few minutes later the drinks and pastries are brought to your table. They have free refills on coffee and hot water, which is all self-served close to the counter. The space is a bit dark, but this does not seem to deter many many people from reading and studying there for hours.

I wish we had a pastry shop like this in my area.

The Gates

Monday, March 7th, 2005

I did something spontaneous the weekend before last and flew to NYC for less than 48 hours to see The Gates. I was very intrigued by all the reports I had read and the pictures I had seen so I wanted to see the park in person. It was a wonderful experience. Although pictures can’t possibly make up for being there, here are some photos in case you haven’t seen enough of them already. I have noted my favorites with a bold border.

Budapest sights (& a conference)

Friday, February 18th, 2005

This on CT.

I just came across some beautiful pictures [link to PowerPoint slides] of synagogues in Budapest most of which I have never seen despite it being my hometown. You will notice that they are tucked away with quite some care in several cases, which makes it easy to miss them. The photographer has many other slideshows available on his Web site.

I have also posted some photos of the main synagogue and my high school, but mostly of communist era statues gathered up in a Statue Park on the outskirts of the city.

Social scientists looking for a conference excuse to see these sights may want to consider submitting an abstract to the annual meetings of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics to be held this summer in Budapest. Abstracts are due March 1, 2005.

Writers Block in Princeton

Tuesday, October 19th, 2004

I was in Princeton last week for a few days and had the good fortune to make it in time to view the temporary sculpture garden called Writers Block. The sculptures pay tribute to various Princeton authors and artists. There are just a few days left to go visit it before the pieces will be auctioned off.

I love sculpture gardens and my favorite in that domain remains the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey.

Flying the friendly skies

Monday, October 18th, 2004

This at CT.

The other day I was on a flight that taught me why you don’t want to take the last flight out.. and why giving flight attendants the power to throw people off planes may not be such a good idea.

We were sitting in the waiting area quietly waiting for the plane to board. Twenty minutes before boarding we were told that the flight crew’s plane was getting in late so we would be boarding late. The person telling us had a nice sense of humor and everyone seemed pretty low-key about the issue. Eventually the crew arrived and we boarded the plane. Some people didn’t seem so calm anymore. There was some bitterness going around about fitting luggage into various compartments. One of the flight attendants was among the most annoyed people. And sure, passengers can be very annoying, but her reactions seemed a bit excessive.

At this point we were only about fifteen minutes behind schedule. But nothing happened. And still nothing happened. Eventually we were told that we would not be taking off for another half an hour as we were the last flight out and so we had to wait for one more plane that had passengers connecting to our flight. Take note: go for earlier flight next time.

A man in the row in front of mine noticed that there was a cart of luggage still sitting next to our plane. He mentioned it to above referenced bitter flight attendant. She clearly had no idea what was going on and dismissed his comment as none of our business. So he asked again. Next, the following exchange took place:

Flight Attendant: You want to go to Chicago?

Passenger: I am going to Chicago.

Flight Attendant: I wouldn’t be so sure about that.

Ouch. At that point the passenger stopped pursuing the question. Twenty minutes later the remaining passengers arrived. Then nothing happened. And we waited. Finally we were told that 1. There was a crate of luggage next to our plane that still had to be loaded, but no appropriate personnel could be found; and 2. We needed to be pushed out, but no appropriate personnel could be found. Eventually, after a two-hour delay, we took off for our less than two-hour flight.

Added annoyance: the bitter flight attendant was not wearing an ID. The ID badges of the other two attendants were put on backwards.

