Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

Signs of Life: Part 36

© 2024 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From time to time during my travels, I come across signs that I find interesting for one reason or another. Sometimes, they contain clever writing, are humorous, or remind me of some place or event. Here are some, mostly from time spent in Italy (Milan, Florence, and Sorrento) in March and April of 2019.


From a Brussels Airlines napkin.


There I was strolling the streets of Milan, when I came across this sign. My first reaction was, "I'm on the road to Hell!" However, it was only the road to Purgatory, and it's important to understand the difference.

If you like a western movie with a twist, take a look at "Purgatory" from 1999.

BTW, you might be interested to know more about the old proverb, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."


Hey! Has anyone seen my motocycle helmet?


"Keep off the grass," that is, at least until March 31.

BTW, Firenze is Italian for Florence. Those foreigners have words for everything!


A mobile phone accessories shop.


I understand the first three, but what's with granite? Apparently, it's not a piece of stone in a glass! According to Wikipedia, "A slushy is a type of [Italian] beverage made of flavored ice and a drink, similar to granitas but with a more liquid composition."


You know how sometimes you get so bored; there is nothing to do? Well, here you are simply not allowed to do anything in/near the Milan Duomo (main cathedral), including flying your drone!


La signora goes shopping at Cartier in her Ferrari!

(What is truly remarkable about this photo is that 99+% of the car is inside the parking place lines, something I've hardly ever seen in Italy!)


A store for an Italian fashion brand of that name. Afterall, 60 is the new 40, right!


I spent some hours walking in the mostly excavated town of Pompei.

When I came across this 2,000-year-old intersection, my first thought was, "Those are some serious speed bumps!" Of course, back in 79 AD, carts and wagons were built high off the ground, so they could pass right on through. The actual reason for the stones is to allow pedestrians to get from one side of the street to the other without having to step into a (possibly deep) pool of sewage in the street.

BTW, as I toured the old city, I kept my eye on Mount Vesuvius, sitting off in the distance. You just never know when the Gods might be angered next!


A pizza place in Sorento.


Apparently, this food chain is based in Naples. According to their website (as translated by Google Translate), "Those who have had the good fortune to visit Amsterdam carry with them the memory of an extremely vital city, with an absolutely cosmopolitan atmosphere, a city that lives in its narrow streets, where you can admire the suggestive canals and above all taste one of the musts of international street food: the Dutch fries. It is from here that, at the beginning of 2014, Queen's Chips was born with the mission of spreading the Dutch style throughout the world, through franchising, adding to it particular attention to the authenticity of raw materials such as to offer an experience linked to a concept of genuine street food."

"Street Food Style, il gusto che fa tendenza." (Street Food Style, the taste that sets trends.)

So, if you are wondering around Italy and are tired of Italian food, it's good to know you can get some good old Dutch (French) fries!


Another pizza place in Sorento.

It took me a bit of digging to try and find some meaning in the use of UNESCO, which many of us understand to mean "The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization."

Apparently, UNESCO has an Intangible Cultural Heritage program, and they can even assign a "Creative City of Gastronomy" designation.

My guess is that this pizza parlor is trying to infer that its pizzas are dannatamente buono; pretty darned good, that is.


Very clever!

I think there's actually a wrinkle in my irony!


When I saw these posts and wooden disks near Williamsburg, Virginia, I had no idea what they were. Do you?

Look below.


If native Americans can invent lacrosse for warriors to work off their frustrations during peacetime, I guess some entrepreneurial Viking warrior could start a chain of Axe Ranges.

For more than you wanted to know about axe throwing, click here.



Oh, the Things that I have Learned! – Part 2

© 2024 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Continuing on from Part 1, here is the second set of topics!

History and Geography

See my essay, "August 2022: A Little Bit of History."

For me, history didn't come alive until I started to travel to places that I'd heard about in history lessons or in the news. Standing on the Waterloo or Hastings Battlefields, visiting Dover Castle (from which the evacuation from Dunkirk was managed during WWII), standing on the spot where Dr. Martin Luther King gave his "I have a dream" speech, touring the Colosseum in Rome, or visiting the Cabinet War Rooms in London, all had a profound effect on me. As did visits to the Incan ruins at Machu Picchu in Peru, and the Mayan ruins at Tikal in Guatemala and Chichen Itza in Mexico.

Lessons learned:

  • Watching a video or seeing pictures of a historic place is not like actually being there, where you can close your eyes and "feel" the place.
  • Understanding the history, religion, and military past of a country or area can be educational. I really appreciated this when I spent a day in Bosnia Herzegovina. I read about the Ottoman occupation, I looked at the country's shape, and learned about the languages spoken.
  • Petra, Jordan, is well worth visiting.
  • The Americas were not discovered in 1492; the locals knew they were there for thousands of years! Besides, the Vikings visited much earlier.
  • From time to time, history gets rewritten.

I've always liked geography, and I like to look at all kinds of maps, especially those annotated in foreign languages. Place and country names you take for granted are often different than in English, and unrecognizably so. (See my essay, "What is Normal Part 7: What's in a Name.")

Lessons learned:

  • The earth is not flat; in any event, I have never fallen off the edge! And I have seen the curvature of the horizon from quite high up.
  • I've witnessed the Aurora Borealis several times from 30,000 feet (10,000 m) up while flying overnight from Tokyo to Washington DC.
  • Borders between countries are a man-made convention, although more than a few (partly) follow physical features (such as rivers).
  • Watching a volcano erupt (in Costa Rica) and feeling the ash on my face downwind was quite an experience. However, it's best not to climb an active volcano! While at this very mountain, I met a man wearing a full cast on a broken leg sustained when he attempted an ascent! Why did he do it? Apparently, it seemed like a good idea at the time, especially after a few beers.
  • Standing on a glacier and looking at the places it has carved rock can be humbling.
  • Birds do indeed migrate south during the northern winter. There I was in November on a tour bus crossing the Patagonia in Chile, when we came to a large lake with thousands of wall-to-wall flamingos, busy eating shellfish, which gives them their pink plumage.
  • What seems like a mirage just might be real! On the same tour mentioned above, I saw an iceberg the size of a small house way out in an arid region. It had broken off a glacier in the Andes Mountains, floated down the resulting meltwater river, and run aground a long way from home.
  • When I went down the Amazon River in Peru and saw local kids swimming in water known to be occupied by piranhas, I was reliably informed that there was plenty of other food for the fish to eat that season, so swimming was safe! I for one was not convinced!
  • Uluru (formerly Ayers Rock) is a fine place to visit at sunrise or sunset, especially when you understand something of the local Australian Aboriginal dreamtime.
  • Flying in a commercial jet very close to the level of the world's tallest waterfall (Angel Falls in Venezuela), and not very far from it, was exhilarating, and included in my US$28 fare from Caracas to Canaima.
  • Nature can be very patient, and unforgiving.
  • Not all deserts are as devoid of life as is much of the Sahara.
  • Iceland is green, and Greenland is icy; hmm!
  • Alaska is much bigger than Texas; can you imagine that!
  • When you first land in a city that is at 12,100 feet altitude (3,400 m), like Cusco, Peru, it's best not to race around like you might when at sea-level (so he says after having done so and then vomiting in the street outside the city's main cathedral!)

