Older blog entries for Skud (starting at number 193)

On the home stretch

It’s almost a month to the day since I posted my last travel update. Since then I’ve been to Paris, then to Calais and across the channel to Dover, along the south coast to Brighton and Portsmouth, up to London, stayed a week and a half, then north to York, brief visits to Durham and Newcastle, a few days in Edinburgh, then over to Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, and five days in Cornwall.

Tonight I was meant to have taken the ferry from Plymouth to Roscoff in Bretagne, then spent a week meandering back through France and across the Pyrenees to Spain and fly home from Madrid. Problem: ferry strikes mean that my ferry’s not going anywhere. Rather than try and arrange my travel to figure that out, I decided I was a bit over high-energy travel and not all that enthused about figuring out a new route through France and Spain on short notice. So here I am back in London, staying at a friend’s place again, for a week til I hop on an EasyJet flight to Madrid and then home.

I suspect I’ll be taking it pretty easy in London, mostly just kicking around and working on Growstuff. I do want to make it to the one museum that was closed during the Olympics/Paralympics when I was last here, but that’s about it. Okay, and maybe another visit to the V&A. Um. Well, let’s just say that I don’t have any particular plans, and don’t intend to work too hard at it.

That said, if anyone wants to catch up for drinks/meals/pair programming this week, let me know.

Syndicated 2012-09-30 16:02:33 from Infotropism

You keep using this word.

I know I have a lot of historian and/or textile-inclined friends, so I was wondering if anyone has ever heard the word “stitch” used to mean “stitched textile goods”, in contexts like, “The importance of stitch during World War II…”?

I ask because it keeps being used that way in the book I’m reading: “Stitching for Victory” by Suzanne Griffith. I thought I read a fair bit of textile history and I’ve never encountered this usage before. Is it just this author’s idiosyncracy, or am I missing something?

(This post brought to you by a half-assed resolution to blog things that are too long for Twitter, rather than spreading them across two or three tweets.)

Syndicated 2012-09-22 20:21:33 from Infotropism

Room available in feminist, fannish, foodie house in Thornbury

My housemate Emily and I are looking for a new housemate around the time I get back from my travels. It’s for a smallish room in a largish house in Thornbury, in Melbourne’s inner north. Would suit a feminist fan who’s also a foodie, or something along those lines. It’s $152/week or $658 a month, and available from October 10th.

Click through for the full description/room ad and more details than you could poke a stick at. Please feel free to share this with anyone you know who might be interested.


Room in established Thornbury share house available mid-October. $152/week.

Us:

  • We are two adult women/genderqueer peeps, geeks, queers, foodies, hippies, knitters & crafters.
  • We’ve got an easygoing, friendly atmosphere – we love hanging out but also cheerfully give each other introvert/alone time when needed with no hard feelings. We enjoy entertaining in a low-key way: friends round to dinner, craft nights, the occasional party or summer bbq, guests staying over from time to time.
  • We love cooking together (& shopping at local markets), though it’s not a requirement of living here. We share expenses for some household staples (toilet paper, laundry soap, etc), and would be happy to share groceries and pantry staples if you want to cook/eat communally with us. We’re not vegetarian but are veg-friendly and eat lots of veg food.
  • We have some basic, discussed & agreed upon house rules to keep responsibilities for cleaning (and expected levels of cleanliness) well-defined – so no one gets stressed about it.
  • The house a is big, light-filled 3 bedroom share house; large bathroom, separate laundry, big front yard/smaller back yard w clothes line & vegetable garden & bbq, gas stove & dishwasher, central heating, aircon in living room, big open plan living area, carport & free on street parking.
  • Located in a quiet but v conveniently placed street in Thornbury, just off St Georges Rd and south of Miller St. 112 tram The available bedroom is on the small side: it can fit a double bed, bedside table(s) & shelves/clothes rack, lovely view onto green front yard with lots of natural light coming in, but sadly doesn’t have (and wouldn’t fit) a wardrobe or large chest of drawers.
  • However, there’s a large linen closet just outside your bedroom door, where you can keep as much stuff as you like, as well as a big communal wardrobe in the hall for hanging things and a moderate amount of storage space in the backyard shed.
  • The rest of house is well-furnished with our stuff, though we’d be happy to integrate yours if you have things. Communal storage & decoration in shared areas of the house is welcomed.
  • We share all utilities including a very good Internet connection. These average around $100/person/month in total.