What not to blog

Tuesday, October 5th, 2004

For a while now I’ve been wondering about whether it’s a good idea to blog about one’s travels ahead of time. There are clear advantages (the opportunity to meet up with people one otherwise would not contact), but there are potential downsides as well. Ever since my parents’ place was badly burglarized a few years ago, I have been more sensitive about the issue. And now I see Allison wondering whether a blogged trip lead to a break-in at her home. Of course, the chances are pretty small that potential thieves are reading our blogs and they also would not know in most cases whether and to what extent others sharing the household, housesitters or security systems would stand in their way (thieves take note: in my case it is usually two out of three:). Nonetheless, I have been wondering whether it is best to be less open about some of our travel plans. This would be one of those issues with which anonymous bloggers likely don’t have to deal.

So don’t expect up-to-the-minute travel info from me, but I thought I would mention where I am headed in the next month or so in case paths cross with people I did not think to contact (I have a hard time keeping track of who is where). I’ll be giving a talk at Penn soon followed by a quick visit to Princeton and one night in New York City; I’ll be attending a workshop in the Bay area and giving a talk at Yahoo!; I’m going to a conference in Atlanta; and I’ll be giving a talk at my alma mater Smith College. I’ll likely stay put for a while thereafter, which will be necessary to gather energy for an even crazier Spring travel schedule.

Modigliani in NYC

Wednesday, August 18th, 2004

I saw the exhibition Modigliani: Beyond the Myth at The Jewish Museum in New York this week. I highly recommend it, it is a wonderful exhibit. (It|AMP|#8217;s only on until Sept 19th so don|AMP|#8217;t delay.) There was a twenty minute wait in line, apparently much more reasonable than a few months ago. The experience was definitely worth the wait.

One nice thing about shows that focus on the entire career of an artist is that you tend to learn more about an artist|AMP|#8217;s background than possible through just a few pieces mixed in with works by others. Modigliani died at the age of 34, but created quite a bit during his short life. Before learning about this exhibition, I had no idea that Modigliani was Jewish. One may wonder why that matters, but given the anti-Semitism he encountered once he moved to Paris, and given that much of his work focused exclusively on portraitures and an exploration of identities, it seems this part of his identity would be important for understanding his work.

Another thing I did not know about Modigliani is that he had worked as a sculptor as well. In fact, it sounds like had it not been for his poor health and the difficulty in obtaining the raw materials for his sculptures, he would have done more with that medium (and it’s unfortunate that he couldn’t). A propos sculptures, as I was looking at some of his sketchings of caryatids I started wondering about the influence of Brancusi on his work. Taking a few steps I was at the sculpture section of the exhibit, and learned that Modigliani had met Brancusi in 1909. Lucky for those in NYC, there is a Brancusi exhibition at the Guggenheim right now just a few blocks from The Jewish Museum also on until Sept 19th. (I cannot vouch for that show as I did not go see it having already seen a Brancusi exhibition in both Paris and Philly years ago, but I suspect this one is similar and thus worth seeing.)

I loved the way the pieces were laid out in the exhibit. I looked at the following three pieces right next to each other for several minutes taking a few steps back: The Italian Women, 1917; Lunia Czechowska (La femme a l|AMP|#8217;eventail), 1919; and Paulette Jourdain, 1919. (Unfortunately, I can|AMP|#8217;t find the middle piece online nor in the exhibition book. Otherwise I|AMP|#8217;d try to recreate the effect here. There are several variants with that name, the one I am looking for had a strong red background, which was in beautiful contrast with the other two pieces surrounding it.)

After the Modigliani show I decided to take a look at the permanent collection as well. The material is interesting and diverse with a focus on different historical periods, parts of the world and types of materials. One of my favorite sections was the collection of menorahs on the top floor (especially the modern versions).

Paddling for bandwidth

Tuesday, July 6th, 2004

When I was in Paris I spotted a guy sitting on a corner on the ground just outside a bank with a laptop. It looked pretty random, but then it occured to me that perhaps this was the best location he could find for WiFi signals. Now I see that CTD over at ionarts blogged what he considers a possible |AMP|#8220;techno-geek historical first |AMP|#8230; |AMP|#8216;warboating|AMP|#8217;|AMP|#8221;. He and his brother went out on a fishing boat for signals. Not bad. I|AMP|#8217;m curious, what|AMP|#8217;s the craziest/weirdest thing people have done to find wireless connection?