See my essay, "April 2018: These United States."

My Time with Computers

I was more than four years into working in the field of chemistry when I was first exposed to computing, via a semester course in a programming language, on a timesharing minicomputer. Ten minutes into that first lecture, I knew my purpose in life. At age 20, I was finally passionate about something!

Over the years, I've learned the following programming languages and written programs in them and/or studied them at length: several advanced dialects of BASIC, COBOL, Fortran, DIBOL, C, C++, Java, C#, PHP, and Hack. And I've had a cursory look at JavaScript, Python, and Rust. I've worked on mainframes, minicomputers, and PCs, and on applications for business, mapping, and engineering, among others.

Lessons learned:

  • Don't wait for someone else to pay to train you. Invest in yourself. For example, in most cases, I learned the languages above in my own time and on my own computers.
  • Not every work-related activity needs to result in income.
  • It's OK to not know everything about a topic; for example:
    • I edited a 4-Part, 6,500-page specification that documented the file format of MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Initially, I was concerned that I didn't know enough about each of these tools, but it quickly occurred to me that the sheer size of the project made that pretty much impossible, especially if I wanted to have a life as well!
    • I was tasked with writing a formal specification for the language PHP, yet I had never looked at that language, let alone written a program in it. (The result was a 200-page spec that was well received by the industry.)
    • For 15 months, I chaired the JavaScriptTM standards committee without ever having written a program in that language.
  • I taught myself about formal computer language grammars.
  • I learned how to write formal/precise specifications.
  • I learned how to successfully participate in, and lead, committees. (See my essay, "March 2012: How Committees Work.")
  • While a lot of programming languages have features (and even syntax) in common, there are more than a few that don't look like anything else. A few years ago, I had the privilege of working with a group that was designing a new language. Some things I thought fundamental to programming were missing, such as support for any kind of looping. (That was achieved by making recursive calls to methods!)
  • My time with computers paid out, big time! It led to my designing and programming interesting applications; writing a lot of documentation; becoming a published author; becoming an editor and publisher; developing and teaching seminars; launching my consulting career; and it allowed me to get into the world of formal standards and specifications. The vast majority of my business travel supported these activities, and this led to an exposure and appreciation of cultural conventions and languages, as well as meeting a lot of very interesting people.
  • In the good old days, one could work in the IT world for five years and be "King of the Hill!" However, ever since everyone could own their own computer, things have been evolving so much and so fast, one must constantly be aware of new inventions to remain relevant. That said, the leading edge is generally not the best place to be when managing an IT project that has budget constraints and deadlines.
  • As an applications programmer, don't do critical testing on a remote computer in an unmanned hydro power station located way out in the woods, in the middle of the night. When I crashed the remote computer, two electricians had to be called in to drive out there at 2 am, to reboot the system, and they each got paid for four hours.
  • The way to distinguish yourself from the pretenders is to charge a higher hourly rate. Regarding rates, 30-odd years ago, I decided that beyond (then) US$65/hour, one needed to sell oneself differently. Up to that point, people had an image of how much tangible work product one could produce in an hour. Beyond that rate, one had to convince them one was getting them to a point they couldn't get themselves, or by making their people productive (such as charging US$2,500/day to train 20 of their employees in a new technology).

Politics and Government

In all my years in school in rural Australia, I don't recall much time being spent on civics. And I certainly never developed much of an interest in politics, except perhaps for South Australian Premier (and for some years, my local state representative), Donald Dunstan. (BTW, in Australia, voting is compulsory!) However, once I moved to the US and decided to stay, I started paying more attention, and have since developed a significant interest in the US Federal Senate and the Supreme Court. I've also been known to take a copy of the US Constitution with me on vacation, just for some light reading!

See my essays, "September 2012: A Little Bit of American Civics" and "October 2012: A Little Bit More American Civics."

Lessons learned:

  • For a very long time, I've theorized that the best form of government is a benevolent dictatorship. However, as it happens, most dictators don't start out as benevolent, or if they do, they don't stay that way. In any event, I've decided that it would be most embarrassing to be appointed "King of the World" and not have a plan, so, just in case, I am working on a plan, so I can "hit the ground running!"
  • I really don't like that US law allows sales and other businesses callers to be placed on a "Do not call" list but exempts politicians and political parties.
  • I much prefer the US Congressional system over the British Parliamentary system. Having a CEO for a country makes as much sense as it does for a company. This completely avoids coalition governments and all their problems, as well as paralysis in decision making in a country where big decisions are made by consensus instead of by a single leader.
  • To be elected President or Vice President of the US, one must be born a US citizen; one cannot simply have acquired citizenship later.
  • My baptism of fire in the US was a year in Chicago, where I first learned about the suggestion to, "Vote early and vote often!"
  • Given the way in which men have run the world for a very long time, I'm more than happy to let woman have a try.

There's a story that some years ago, the winter here in the Washington DC area was so cold, that Federal politicians were seen with their hands in their own pockets!

Mark Twain once wrote, "Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself." 

I've read most of Bill Bryson's books. From his "Down Under/In a Sunburned Country" comes the following wickedly funny quote: "… John Howard [who at the time was Prime Minister of Australia] is by far the dullest man in Australia. Imagine a very committed funeral home director – someone whose burning ambition from the age of eleven was to be a funeral home director, whose proudest achievement in adulthood was to be elected president of the Queanbeyan and District Funeral Home Directors' Association – then halve his personality and halve it again, and you have pretty well got John Howard."

Winston Churchill famously said, "Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…'

There is a joke about Gough Whitlam, one-time Prime Minister of Australia, when he was asked, "Do you have a plan to shorten the unemployment lines?" To which he replied, "I'd ask the people to stand closer together!"

To read about my involvement in the 2008 US Presidential election, as an independent, who had just obtained US citizenship, see my essay, "August 2010: Confessions of an Obama Volunteer." Also see, "June 2010: Australia and the U.S. – A Contrast."