You are:

  • Queer & kink & genderqueer/trans friendly, feminist and fat-positive
  • A grown up
  • Likes cooking & eating & sharing interesting food, esp more towards the vegetarian end of the spectrum (we are not vego, but meat occupies a pretty small part in our diets).
  • Good at using your words, and happy to talk openly about & agree to following some basic share house “rules” to keep the place at a comfortable standard of cleanliness for everyone.
  • Geek & fandom friendly, enjoys hanging out and watching a variety of tv/film/etc, from the trashy to the sublime (and sublimely trashy).

Interested? Comment here, email skud@infotrope.net or ping me on Twitter.

Syndicated 2012-09-11 08:19:09 from Infotropism

Growing stuff (vegies, open source projects, communities…)

The other week I posted from GUADEC, saying I’d been inspired to start an open source project to build a gardening website.

If I posted, “I planted tomatoes in my garden in Melbourne on the 1st of November” and everyone else did likewise, we’d wind up with an extensive database of food plants, including things like heirloom varieties and where to source them from. We could also build a histogram of the distributions of planting times for every location. Eventually, we could build in tools for sharing your harvest with your local community, saying eg. “I have a tree full of lemons, does anyone want them?” or facilitating seed-sharing and other community gardening activities.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this over the next day or so, and I realised it’s something I really want. Really really want. I want a resource that’s like Ravelry, but with a focus on food gardening, especially the sustainable/organic/heirloom end of that scene. My perfect site would have a strong community committed to sustainability both in the green sense and in the sense of a successful online community. I’m also thinking of Dreamwidth as inspiration, especially with regard to its ethics and the way its developer community works. I’d definitely want this whole thing to be open source and community-built.

This project is now up and running, and has been active for about a month, so I thought it was about time to post an update.

What we have so far:

  • Github — this is where our source code lives, along with most of our project management. Take a look at our dev branch for active development, also our wiki (note: moving to self-hosted soon) and issue tracker, especially this iteration’s stories (see notes below on development process).
  • Mailing list — most of our interaction happens here, strongly recommended to join if you want to take part in the development of the site. We need technical and non-technical people, coders and gardeners. If you’re interested in having input into what Growstuff will be, you should probably be on this.
  • Dreamwidth community/project blog — Dreamwidth and its inclusive development community are inspirations for Growstuff, and many of our contributors already have accounts there. The Dreamwidth community operates, to some extent, as the project’s blog, and has an RSS feed you can follow if you don’t already use Dreamwidth. It’s low-traffic and often gets highlights and important points crossposted from the mailing list. Note that if you don’t have a DW account you can still comment anonymously or using OpenID.
  • IRC channel – realtime chat room for anyone interested in the project. If you are already familiar with IRC, it’s #growstuff on irc.freenode.net, otherwise see the linked page for more information on connecting.
  • Twitter — if you want to follow us for occasional updates on that platform.
  • Server hosting with a provider that uses 100% renewable energy — geothermal, actually, as they’re based in Iceland. This is part of our commitment to sustainability.
  • Placeholder website on growstuff.org — there’s nothing much there, but I link this so that if you want to tell people about it, it’s somewhere to send them.
  • License (AGPL3+) — Growstuff is free, open source software. Our license choice allows anyone to use or build on our work, but they must use the same license for what they do. Our data about crops, once we have the site up and running, will be under the roughly equivalent CC-BY-SA.
  • Community guidelines — we wanted to get this in place from the start so everyone would know the groundrules. These apply to all project-related forums.

