Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Motes from Maastricht

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‘back across with the car on the train; fourth-quarter and year-end reporting ahead, hopefully happy times with friends and a bit of a break.  Tulips help to break the dim, watery light that greys the days, bulbs to anticipate spring in a month or so.

There’s time to sit in the window, sip strong coffee, watching the river and the people flow by beneath, to read and to clip a few notes to share.  It’s like watching dust motes, lively in the rays of sunshine.

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The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it’s comprehensible,” Einstein said. But I don’t think human relationships are ever fully comprehensible. They can clarify for small, beautiful moments, but then they change. Unlike a scientific experiment with rigorous, controlled parameters, our lives are boundless and shifting. And there’s never an end to the story. We need more than science—we need storytelling to capture that kind of complexity, that kind of incomprehensibility.    the Atlantic

DSC02920 (1253x1001)The Dutch highway system is monitored by 24,000 sensors, embedded in the road surfaces, used to detect traffic jams and assess road quality.  A software engineer, Michael Dubbelman, has used the underlying data base to create an algorithm that can detect speeding cars.  His interactive map has found over  240,000 cases of drivers traveling in excess of 170 kph in the past 10 days…

DSC02912 (1300x970)The expat question in question is, “How are you?”  The answer Americans give, of course is, “Fine.” But when Russians hear this they think one of two things: (1) you’ve been granted a heavenly reprieve from the wearisome grind that all but defines the human condition and as a result are experiencing a rare and sublime moment of fineness or (2) you are lying, unable to fully express your unquenchable suffering…  NY Times

DSC02960 (1300x1054)At Schiphol airport, the average passenger transfer time is three hours. To help travellers endure the wait, there are 20 works of art from Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, a library with books and iPads, as well as shops and more than 70 food and drink outlets.  It would take more than six hours to sample all of the cuisines on offer...  the FT

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Historic Portsmouth Dockyards

DSC02837 - Copy (975x1300)The Royal Navy has maintained a major base in Portsmouth Harbour from the Tudor era (the oldest known drydocks in the 1400’s) through to the present day (stealth destroyers and Harrier carriers).  ‘Very much a working shipyard, the docklands are a historic district as well, with the Warrior, the Victory, and the Mary Rose all on display.  A 26 gbp entry fee gives access to everything for a year, including a harbour tour by boat.

I’ve wanted to get out to Portsmouth for months.  Marked by the Spinnaker Tower, its an iconic spot, only an hour away.  The harbour reminds me of San Francisco Bay, sprawling and blustery, but the town is filled with good restaurants and great sea views across to the Isle of Wight.

There is lots to take in, far more than I can comment on or show here.  The sailing ships are impressive, expansive above decks and efficiently crowded below.  The guides give excellent accounts of the history and day to day workings of the skips at sea and in battle.

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DSC02790 (975x1300)I could relate to each seaman’s chest of personal items, reminiscent of my own expat’s boxes.

The Victory was undergoing major refitting, but the walk-through still gave a good sense of Admiral Nelson and the events around his strategy and death at Trafalgar.

And the Mary Rose, like the Vasa in Stockholm, is just a wonderful window into the world centuries earlier, when everything was rough-hewn and hand-cranked.  I struggled to pull a yew longbow, gazed into the skulls of the crew, and recognized so many of the common bits of everyday life that were recovered.

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Finally, the harbour tour boat is the best way to see the modern navy up close and to get a sense for Portsmouth itself.

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All in all, a very full day on and around the ships and the water: I’ll need a second day soon to work through the museum rooms with artifacts and recreations.

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