Children and Parenting

Adopting a child generally involves a lot of time, paperwork, and sometimes legal expenses. And you can be turned down for all kinds of reasons. But to produce your own child you simply need a partner of the opposite sex and a bottle or two of wine! (For advice on how to do this, see Dave Barry's absolutely hilarious book, "Babies and Other Hazards of Sex: How to Make a Tiny Person in Only 9 Months, with Tools You Probably Have Around the Home," copies of which I have often given to parents expecting their first child.)

Lessons learned:

  • Sometimes the most important things are not regulated, but perhaps they should be.
  • Don't be an enabler. (See "Volunteerism and Philanthropy" below.)
  • I once read that, "Children are for people who can't have dogs!" That is, if you had a well-behaved dog, why on earth would you be messing with kids? Why indeed!

Someone once wrote that, "Children should be seen and not had!" a subtle variation on this version. Also, "While children in the backseat can cause accidents, accidents in the backseat can cause children!"

For my experience at establishing an allowance for my son, see "September 2010: Making Allowances."

ESL/ESOL Tutoring

[The teaching of English to adults has often gone by the terms "English as a second language (ESL)" or "English for speakers of other languages (ESOL)."]

See my essay, "August 2011: Teaching English as a Second Language."

I've tutored three long-term clients in English: A young laborer from El Salvador, an older farm worker from Mexico, and a 30-something university graduate from Afghanistan. And I did it with minimal training. In the first case, the man was illiterate in his own language, Spanish, and he had no numeracy skills. We mostly worked on speaking and reading, with some writing. In the second case, it was all about conversation. And in the third case, it involved reading, writing, and formal grammar. In all cases, we met for an hour each week.

Lessons learned:

  • While having some knowledge of the student's language can be an asset, don't use it more than is absolutely necessary. Afterall, they are there to learn English, so they need to hear and speak it.
  • Although a student might be able to read and write some English sentences, that doesn't mean they understand them. Make sure they comprehend them as well!
  • Don't let a student waste your (or their) time! They need to
    • Arrive to lessons on time.
    • Come prepared to learn.
      • Bring a pen/paper or electronic device to take notes.
      • Bring appropriate materials/handouts from previous meetings.
      • Bring questions about words, signs, and such they have heard/read since the previous meeting.
      • Be ready to engage, be proactive, ask questions, and make mistakes.
    • Do work between meetings.
  • Ideally, visible progress should be seen at each meeting.
  • Each meeting's work should build on or reinforce that from previous meetings.

Volunteerism and Philanthropy

I've been involved with volunteer work and philanthropy for 50-odd years.

Lessons learned:

  • Ignoring external influences (which can sometimes be very significant), most adults in trouble are exactly where they deserve to be based on the decisions they've made or those they have refused to make.
  • Way too many people claiming to be helping, either are not, or are actually getting in the way!
  • Some volunteers aren't committed. My worst experience of this was a woman telling me, "Don't blame me, I'm only a volunteer!" My reply, "You should do your best and take pride in whatever you do whether or not you are paid!"
  • Bureaucracy can get in the way. When I called a non-profit group asking about making a donation, I was told, "We only do fundraising twice a year, and now isn't one of those times" They either couldn't or wouldn't take my money!
  • All the petty (and not-so-petty) politics from a paid job pervade volunteer groups. Some members want to take all the credit and none of the blame!
  • Beware of becoming an enabler (he says from experience). According to Wikipedia, "In a negative sense, "enabling" can describe dysfunctional behavior approaches that are intended to help resolve a specific problem but in fact may perpetuate or exacerbate the problem." Some people must hit rock bottom before they can start saving themselves or be saved by others.
  • It's important to understand Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. People at different levels need different treatment/support.
  • I've learned to practice tough love. When people complain to me about their situation, I often ask the following:
    • Who has the most to gain by having a good outcome? You do! And who has the most to lose by having a bad outcome? You do! So, who should be putting in most of the effort to turn things around? You, of course! So, what are you doing about it? Don't just tell me what you think someone else should be doing!
    • If you aren't interested in yourself, then why should anyone else be interested in you?
  • I very much appreciate the old proverb, "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

See my essay, "January 2013: Starting your Own Non-Profit."

On Being Self-Motivated and, Eventually, Self-Employed

I distinctly remember it was during my final high-school year (in 1969, at age 15) that I realized I was an entrepreneur-in-waiting! Of course, for more than a few years after that, I worked for someone else and (mostly, but not always) followed their orders. (I once refused a direct order from a corporate Vice President, and kept my job!)

At age 18, I bought my first car, a Morris Minor utility vehicle (AU: ute). Not long after, I met an elderly woman who wanted someone to haul away trash from her yard and to clean out some sheds. I took on the job, and as we got along so well, she kept finding things for me to do, and she insisted on feeding me a big lunch each time. I then bought a lawn mower, which I used to trim her grass on a regular basis. This was my first business, and I did it on weekends and evenings.

I learned about a construction site that needed a laborer on weekends to clean-up after the bricklayers, plumbers, roofers, and other tradesmen were done (they only worked Monday–Friday), and to prepare for their next week's work by digging drainage trenches for pipes, and hauling bricks and tiles.

My first professional job was managing a small quality control lab at a vegetable oil factory. After being there for more than a year, I found that management really needed someone to fill plastic bottles with vegetable oil, but they didn't have anyone to do it. I proposed that as I had keys to the plant, I knew how to drive a forklift, and "Mr. Efficiency" was my nickname, I could do it on weekends, when the plant was idle. And as I would do it as a contractor, there were no union problems.

My second professional job was as a lab technician in the pesticide-residues section of a state government food and drug lab. And while the work was interesting and had socially redeeming value (we were watchdogs over the state capital's egg, milk, and fruit and vegetable supply), it left a lot of idle time while lab equipment ran unattended for hours processing samples. I noticed that the agency had no central process for getting repairs done to structural things like plumbing, exhaust fans/fume hoods, and power supplies. So, I offered to be the "go-to" guy, which got me out and about looking for the Public Buildings Department tradespeople in the surrounding building complex. Although there was no monetary gain, I learned the value of creating a job tailor-made for myself without having to compete with others. (In that role, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting with, and talking to, Sir Mark Oliphant, a prominent Australian physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project, and who was at the time we met, the Governor of South Australia, the Queen's representative in that state.)