Most importantly, we already have a team of people who are working on building this thing. I wanted to talk briefly about our development process, because I think it’s unusual. We’re using an agile development methodology called Extreme Programming. XP consists of a collection of practices including:

  • sustainable pace
  • constant involvement of the customer (in our case, gardeners)
  • simple design focused on present needs
  • pair programming
  • test-driven development
  • continuous integration
  • short release cycles

XP isn’t often used by remote teams or by open source projects, but we’re taking a shot at it because it’s such a good fit with our community’s goals. It’s been a bit rocky trying to get things going at first, but we are currently in our second iteration, and as I am travelling around Europe (currently in London) I’ve had the opportunity to meet and pair-program with a few of our developers on different tasks. It’s amazing how much more productive, and more fun, it’s been to work on stuff with other people, especially as we’re learning the development stack. This is my first “real” Rails project, though I’ve played with it before. If it weren’t for pair programming, I would have been spending a lot of time pounding my head on my keyboard in frustration as I tried to figure out how everything fits together. For other contributors, it’s their first open source project, or first time sysadmining, or first time writing unit tests, but since we have people who know all these things, we can use pair programming to help spread that knowledge around. For those who can’t pair face to face, we make sure that the two people assigned to each story can work together online, co-ordinating via email and/or using tools like tmux and voice chat to share their work.

Right now, we’d love to more people to join us. If you have Rails experience (and experience with all the related technologies, like RSpec and Capistrano and so on) that would be great, but we’ll also welcome inexperienced developers who are keen and want to learn, or non-developers who’d like to be involved by sharing their gardening knowledge and helping us understand what you’d want from a site like this.

If you’d like to help us build Growstuff.org, please join our mailing list.

Syndicated 2012-09-07 08:02:00 from Infotropism

Democrats’ voter reg app is not open source.

Via Chris Blow (@unthinkingly) and his tweet on the subject, I found out that the US Democrat party has released a voter registration app via github. Wired’s all over it, calling it — as the app’s README does — an open source app. Only it’s not.

The LICENSE file contains the following text:

This permission does not include: (a) any use of the Software other than for its intended purpose

Its intended purpose is to enable voter registration. As commenters on Hacker News have pointed out, this means that although the app is a pretty good framework for a PDF-generating web app, you can’t use it as the basis for your own app for any other purpose. Not for generating dog-license applications, say, or for generating voter reg applications in another country. This means it’s not open source nor free software. The Free Software Foundation’s description of software freedom says:

A program is free software if the program’s users have the four essential freedoms:

The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).

(And another three, of course, but the freedom to run the software for any purpose is the most fundamental.)

The Open Source Initiative’s Open Source Definition says:

6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor

The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.

The Democrats’ code is restricted from use in any field of endeavour other than registering voters in the United States of America. The app is not open source. As further demonstration of this, their license does not appear anywhere on the OSI’s list of open source licenses.

The Democrats need to amend either their license or their README. Or, of course, we could simply fork the repo, fix it, and issue a pull request. Wired, meanwhile, really ought to issue a correction to their article, and stop spreading this misinformation.

Syndicated 2012-09-02 10:57:56 from Infotropism

Travel update

I’m halfway through my 10-week-long trip and I haven’t updated in a month. The only excuse I can offer is that I wanted to include pictures, but my relationship with Flickr has turned out to be strangely complicated lately, and the whole process of uploading them (often via dodgy hotel wifi) has just seemed too hard.