The right to a soda.. at any price

Tuesday, July 6th, 2004

I was sitting in the St. Louis Amtrak station yesterday (huh, that would be a glorified name for a shack1) and observing with curiosity people|AMP|#8217;s reaction to a soda machine that was sold out. Given the hot day and my tourist explorations of the morning that left me tired and thirsty, the soda machine was the first thing I looked for upon entry into the waiting room. The two machines I noticed at first were selling snacks and coffee. I couldn|AMP|#8217;t believe that there was no soda machine |AMP|#8211; unfathomable for this type of an establishment in the U.S. |AMP|#8211; so I circled the room. And there it was, of course. The first thing I looked for was to see how much the soda cost. However, instead of a price, I found the words SOLD and OUT flashing. Bummer. But now came the fun part: observing how other people reacted to the sold-out soda machine. At one point I was almost convinced we had a candid camera scenario. It was quite amusing to watch how few people bother to check signs. (This was second in a series that day after having watched just a few minutes earlier a woman in front of me exit |AMP|#8211; or try to do so in any case |AMP|#8211; a building through a door clearly labeled and also taped shut by a sign stating that the door was out of order. After pushing it a few times she noticed the sign at her eye-level letting her know that this was not going to work.)

Most people approached the soda machine with bills or coins in hand and started to feed (or attempted to do so) the money into the machine. The machine seemed to be configured so it would not take bills when empty (good call) and the coins fell through and came out in the coin-return section immediately. These signals did not prompt most people to look for clues about what may be going on. Rather, they continued to attempt feeding the machine with their money. The most interesting case was a young man who walked up to the machine with much confidence and tried to feed a dollar bill into it. Soon enough he noticed the SOLD OUT sign. This did not faze him, however. He decided to try again. You can guess the result: nothing. At that point he walked over to the other two machines with much confidence intent on satisfying his soda needs. His stride made it seem as though by marching with enough confidence those machines would transform themselves into selling sodas. Alas, that|AMP|#8217;s not how it works. Oh, the world is so unfair!

What seems interesting in all this (in addition to the obvious) is that people were ready to buy the soda no matter the price. After all, the SOLD OUT sign was where the price would be displayed. But other than one woman (in addition to me), no one cared to check it before starting to feed their money into the machine. Sure, it may be that all these people go to the St. Louis Amtrak station all the time and are already familiar with the price of a soda, but I doubt that that is the case. People probably have an expectation for how much the soda might cost and are willing to pay in the vicinity of that sum regardless of the specifics. Next up in the candid camera saga is a soda machine that charges $7.50 per bottle. Stay tuned for reactions.

1 The station is so remote (although downtown) that a woman on her way there stopped her car when seeing me walking toward it to offer to drop me off saying that it was all too dirty and messy for me to have to walk to. Some people are so nice. (No, I did not take her up on it, but did think it was a very kind gesture.)

In New York this summer

Tuesday, June 11th, 2002

I’m back.. I didn’t think I’d be blogless for a whole week, but that’s what conferences, meetings and lots of train rides will do to you.

Starting from today, for the next two months, I will be reporting from New York City, more specifically, Columbia University. I have a summer fellowship with the Social Science Research Council‘s program on Information Technology, International Cooperation and Global Security which is based this year at Columbia.

Last week was the program’s summer institute which brought dozens of interesting people to the program to share their work on IT. It was a very rich meeting with people from all sorts of disciplines, which I think is necessary for making progress in our understanding of IT, its diffusion, its use, its potential consequences and social implications, etc.

There are fourteen fellows who will be here for two months, each of us working on a particular project. I will be spending my time on extending my current methodology for studying people’s online skills to an instrument that allows measuring information technology skills cross-nationally. Stay tuned for updates.