In 1976, I changed careers, moving from chemistry to computer programming (at the South Australian state Department of Highways). A year into that, I saw an opportunity to do something different and challenging with a highway-planning engineer. Once he saw that I was interested in his project, he had me unofficially seconded to him. Eventually, that led to a second project. And, ultimately, to a transfer to the Digital Mapping group. Once there, as well as designing and coding several mapping-related systems, I proposed a plan to make the whole office more productive by having me stay (outside ordinary Government hours) to run stand-alone computer backup each week, which allowed them an extra half day/week of computer access.

In July 1984, having a newly minted Green Card, I went into business for myself as an independent computer consultant. At the same time, my wife and I bought a 3-story townhouse, and our son was born. There was absolutely no room for failure; there was no Plan B! As such, I worked furiously for at least a year doing whatever it took, after which time, I started thinking about working smart; that is, being more efficient. This resulted in two rules, which I have never violated and that I have reinforced many times:

  1. Never, ever hire anyone.
  2. Take as much time off as I can afford. (That started at three months off per year, spread over the year, then grew to six months, and eventually to nine months.)

When I moved to working halftime, someone asked me how I could afford to do that. My semi-serious response was, "I simply doubled my rate!"

See my essay, "October 2011: Starting Your Own Business."

Lessons learned:

  • No matter who you actually work for, you really work for yourself!
  • When you are self-employed, you can do anything, but you have to do everything! In a 1-person shop or small business, you are the technical person, the businessperson, the legal person, ….
  • After my first (and only) time managing staff, I knew that I never wanted to do that again. Specifically, I did not want to be a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a marriage counsellor, or even a motivator. Instead, I was a doer!
  • Something like 80% of all small businesses in the US fail in their first five years.
  • Many small businesses are started by one person, who does not have a Number 2 person who can be trusted to run the business in the absence of the owner. As such, the owner often has little or no time off.
  • Time away from work is important. See my essay, "July 2012: Are You Getting Enough Vacation?"
  • The traditional model of working for many years and then retiring, has never been for me! I do not plan on retiring, ever!


See you in Part 3!

Travel: Around the World in a Daze – Part 2, South Korea

© 2008, 2024 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

In Part 1, I spent a week in Milan, Italy, before flying to Seoul, South Korea. (This was in September of 2008.)

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's Off to Korea We Go!

Flight LH712 to Seoul's Incheon international airport finally took off at 7:10 pm, 75 minutes late. In the twilight, we headed east and north. This was my first time in Lufthansa Business Class and on an Airbus A340. It had an unusual configuration in that there was no First Class, just 54 large Business Class mini-suites, 2-2-2 across. I was in Seat 4K, starboard side window.

Where to begin describing all the facilities I had? Everything was controlled by a hand-held electronic unit. The seat had all kinds of adjustments and a massage option. It folded nearly flat at two meters long, longer than I was tall. And once one had found exactly the right back, head, leg, and arm settings, one could save those in the chair's memory for later recall. A privacy screen could be raised between neighboring seats. The amenities bag I was provided contained thick socks, eye shades, earplugs, toothbrush and paste, moist hand wipes, lip balm and skin cream, both in hazelnut flavor, don't you know! A bottle of water was in one of the many compartments. There was a 110/220-volt power outlet for laptop computers and the like. The 12" video screen was a pleasure to look at, and the professional headset was comfortable. There was none of this waiting for movies to start; everything was "on-demand." There were 69 video programs, 10 video games, 100 CDs (including audio books) and 30 radio channels. And of course, there was worldwide satellite phone service if one just had to be in touch with one's broker, darlings! Oh, and did I mention the hot tub, ski jump, and bowling alley? Just kidding; a hot tub would slop around too much during turbulence.

Once the hot towels were handed out, menus followed. None of that small bit of folded, thin cardboard for Lufthansa. No, they had to have a 12-page booklet, in German, Korean, and English, with photos of expensive wine labels and Markus Del Monego, the first German World Champion sommelier. And then there were pictures of dead fish that had given their very lives for our upcoming feast.

For dinner, I chose the Western selection. (None of that Korean rotting cabbage for me thanks very much!) To begin, there was the smoked filet of salmon with artichokes in pine-nut vinaigrette, or the terrine of venison with apple celery salad and quince compote. (I must say that, as far as I was concerned, sadly, the deer had died in vain.) Next was a tomato and cucumber salad with yogurt herb dressing. For the main course, one could choose from the grilled breast of poularde on pumpkin stew with potatoes, or the braised halibut in tarragon stock with root vegetables. The halibut was to die for! Then came camembert, Bavarian blue cheese, and linzer torte with whipped cream or fruit salad with grapes (no doubt, handpicked by virgins on some remote South Pacific Island). Of course, one could wash all of that down with hot or cold alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks from a wide selection. And one could do all this without leaving one's seat! It was truly amazing. Having taken in food and drink continually all day, I declined the cheese, dessert, and after-dinner drinks.

I adjusted my pocket computer's time from Western Europe (GMT+1) to Korea (GMT+9), but allowing for daylight savings adjustment, I went from 8:11 pm Friday to 3:11 am Saturday, in an instant.

[Next day] At 5 am, Korean time, I put in my earplugs, got my eyeshades ready, and took a test drive of my electric-operated chair. I got it into the fully reclined position, and while it was long enough, the designers hadn't factored in my size 13 boots, which stuck upwards quite a ways. I positioned the large pillow that was provided and unwrapped my blanket. Lights out at 5:05. I drifted in and out of Neverland, regularly adjusting my position to get comfortable. Suffice it to say that five hours later, I was wide awake and feeling semi-rested. It was clear I should have experimented more with the seat positions earlier on. Oh well, next time, I'll be infinitely wiser!

So just how does one get from Frankfurt to Seoul by air when aviation fuel is so expensive? One goes northeast to Riga, Latvia; Tartu, Estonia; south of St. Petersburg, Russia; north of Moscow; clear across Russia to Novosibirsk; Ulan Bator, Mongolia; Beijing, China; south over China; and, finally, east across the Yellow Sea to Seoul. Total time: 10:30 hours. And we were scheduled to arrive only 40 minutes late.

At 10:45 am, breakfast was served. There was granola crunch cereal with honey yogurt, then ham, smoked turkey, and several cheeses; or scrambled egg with chives and fried potato wedges and peperonata. I had the cold cuts with orange and apple juice.

A Short Stop at Seoul International

We landed at 12:05 pm, at a real gate; none of this bus stuff! And, after a good hike, we lined up for the train. I was the last passenger on with the door closing on my backside. Last one on meant first one off, and soon, I was at the immigration counter. Unfortunately, I was missing a form, so I had to step out of the line, fill in a form, and get back in line. Some 45 minutes later, I was being processed, with the officer looking at the 5-year business visa I'd gotten in Washington D.C. He gave me a 3-month entry stamp.