Actually, I’m noticing something new in my picture-taking this trip. Just as, a few years ago, I purged any book from my shelves that was effectively obsoleted by Wikipedia or Project Gutenberg, now I am avoiding taking pictures that would be available by a Creative Commons image search. What’s the point of taking a photo of Notre Dame when so many other people have done so already, and undoubtedly better than I could? Sure, a photo of me standing in front of Notre Dame would actually have some individuality, but I’m not that big a fan of photos of myself in random locations, so I haven’t been doing that. Instead I’ve been carrying around a somewhat clunky, heavy camera (not a DSLR or anything, but an Olympus PEN camera) and using it to take pictures of odd, quirky things here and there, which I might as well just use my iPhone for. Ah well.

So, places I have been since my last update, and what I thought of them.

The week in A Coruña for the conference was a mixture of hanging out at the conference venue, sleeping in the university residence where we were staying because I had come down with a fairly nasty cold, and a bit of wandering around the city. I saw the ancient Roman lighthouse, but didn’t go inside; I spent more time wandering around the old part of town looking for food than I really wanted to; and I found a pretty good craft/artisan market near the bus stop where I had a awkward (due to language incompatibility) but pleasant conversation with a handweaver and bought a linen and alpaca shawl she’d woven.

On the second-last day, I daytripped to Santiago de Compostela, just 40 minutes away by train. Touristy, but I felt okay about it, somehow, knowing that it was a thousand-year-old pilgrim site and that many of the tourists had walked a long way to be there.

After the conference I took a night train to Madrid (cramped, overheated) and whatever the Spanish equivalent of a TGV is to Cordoba, in the southern part of Spain that had been Islamic during the middle ages. I loved Cordoba, its narrow streets and white-and-ochre houses with their courtyards and fountains. The cathedral-inside-a-mosque (or “mosquedral”, as I like to call it) was mindblowing. The city was hot and quiet and empty, as all the locals had gone on holiday, but I spent a few pleasant days wandering around and sitting in parks and eating tapas and drinking cheap wine. I’d love to go back to Andalusia and spend more time exploring its other cities and its architecture and its food.

On to Barcelona, which I hated. Crowded and unpleasant and I spent the whole time worried about people trying to steal my bag. To be fair, the Gothic quarter is pretty cool, and the Barcelona History Museum is amazing, especially the parts of the Roman town that they’ve dug up and you can walk around in the basement. The bits that fascinated me most were the dyeworks with the stone troughs still stained blue, and the place where they made garum (fermented fish sauce) in enormous round pots. I’m not much into Gaudi, so though I went past some of his works (the Sagrada Familia, etc) I didn’t get off the tourist bus to actually go in. I did try to go to Parc Guell, on the recommendation of many friends, but I’d somehow got the impression that it was a park, with, you know, green space. Actually it was a pile more building-sized Gaudi blobs, crammed full of tourists, and it made me angry. I got straight back on the tourist bus, and two stops later found myself at a 13th century convent (Pedralbes) which was operating as a museum, free on Sundays, and had a beautiful courtyard with fountains and grass and trees and no more than a handful of tourists, none drunk. I spent half a day there.

I’d heard that the food in Barcelona was amazing, and it was the best I’d had so far on the trip, but I don’t think it was enough to make it worth the unpleasantness of my visit. I suspect I would have enjoyed it more if I had been with friends and we’d been able to sit around and drink and eat and enjoy the nightlife. As it was, I found some delicious tapas that actually contained vegetables, which after a couple of weeks of subsisting on not much else than ham, and not seeing anything greener than an olive, was lovely. I had a wonderful dish of spinach, chickpeas, and some kind of pork that pretty much made my week. At a pinxtos place in El Gotic, I had a tartlet with some kind of sweet fruit paste, goat cheese, and fresh mint, and another where a sort of fish salad was topped with fresh dill and tiny slivers of candied lemon peel. They were delicious. And yet, I have lots of delicious food at home. Coming from Melbourne, it takes a lot to blow my mind, and Barcelona didn’t manage it. Sorry.

