35,000 feet, somewhere over the Denmark Straight...
I wake up on Saturday morning, at an uncharacteristically early 7am. It's travel time. I pack a rucksack and grab my nightgame gear, then hop in the lolcar and set out for Tallinn. First time on the freeway of death in the new car, and I have to say, it's surprisingly comfortable at higher speeds. I was worried about the short-wheelbase Puma's stability, but the sportscar suspension is doing the trick: it feels great.
I go see a movie. It's the new Russel Crowe one, State of Play; reminds me of that old Michael Keaton/Glenn Close/Robert Duval journalist film. Ben Affleck is as useless as ever, but the movie is still good, and it makes two good points: a) journalists are still very much necessary, you can't just do opinion and commentary all the time, and b)being a jouralist has nothing to do with whether you write for the New York Times or a blog. I'm happy to see outside verification of what I've been saying for bloody years: technology does not fundamentally change human nature.
I meet up with an old friend, back briefly from Germany, then go into nightgame mode. Tallinn is drowning. The lolcar makes it from Lasnamäe to the Harku beach, becoming partially amphibian in the process. Since the two-door car isn't a good nightgame vehicle, I'm not driving this time; I get to spend more time looking for codes. I really enjoy the game; the team works together effectively, we never get bogged down on clues too much, our errors are not grave. We finish somewhere in the middle of the pack, and I just barely have time to change into cleaner clothes before catching the early flight to Amsterdam. I try sleeping on the plane, on the train to Rotterdam, and in the hotel itself, but I'm at that stage of sleep deprivation where I can't force myself to rest normally; the only option is to keep going until I crash. The weather clears up in the evening, and I go out into central Rotterdam.
Haven't been here in years. Rotterdam is patently not a toursit town, but it can still be fascinating. Most of it was levelled in WWII (probably has something to do with it being the world's biggest port back then, only recently overtaken by Shanghai), and ever since then the locals have been putting a huge amount of thought and effort into architectural design. I've only ever seen one other city with genuinely interesting skyscrapers - San Diego.
I'm in Rotterdam for the conclusion of the Th!nk About It project. It's a lot of fun, seeing the awesome people again, and the venue is fantastic. We're staying in the ART Hotel, an 80s-looking tower with outstanding views of the rain-soaked skyline; the party itself is just across the street, at the Maassilo, a giant warehouse converted into a "creative workshop". I can definitely imagine some really great gigs happening at the venue on the 10th floor. It's sunless, but highly impressive, in an authentically industrial way. Reminds me of Tallinn's Rock Cafe a bit.
Everyone is reluctant to discuss the upcoming award ceremony. Julien Frisch mentions that he doesn't think the project should have been a competition for prizes to begin with, but I disagree. The EJC have done a good job setting up the contest: out of 80 bloggers, 25 will get iPhones, and the overall winner - an iMac. Regular AnTyx readers (and those following my facebook) will be familiar with my views on Apple products, but I won't for a second deny that the iPhone is eminently desirable. The prize structure is such that you're not demotivated by the other bloggers posting great articles, and I know for a fact that I would not have put as much effort into some of my entries if I didn't see a realistic chance of getting the prize.
I knew I wouldn't get near first place, I just wouldn't put in the necessary research effort, but I do expect to be in the top quarter. They announce the Quality category first, the 20 authors whose writing was best, using proper blogging technologies and finding relevant aspects of the European Parliament elections to cover. My name doesn't come up. I'm surprised at how much I care; I'm not normally this competitive and I haven't been drooling over the iPhone either. The host, Raymond Frenken from EUX.TV, announces the remaining Impact category, and I'm one of the five winners. I'm having trouble believing how delirious I am at that. The Impact blogs are the ones which were not only interesting, but meaningful. Because fewer people were in this category, I choose to view it as a higher achievement, and become a bit of an asshole. Nevermind; Mingus is angry at me for flaunting my achievement (he also owns a black MacBook Pro, so is not pleased with my incredulous twitters of frustration while setting up the iPhone back at home), but I think that's wrong. There is so much useless bullshit in this world that people are unjustly proud of. Boasting is in our nature. My placement in the EJC competition is the result of doing the best job I could, and I have every right to be proud of that. By the same token, I encourage others to flaunt personal achievement. You deserve it.