By that time, my luggage was well and truly out, so I collected it, passed through customs, and went out into the arrivals hall. I coaxed 150,000 Korean won (about US$150) from a cash machine. I got 15 10,000 won bills. The friendly lady at the information desk directed me to bus stop 12B. A bus was waiting, so I paid my 5,000 won for a ticket, checked my luggage, and climbed aboard for the 40-minute ride to the old airport, Gimpo (GMP), from which most domestic flights now departed.

On to Jeju Island

At Gimpo, I checked in, and as it was an all-economy flight, I requested a seat with extra legroom, if possible. I was rewarded with an aisle seat that had no seat in front of it. I dropped by the Asiana Airlines Business lounge to rescue some nuts and two cold cans of absolutely fabulous mango and passion fruit juice.

Soon after 2:30 pm, I went back to security. No alarms this time, but for those of us who took off our footwear, we were given one-size-fits-all sandals (they don't really) to wear through the scanner. It was a good thing my gate was the furthest to walk, as I needed some exercise after a sedentary day and night. Some 10 minutes later, a young gate agent seemed to screech out an announcement, and everyone around me bolted for the boarding area. Apparently, my flight was ready for boarding.

Asiana Flight OZ8929 to Jeju Island (sometimes called Cheju) was uneventful and lasted about an hour. Although I was assigned a seat with reasonable legroom, I took over a whole exit row nearby and had even more space. On arrival at CJU, my luggage came out right away. I spied a vending machine with ice-cold cans of mango and passion fruit juice, so rescued three, drinking one on the spot.

Outside, the sun was streaming down, and all was right in that part of the world. I made my way across the parking lot towards Bus Stop 7. My resort hotel bus was not due for 30 minutes, so I stretched my legs for a bit. A young Chinese woman recognized me as a delegate from previous meetings of this committee, and introduced me to two of her fellow delegates. So, I slipped into work mode, and sat and talked with them throughout the 50-minute ride across the island.

At the Resort Hotel

We arrived at ShineVille Luxury Resort about 6 pm, as the sun started to set. Check-in was smooth, and I made my way to the new Building 3, 3rd floor, Room 324. My building had cavernous lobbies, lots of large paintings and sculptures, marble everywhere, and absolutely no-one in sight. It looked rather like a sanitarium for very wealthy people. You know, the sort of place one goes when one is a bit run down from too many dinner parties and polo events!

My room was huge! It had a king-size bed, side tables and lamps, a large marble-topped work bench, dressing table, TV cabinet, lounge chairs, bar, and refrigerator, and lots of storage space. The bathroom had a shower stall, oversized tub, and vanity unit. Let's just say that it was more than adequate. By the time I unpacked, got email, and showered away 20 hours of travel grime, it was 9 pm, local time.

It was time to turn out the lights, but I was darned if I could find the switches. As is often the case with new "green" hotels, on entry to one's room, one must insert the electronic room key card into a slot to activate the room lights. That way, one can't waste energy by leaving the lights on when going out. However, removing my card also switched off the power outlets, and all my devices that were charging their batteries. So, I searched "upstairs, downstairs and in her Lady's chamber," but no switches were to be found. So, I sat on the bed looking for a "how to operate my room" instruction booklet, and when I opened the drawer of my bedside table, there, lo and behold, was a console with clock radio and light switches and dimmers. Well, of course; why didn't I think to look there to begin with?

[Next day] Although I woke a few times in the night, I was pleasantly surprised to hear my alarm at 8 am, having had nearly 11 hours sleep. At check-in, I'd received breakfast coupons, so, I went over to the main building to sample the buffet. I quickly scanned the Korean offerings, recognizing very little other than the green pea soup and salads with dressing (I am not joking), and made my way to the western spread. I joined a colleague, and we chatted while eating.

Meeting Day 1

I was there as the Head-of-Delegation from a consortium to committee ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 34, otherwise known as SC 34. (This committee is a sibling of the one whose meeting I chaired the previous week in Milan.) Scheduled were several 3-day Working Group meetings in parallel followed by a 1-day plenary of the whole committee.

At 9 am, my three fellow delegates and I were seated, and, at 9:15, the meeting got underway. We broke for morning and afternoon tea. For lunch, I had a meeting over just about the worst Chinese food I'd had in a long while. Although it looked attractive, frankly, it was a lukewarm gelatinous mass! In the afternoon, I was called on unexpectedly to give a presentation. With questions and answers, it took more than two hours, and went very well.

At 6:30 pm, I joined a colleague from Germany and another from Italy, and we dined on bean soup, salad, and cheesecake with blueberry sauce. It was delicious, and more than compensated for the terrible lunch. In the basement, there was a convenience store, so I picked up some juice (can you say, "mango and passion fruit?"), milk, and other essentials.

It was clear from my attempts to communicate with members of the hotel staff that very few of them understood much English. Every question I asked resulted in a smile, nodding of the head, and a reply of "Yes," which often didn't mean that. Lights out at 11 pm.

Meeting Day 2

The bedding consisted of a very nice down-filled cover and a bottom sheet. Unfortunately, the cover was so efficient it trapped every bit of body heat, resulting in an oven-like atmosphere. Now while I like my surroundings much warmer than most, it was way too much even for me. I must have perspired a liter or two during the night, waking up many times in the process. Anyway, I forced myself out of bed soon after my 7-am alarm went off, showered, and worked until an 8-am breakfast meeting.

We started the session at 9, and the ritual was much like the day before, except that I skipped lunch. We broke early, and I worked from my room until 6:15 pm, when I joined the group for a banquet. Being allergic to shellfish, I scanned all the dishes eliminating more than half of them. However, there were plenty of choices remaining, and I joined a table of delegates from Korea.

After the dinner and speeches, I moved to another table to spend time with delegates from Finland, Denmark, Ivory Coast, Germany, and the U.S. From there, we moved to a lounge off the main lobby to talk while listening to two young Ukrainian women play piano and violin. It was a very pleasant evening. I'd gotten into a Robert Ludlum spy thriller in recent days, so read a few chapters before lights-out at 11 pm.