On to Avignon, which I was using as a stopover and to have a quick minibus tour of Provence because, well, if I’m going to pass through I may as well take the time to look around. It was, as expected, very scenic. I visited a lavender farm where I saw sweat-sheened young men exerting themselves heaving bales of lavender into a still to make lavender oil (they were well aware of their decorativeness, and posed for photos; there was also a tip jar for them by the exit), any number of medieval villages full of gift shops, where I wondered how or indeed whether anyone actually lived there full-time; and the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct, which was pretty awesome — you actually walk across it, or rather across a modern footbridge set up right next to it, close enough to touch. For the most part, though, Provence rubbed me the wrong way. I think I associate it too much with the sort of people who use it as a style of home decoration, and the result was that it all felt terribly twee to me. It didn’t help that the place was packed full of gift shops that seemed dead set on promoting that sort of thing: “Provençal” table linens made in China, and whatnot. Ugh.

Then the TGV to Lyon, and then a local train from there to meet Anatsuno who lives in an adorable little village, in a house that’s about 500 years old and is right on the village square, next to the bakery. We spent a lot of time sitting around, knitting, and eating cheese. By this point I really needed a few days of downtime, and especially of not walking on cobblestones in barefoot shoes, as bits of me were pretty achey. One day, though, we went to visit the Romanesque church at Anzy-le-Duc, which was gorgeous, and filled with amazing medieval frescos. My last night there, we went into Lyon and stayed over at another friend’s house, where there was a cluster of fangirls and pizza and watching Vividcon vids and then, in the morning, a visit to La Droguerie (the famous French button mecca) before the train.

My next stop was Strasbourg, or rather Mutzig, a little town just outside Strasbourg. I stayed with some people from AirBNB, who turned out to be an ex-sysadmin-perl-guy-turned-professional-origamist, and his wife who’s a guild-trained painter who does things like restore Medieval churches. They were completely delightful, as was their village. On my first full day I went back into Strasbourg, which was an interesting architectural and cultural change from the more southern areas I’d previously been in: definitely more German, with lots of steep-roofted half-timbered houses and sausages and the like. On the second day, my hosts offered to take me for a drive up into the hills to sample some of the local food and wine, which was utterly delicious. I had some kind of pork thing in a creamy sauce with mushrooms, and spaetzle, and the local pinot noir, Rouge d’Ottrott, which is unusual because Alsace mostly goes for white wines. Anyway. Strasbourg and environs: surprisingly awesome!

After that I went to Paris, but I’ll save that for a subsequent blog post. I’m glad to have caught up this far, at least.

Syndicated 2012-09-01 12:55:58 from Infotropism

Fresh links for July 27th through August 31st

Syndicated 2012-09-01 11:51:48 from Infotropism

GUADEC talk: done! And a new project.

I gave my keynote at GUADEC today, on the subject of “From Open Source to Open Everything”, loosely based on this blog post from last year. I think it went pretty well, except that I ran badly overtime into the lunch break, for which I can only apologise and blame myself for hitting the wrong option on my laptop and not getting a timer on-screen, realising too late, then thinking I could muddle through without it rather than stop to fiddle with my laptop once I’d started talking. Ah well!

Sadly, after lunch, I was so wiped from the nasty head-cold I picked up somewhere in my travels, that I came straight back to the residence and slept all afternoon. If anyone was looking for me to chat about my talk, please hunt me down tomorrow.

I need to clean up my notes and post them, but stay tuned for a blog post version of my talk here sometime in the next couple of days.

In my talk I touched on a whole range of “open” communities including some in the green/eco/sustainability space. This morning I also attended a talk about “Gnome and the Systems of Free Infrastructure” by Federico Mena Quintero, from Mexico, who touched on similar topics. Federico and I have been talking about this stuff a bit over the last few weeks, to see what similarities we had in our talks. The other day we had lunch together and somehow the subject of open data for food crops came up: Federico asked me whether I knew of a free source of information telling you what crops grow in what climate regions at what times of year, and I said I didn’t know one, but that you’d have to look at information published (usually) by the agricultural departments in various places.