I stop over in Utrecht for lunch with another friend, and travel home via Schiphol and Copenhagen. There's a fair amount of Estonians on the AMS-CPH flight, and the connecting Estonian Air flight gets a thorough check in Tallinn by sniffer dogs. I giggle.
It's nearly midnight, but I pick up the lolcar and head for Tartu. I've got a busy couple of days, with a bunch of work to complete before my vacation starts. I hand the car over to Info-Auto for a thorough service, including a cambelt change. It's an odd sensation, knowing more about your car than the dealer; they insist that the Puma's 1.7VCT engine only needs a cambelt change once every ten years, but I know that Ford retroactively changed it to 5, and have confirmed it via the Ford online service guide. They eventually find the change I'm talking about; nevertheless, they still didn't get all the parts delivered in time for the job (two weeks' notice!). The clerk asks about the mileage. The Puma has a five-digit trip counter, so it's probably 113 thousand kilometers, but could be 213 thousand. The clerk says they should do a 210 thousand service, but the new oil sticker says the next oil change is at 145000 km, so the mechanics obviously didn't agree. They put in fully synthetic oil; this engine is originally rated for semi-synth, and some reports from Puma owners suggest that full-synth will wear down the special Yamaha bits in the 1.7 (which is a Puma exclusive and not the same as other Ford engines). I get angry at the dealer, go home and look it up on the Puma owners' club website; it's probably fine, but overall I'm still not happy with the service I got from the dealer. The independents, like the Säästuteenindus thing where I got the lolcar's suspension serviced, try harder and charge less.
Finally it's Friday. I check my luggage (inevitably forgetting one thing, though thankfully it's inconsequential), get on the bus and go to Tallinn. Can't wait for the Tartu airport to get direct air service to Stockholm.
The 1pm flight is on Estonian Air Regional. I just saw that EA has a twitter, and it claims that the airline is actually among the best in Europe for punctuality and regularity; though that's defined as the percentage of flights that departed within 15 minutes of the scheduled time, and is of little solace when you spend 6 hours in Stockholm-Arlanda, or seven in Keflavik. The little Saab turboprop is late on this occasion, due to a crew change; the flight attendant hands out free drinks and sandwiches, which I haven't seen EA Proper do for... well, ever. I flew EA to Brussels and Amsterdam as well, and those flights were right on time, and even though the Saab was noisy and vibrated like a bastard, I enjoyed the flight. Maybe EA is getting better after all.
I spend the rest of the day in Stockholm. I've been here so many times before that it's not really exciting any more, but I still like the city. It's like an old friend, you've heard all his best drinking stories and shared your own, but you can still just show up and hang out. In a way, Stockholm is a pressure chamber, letting me adjust to NYC. I've been reading the latest Iain M. Banks novel, and it occurs to me that this city is in some ways like the Culture: wealthy but tolerant, taking in people of various other civilizations and instilling them with its own value set. And in the heart of a subcontinent where ostentation is unethical, Stockholm is a city that challenges you to express yourself.
I spend the night in the Jumbo Hostel, which is cheap, cool, and has free WiFi. I swap the stationary 747 for a functional one. Someone in my blogroll once mentioned that Malaysian Airlines is the best way to get from Europe to North America, because their planes are kitted out for ultra-long-haul habitation; neither Mingus nor Rikken will admit to saying it, but there is truth to the assertion. The in-flight entertainment system is extensive, the legroom is generous, and the staff are extremely nice. My seat is a non-window window seat, but since I only paid 5000 EEK for the return flight - including all the taxes - I'm not going to complain too loudly.
The East Coast awaits.
A tale of two countries
5 weeks ago