Meeting Day 3

I was up at 7 am, against my will, but still on local time, which was amazing. The entrance hall in my room had a ceiling light that was activated by movement; it had no switch. So, when I walked into that area, voila, the light came on. Unfortunately, if I didn't move around much, such as while dressing there, the light switched off. Then when I moved, it went back on. So, dressing each morning involved a disco-light show. It was a novelty for about 10 seconds! But that wasn't the silly part. Each morning, I shaved at the sink in the bathroom just inside the doorway off that entrance, and each time I moved my right arm, the electric eye sensed movement, and the light show was repeated. Basically, it was a high-tech solution in search of a problem! I skipped breakfast and had an 8-am meeting.

The group met until 11, then adjourned until the following morning. I worked in my room until noon, at which time, I joined everyone for a salad and spaghetti lunch. I ate with the three delegates from India. After lunch, I settled into more work while most people went on a half-day bus tour of tourist spots on our side of the island. (I'd done something similar during my previous visit some years earlier.)

Around 6 pm, one of my Microsoft colleagues, Doug, and I decided to venture "off campus" for dinner. Eventually, we met an assistant manager who spoke English. I asked him to write in Korean that I was allergic to shellfish. He went one better, calling a restaurant, ordering for us, and asking them to send a car to pick us up.

We were taken to the Si-Gol Restaurant for a traditional Korean BBQ. The table was about 12" high with a gas burner set inside a large cast iron cooker. When the sloping lid was put in place, it served as the cooking surface with fat running down away from the meat. A hostess in traditional dress came and showed us how to cook the meat, onion, and potato slices. Some 16 separate small dishes of different vegetables and sauces appeared, and we were each issued a set of metal chopsticks. Doug tried a local beer while I had Coke. Surprisingly, I liked pretty much everything, and the total cost for two was only about $25.

The manager loaded us into his van, and drove us to a beach, so Doug could shoot some photos. Thinking that we'd just be a few minutes, I left my jacket in the van. However, when next we looked, the van was nowhere in sight. We just figured the driver would be back "soon." Time passed, and we walked around the village looking at the large tanks of fish in front of each restaurant, and ate ice creams. Eventually, we decided our driver wasn't coming back, so we caught a taxi and tried to find our restaurant to see if I could retrieve my coat, but the driver didn't know the place and we couldn't remember how we drove there. So, he took us back to our hotel. After trying to communicate with the staff, a bellman produced a plastic carry-bag containing my coat. Apparently, our driver had found it and brought it back. Don't you just love that when that happens! Lights out by 11 am.

Meeting Day 4

An emergency had arisen over night, so when I got my morning email, I had a medium-sized fire to fight, which I had to do in the background throughout the day while paying attention to the plenary meeting. I lunched with colleagues and took a walk down to the lava rocks along the coast.

I was very busy all afternoon interjecting at times to mention various procedural problems. We adopted all the resolutions unanimously and adjourned at 4 pm. We scheduled the next meeting of my group for February in Okinawa, Japan, and the next full plenary in Prague, Czech Republic, next March. It was a very successful week for me and my project. From there, it was back to my room to work on a second major problem.

Doug and I had a quick dinner meeting, and then I was back at my keyboard until the problem was solved at 1 am. Along the way, I phoned Geneva, Switzerland, to get some help transferring some very large files to a website. By the time I put the light out at 1:15 am, I was well and truly pooped.

Back to the Mainland

I didn't much care to hear my alarm at 7:30 am, having had less than six hours sleep. However, the shower helped to wake me, and soon after I was having my final breakfast, with a colleague. At 8:50, I was checked out and waiting for the bus. The large bus was full, mostly with Korean tourists. The 50-minute ride to the airport in Jeju City was uneventful. Although I had a nice seat with plenty of legroom, right in the back row, I was unable to sleep, until, that is, we were nearly at our destination. In all the built-up areas along the way, every 100 yards, a pair of Korean flags flew, on both sides of the road.

At CJU, one of the very pleasant representatives from Asiana Airlines checked me in. Her colleague then escorted me the 100 yards to the business lounge. I was the only customer, and I settled down to some coffee and pastries while surfing the internet looking at U.S. and Australian newspapers, with one ear on CNN International's coverage of the financial crisis back home. It was a small but comfortable lounge with basic but adequate facilities. The refrigerator was filled with all kinds of unusual drinks, such as rice milk, real soy milk (I hate that fake stuff!), and my favorite, Pocari Sweat. (Don't you just want to race out and buy and drink a can of something called sweat?)

At 11:45 am, I left the lounge and headed for security. To say that the check was cursory would be an understatement; no need to take my laptop from its bag, and no need to take off my boots containing metal bits. I beeped going through the screener, but after a quick hand scan, I was on my way.

Downstairs at Gate 8, my boarding pass was checked, and I was informed of a 10-minute delay. I tried to blend in with the other passengers waiting, but there I was, a 6'4" Caucasian surrounded by 120, 5', 13-year-old giggly, Korean schoolgirls in their navy-blue uniforms. After a while, several of them approached me, and in nervous English asked if I'd mind having my photo taken with them. I agreed, and when I stood up, they gasped at this foreign giant in their midst. We all said "cheese" as pictures were taken.

We had a short bus ride to our Boeing 737-400. After boarding, I was seated "front and center," on the aisle in the first row. I was surrounded by a group of Asiana employees headed to work on the mainland. With much bowing towards us honored guests, the flight attendants took us through the safety demonstration. Then, I felt extra special as the instructions were repeated in English for an audience of one, me.

It was another nice sunny day with a gentle breeze. Flight OZ8916 went through a little turbulence as we climbed up through the clouds, but then it was smooth sailing. The seats were quite narrow by my standards; however, the petite Koreans seemed to have plenty of room to spare. The two flight attendant passengers seated next to me took a nap and then decided to chat with me once I gave them each some candy from Milan. One gave me a nice Asiana Airline pen.

At GMP, we pulled up at an actual gate, and I was first off the plane. It was a long walk to the baggage area, and the escalators were ever so happy to start moving as their electric eyes detected my approach. In minutes, the luggage arrived, and my bag was first out. I enquired as to the location of the inter-airport bus. I was directed across the street where I bought a 5,000 won ticket, the coach pulled up, we loaded and were on our way, all in five minutes. At precisely 2:08 pm, the white-gloved bus driver rose, faced us, bowed very low, and welcomed us aboard. His neat uniform came with so many stripes on his shoulder boards that I figured he was at least a Brigadier General!