Or, of course, you could crowdsource it. Thinking about that idea, I realised it was in some ways similar to Ravelry, the awesome knitting community and database of all things knit-related. Nobody used to have a huge collection of all the knitting patterns in the world til Rav came along. Then, by each individual knitter putting in their own projects and notes, the aggregate of all of it became a useful general resource. Now you can do a complex search/filter for exactly the knitting pattern or yarn you’re interested in, based not on a centralised authority, but on each person adding their own small part to the whole.

If we wanted to, people growing food in their gardens and allotments and on their balconies in containers could do the same. If I posted, “I planted tomatoes in my garden in Melbourne on the 1st of November” and everyone else did likewise, we’d wind up with an extensive database of food plants, including things like heirloom varieties and where to source them from. We could also build a histogram of the distributions of planting times for every location. Eventually, we could build in tools for sharing your harvest with your local community, saying eg. “I have a tree full of lemons, does anyone want them?” or facilitating seed-sharing and other community gardening activities.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this over the next day or so, and I realised it’s something I really want. Really really want. I want a resource that’s like Ravelry, but with a focus on food gardening, especially the sustainable/organic/heirloom end of that scene. My perfect site would have a strong community committed to sustainability both in the green sense and in the sense of a successful online community. I’m also thinking of Dreamwidth as inspiration, especially with regard to its ethics and the way its developer community works. I’d definitely want this whole thing to be open source and community-built.

So, consider this a launch announcement. If this is something you’re interested in, here’s where you can sign up to be part of it: mailing list, Dreamwidth community. If you’re interested on any level please do join — we will need all kinds of people from coders to gardening experts to people willing to try out early versions of the site as we build it. As I talked about in my keynote today, I would really like this to be the sort of project where we don’t have false barriers between developers and users, but where every person who’s involved can be part of the process of building this thing together. And again inspired by Dreamwidth, I’d love to help anyone who wants to learn to code as part of this, regardless of prior experience. Heck, I’ll probably be picking up a newish-to-me language/platform for this, so we’ll probably all learn together. (That said, if you’re a Ruby or Python person with solid experience of medium-size-and-complexity web apps, and want to be part of this, let’s talk!)

Oh, also, a quick note… “harvest project” is my working title for this thing, but I guess we’ll need a real name and a domain to match at some point; if you have any bright ideas let me know.

Syndicated 2012-07-28 19:58:52 from Infotropism

From Madrid to A Coruña

Yesterday I took the train from Madrid to A Coruña, a six hour trip that caused a fair bit of consternation among the GNOME people who brought me here. I’ve been telling anyone who asks that I’m not in a hurry, I like to see the countryside, that I’d rather not have the environmental guilt of an unnecessary flight, and that I just like trains. All this is true, but people seem incredulous til I tell them that after this conference I’ll be spending another two months taking trains all around Europe. At that point I guess they put me into the “mildly eccentric tourist” box rather than the “bizarrely idiosyncratic business traveller” one.

When you take long-haul trains, it’s always a toss-up whether the scenery’s going to be interesting or whether you’ll end up going through boring farmland and the semi-industrial back-lots of small towns. This trip had a bit of both, but there were enough cute villages, medieval churches and old buildings in various states of ruin to keep me watching out the window.

The land west of Madrid is mostly flat with dry, yellowing grass and plantations of trees (mostly some kind of conifer? I couldn’t place it) and, delightfully, sunflowers. I was on the sunward side of the train for most of the trip, so the sunflowers on my side were facing away from me, otherwise I would have attempted a photo out the window. It was actually a bit strange to pass through a Mediterranean landscape without seeing Australian flora. I found myself looking out the window for eucalyptus trees or familiar scrub along the railway tracks, but there was nothing I recognised.