We were on our way to Incheon International Airport (INC) via a busy freeway. There were quite a few rice fields then hothouses. For quite some distance we drove alongside a big canal construction project. The ride took 40 minutes, and to keep us entertained, a large flat-panel TV showed a news broadcast. Although the newsreader was serious during her presentation, I couldn't help but think she'd bought her jacket from a clown shop. Then some senior members of the U.S Senate came on to tell us what a wonderful job they'd done in getting a bill passed regarding the financial crisis, all with subtitles in Korean. We rode a long series of bridges over mud flats near small islands. The tide was out leaving an interesting landscape for miles.

Overnight at a Honeymoon Suite

At INC, I made my way to the information desk where the attendant phoned my hotel for a pickup. Apparently, the hotel car was at the airport already, so I only had to go out the nearest exit and hop in. It took 10 minutes on the freeway to get to downtown Incheon and to the hotel I'd booked via the internet. On arrival, I was ushered to the front desk where I filled in a registration form. The attendant was every so sorry that although I'd booked a deluxe room, none were available, so he'd upgrade me to the top level, which, it turned out, was called the Honeymoon Suite. However, as I discovered, no bride was provided!

Well, Room 301 was quite different from my previous digs. There were room slippers in the hallway, bathroom slippers outside the bathroom, and, yes, you guessed it, toilet slippers outside the toilet. The bed was quite large, and more than adequate, especially since I was bride-less. There was a sitting room, work desk complete with high-speed internet connection, large TV, small fridge, boiling and cold filtered water machine, and DVD and videotape player. And if one had left home without one's laptop computer, a full desktop system was provided. I connected to the outside world, immediately getting email from a variety of time zones. Then I phoned quite a few friends in Australia where it was school-holiday time and only 30–60 minutes ahead.

Soon after 5 pm, I ventured out. I stopped at the first convenience store to buy milk and juice. Just about every corner had a convenience store, which was, well, very convenient! There were many restaurants, some with outside eating areas. I finished up at one that showed pictures of their dishes with an English word or two of description. I ordered the pork and rice. It came within minutes and consisted of, yes, pork and rice, in a spicy sauce with seaweed and some chopped greenery "drizzled" on top. It was accompanied by a bowl of steaming miso (bean curd) soup and a tray of suspicious-looking vegetable matter, which I left for the waiter. Well, once I sat down and ordered, everyone wanted to dine there too, and soon the place was buzzing.

Once my food was served, I looked around for some utensils. ("Look in the bedside drawer," I hear you say, but, unfortunately, there was no such drawer.) Then I spied a metal cover over a hiding place built into the tabletop. I lifted the cover, and ... a big hairy, black rat jumped out right onto my plate. (Of course, I exaggerate; the rat was not that hairy nor really that big!) Actually, it was the cutlery drawer, and contained large metal serving spoons and flat metal chopsticks. I had to go through the whole collection before I found a right-handed pair! I took my time eating, writing in this diary, and generally listening to the chatter of the staff and patrons. The total cost of my meal was only $4.

By the time I went outside, it was dark, and there were flashing and fixed neon lights everywhere. I walked around some streets, which were crowded with restaurants, some of which were fronted by large tanks of fish, eels, and some critters that looked so odd I doubted even their mothers had loved them. A young man was walking a puppy on a leash, and my first thought was that he was headed to one of those "bring-your-own" restaurants! (Yes, Koreans eat dog meat!)

Just when I thought I was the only foreigner in the neighborhood, I spied a Caucasian couple headed my way. They lived in San Francisco where he was the pastor of a church. They were headed to Mongolia to dedicate a new Christian church their parish had helped found. By 7:30 pm, I was back in my room, having a tall glass of whole milk while watching some world news, presented by an Australian woman. The travel was catching up with me, so I filled the bathtub and then settled into a relaxing soak until the water went cold. Then I lay back in bed and read my novel. Lights out around 10 pm.

[Next day] I woke a few times during the night, but quickly got back to sleep each time. I had left a window open to let in some fresh air. Fortunately, it wasn't too noisy out, but I had my trusty earplugs in just in case. When I finally woke up, the room was so dark I thought it was quite early. However, my window shutters did a great job in keeping out the light. It was nearly 9 am, and quite bright out. I had a long and slow breakfast in my room, using up my emergency rations, milk, and juice. I hopped in the very large shower cubicle to find a 4-foot-high machine on the wall. After some detective work, I discovered I could have the water come out the overhead outlet, the hand-held device, or the body spray via the 2x3 jets that came from the waist up. What an experience!

Another Long Travel Day

Of course, more email had found me, so I took care of some business. Then I played some music and computer games. At 11:45 am, I was in the lobby checking out. I had just enough Korean currency to pay in cash. 10 minutes later, a driver pulled up and took me to the international airport, which was on the same large island as my hotel. There, check-in went smoothly, as did security and immigration, and then I made the long walk to the train station. ICN was only six years old and was a very pleasant airport.

I rode the automatic train to Terminal A, and then settled in at Asiana's Business Lounge. As I was going to get two meals on the flight to San Francisco, I declined all the nice-looking food and drinks. Many people were watching the large TV screens on which lots of discussion was going on regarding the US Vice-Presidential debate. I found a chair in a quiet corner, and worked on this diary.

At 1:20 pm, I left the lounge and headed for Gate 123 nearby. Five minutes later, we boarded United Airlines Flight 892, non-stop to SFO. I was seated in 11A with a great view just in front of the port-side engine of the Boeing 777. Champagne and juice were served. We took off, on time, at 2:10, and flew west out over the sea and surrounding islands. Then we went north and then east, not too far from the DMZ between the two Koreas. Where the land wasn't covered with residential buildings or small patches of forests there were rice fields. Soon after, we came close to downtown Seoul, a mass of business and residential high-rise buildings. From there it was east to Tokyo and beyond.

Service-wise, first came the usual bowl of nuts and a pre-lunch drink. Then came some smoked salmon, ham and cheese, and a salad. For the main course, on offer were pan-seared filet mignon with Hollandaise roasted tomato sauce, Cheddar cheese potato pie, and carrots and zucchini sauté; orange herb-roasted breast of chicken with demi-glace, Basmati rice, green beans, and red onions; or pan-seared sea bass with Korean anchovy sauce, steamed rice and spinach. I went with the Australian beef. It was adequate. For dessert, there was a selection of international cheeses or a chocolate tart, with port wine and coffee. I had the tart with coffee, but passed on the Reserve Port. Throughout the meal, I watched a movie that required no effort. "Get Smart," a remake of the popular TV series of the same name was, as I expected, incredibly lame. Next up was "Swing Vote." From the write-up, I didn't expect much; however, Kevin Costner's speech at the end brought a tear to my eye. The premise was the US Presidential election was tied, and it was up to the vote of one working-class man, Costner.