Heading into Galicia, the land got greener and hillier, and when I arrived in A Coruña the weather was mild and damp, compared to the blasting furnace of Madrid. At A Coruña, I ran into some other GUADEC people and got a ride to the conference accommodation, which is a university residence up in the hills. Driving up there along winding roads through the university campus, with the car windows open, I got a sudden whiff of something. I looked around but couldn’t find the source. Then we rounded a corner, and I found a whole bank of eucalypts planted along the road, letting off their scent as if after rain. I don’t like to think of myself as one of those people who is always looking for the familiar when travelling in foreign places, but I guess I am one. I suppose being pleased at the presence of Australian native plants is a fairly mild version; I’ll reassure myself that I’m not one of those tourists who eats at McDonalds all round the world.

Anyway, after meeting some people at the pre-reg and reception, a restless night’s sleep, and a pretty decent breakfast (so glad there were decent protein options! I’d been worried), I’m now at the conference itself, about to watch Jacob Appelbaum’s Tor keynote. Onward!

Syndicated 2012-07-26 09:59:15 from Infotropism

Europe 2012: The travelog begins

So, here I am in Madrid, after about 30 hours in transit. I flew Emirates for the first time, and Emily was right — they’re pretty good. Went via Changi where I didn’t have time to do any of the fun stuff you can do there if you have a long layover, a brief pitstop at Colombo which is notable only because it afforded us a Sri Lankan curry for breakfast (yay! I would eat curry for breakfast all the time if I could), and Dubai, where I found myself thinking a lot about the dark side of Dubai and how much of their prosperity is built on slavery. Then I remembered that I lived in the US, and, hey, the former British Empire. So. I don’t have any answers to that, but I will say that coming into Dubai around 5am, with the sun rising through a haze that made it impossible to see the horizon, I saw a lot of compounds on the edges of town, ringed with security fences and lights, before we got to the bits that are trying to look like Versaille and/or something out of science fiction.

We flew over Cairo and Alexandria before crossing the Mediterranean to Spain. After a lot of very dull desert, it was amazing to see the Nile and its fertile plains and the sprawl of civilisation that’s grown up around it. Most of the fields under cultivation are all long and narrow, like English ones before enclosure, and a fairly uniform dark green. I realised I have no idea what they grow there. Most of my knowledge of Egypt stops somewhere around where year 8 ancient and classical history and “curse of the mummy” type pop culture left off. Also on the ignorance list: Tunisia and Algeria, or at least the coastal bits of them, are way greener than I expected.

Crossing Spain from the Mediterranean coast to Madrid, I saw what I think must be citrus plantations: regular specks of dark green against the yellow-brown land like the dots on a Roy Lichtenstein piece. Couldn’t help thinking a lot about Stephen Maturin and about Sharpe. I suspect they will be my regular companions over the next couple of weeks.

After landing, there was a painful and frustrating episode at the airport involving trying to buy a SIM for my phone, which I’d rather leave behind me (albeit with a credit card chargeback against the assholes in question); the Internet, especially the Prepaid With Data Wiki, was entirely right and I subsequently went and got a working, non-phone-crashing SIM just like they said.

Finally Google Maps-enabled, I headed out for a few hours wandering round to keep myself awake and see a bit of the city. I didn’t go much further than a few blocks from where I’m staying, but here’s a picture of the Royal Palace:

Three people stand looking through an iron fence at the Palacio Real.

That’s one end, not the front view, which is even bigger. Apparently Philip V, who built it (or rather, who decreed that it should be built, and then had others do it for him… at least I presume so) died before it could be finished; it was meant to be 4 times larger. I read that there is a guided tour of the “50 most important rooms” and my feet hurt just thinking about it.

Tomorrow I’m planning on a little more wandering, before I get aboard the train to A Coruña for GUADEC. Here’s hoping it goes through interesting countryside, and not just the back sides of industrial areas as all too often happens with passenger rail in Australia and the US.

Syndicated 2012-07-24 19:24:02 from Infotropism

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