At 7 pm, Korean time, we crossed the International Date Line, just south of the Aleutian Island chain in Alaska. I moved my clock to Pacific Daylight Time, and started the same day over again. I put my seat all the way back and slept for two hours. And although I wanted more it was not forthcoming, so I filled out some travel expense reports while listening to music. Throughout the flight across the Pacific, a variety of snacks and drinks were on offer, as were hot noodles. An hour before landing, from 35,000 feet up, I could see the day breaking. Then, breakfast was served. The choices were onion omelet with mushroom cream sauce, Canadian bacon and sautéed potatoes, or a fresh seasonal fruit plate with creamy yogurt.

A Layover in San Francisco

Some 250 miles out, we started our descent through clouds. Due to a very strong tail wind, we were an hour ahead of schedule. 125 miles out, the first sunlight hit the plane, and the eastern sky turned orange. We crossed the coast some ways north of the city, and made our way down to the eastern end of the bay, and then on into SFO. Immigration went very quickly, and the agent welcomed me back home. My luggage came soon after and I dumped my bag on the transfer belt. Over at the domestic terminal, I went back through security and to United's Red-Carpet Club. Although I had a coupon to use a shower suite, I was informed that that was outside security some distance away. So much for that perk! I hooked up to email; as always, people were waiting to hear from me about one thing or another. I made a few phone calls; had some nice, flavored coffee; and took over a long lounge seat in a quiet back room. Unfortunately, sleep eluded me.

The Final Leg, Across the Continental US

After a 3-hour layover, at 11 am, I headed for Gate 90. Soon after, we boarded a Boeing 757 for Washington Dulles International. Flight UA872 took off at 11:39 with me in First Class Seat 2D. As soon as the wheels were retracted I closed my window shades, put in my earplugs, lay back my seat, and slept for four whole hours. It was wonderful! Of course, I slept through a lunch, but, frankly, I didn't need any more food.

I woke up about 30 minutes before landing, just in time to see the last of the orange sunset behind us. We approached IAD soon after 7:30 pm, a time when things were pretty quiet at that airport. I made my way to the main terminal on the mobile lounge, and my luggage was one of the first pieces out. I was soon in a cab racing towards Reston in the cool autumn breeze, and home around 9 pm, some 22 hours after I left my hotel in Korea.

After I unpacked, I made myself a hot cup of milk Milo (a chocolate drink popular with kids of all ages in Australia), took a very hot shower, and then watched the nightly US and world news. Lights out at 10:30 pm. Asleep at 10:30:30.

[Next day] I was wide awake at 2:30 am, so fixed myself a snack and worked in my office until about 7:30 am. Then it was time to finish off this diary. My weekend schedule was wide open, so I was free to sleep as the mood struck me.

The Trip Details

Here are the stages of the round-the-world trip:

  1. Taxi from home to IAD
  2. Washington DC Dulles (IAD) to Frankfurt (FRA), United Airlines, Boeing 767, 4,080 miles, 7:45 hours
  3. Frankfurt (FRA) to Milan Linate (LIN), Lufthansa, Boeing 737, 319 miles, 1:10 hours
  4. Taxi from LIN to my hotel
  5. Six nights in Milan
  6. Taxi from my hotel to LIN
  7. Milan Linate (LIN) to Frankfurt (FRA), Lufthansa, Boeing 737, 319 miles, 1:20 hours
  8. Frankfurt (FRA) to Seoul Incheon (INC) Lufthansa, Airbus A360, 5,324 miles, 10:30 hours
  9. Bus from Seoul Incheon (INC) to Seoul Gimpo (GMP)
  10. Seoul Gimpo (GMP) to Jeju/Cheju (CJU), Asiana, Airbus A320, 300 miles, 1:05 hours
  11. Hotel bus to hotel
  12. Five nights in ShiveVille Luxury Resort
  13. Hotel bus from hotel
  14. Jeju/Cheju (CJU) to Seoul Gimpo (GMP), Asiana, Boeing 737, 300 miles, 1:05 hours
  15. Bus from Seoul Gimpo (GMP) to Seoul Incheon (INC)
  16. Hotel car from ICN to my hotel
  17. One night in airport hotel
  18. Hotel car from my hotel to ICN
  19. Seoul Incheon (INC) to San Francisco (SFO), United Airlines, Boeing 777, 5,664 miles, 9:45 hours
  20. San Francisco (SFO) to Washington DC Dulles (IAD), United Airlines, Boeing 757, 2419 miles, 5:06 hours
  21. Taxi from IAD to home

In summary, over 14 days I flew eight flights with three airlines, and used six different airports in four countries. I flew in five different models of planes, had nine airline meals, flew 18,725 miles (29,860 kms) in 37:46 hours, and traveled a total of 63 hours. Of course, I crossed all 24 time zones, but remained entirely in the northern hemisphere, indeed, north of the Tropic of Cancer.

Once I was home, the good news was that I didn't have to fly anywhere for three whole weeks, after which time a 4-day trip cross-country to Los Angeles, California, will seem like a trip to the local shopping center, although it will still involve a 3-time-zone change. But then, it will be good practice for my up-coming trips to Japan in November, and Europe in December. I can hardly wait!

Signs of Life: Part 35

© 2024 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From time to time during my travels, I come across signs that I find interesting for one reason or another. Sometimes, they contain clever writing, are humorous, or remind me of some place or event. Here are some from trips to Australia and around Virginia, USA.


An ad for Telstra, one of Australia's phone companies.

Now I saw this in January of 2019, by which time I'd lived away from that country for nearly 40 years. And I had no idea what a frog cake was even though it was invented in my home state!

According to Wikipedia, it's "an Australian dessert in the shape of a frog's head, composed of sponge cake and cream covered with fondant (a form of icing)."

Apparently, they are quite popular, so sell rather quickly.


Now all dinky-di (genuine/true blue, that is) Aussies love eating Vegemite. Indeed, a classic Aussie sandwich has Vegemite, cheese, and lettuce. (My American-born son was the only kid in his class here in the US who brought one of these to school. And no-one ever stole his lunch more than once!)

Now the traditional approach is to spread that tasty yeast extract on bread, but why not have dry crackers in the shape of 'Strayla containg Vegemite and cheese?


A vanity license plate from South Australia.

Just the thing for that young tiara-wearing Princess!


A used-clothing store.


It's not often you see a blue cow wearing good-old Aussie Ugg boots.


It's sad to see a Mercedes whose owner can't afford to make the proper repairs. Also, the paintwork on the bonnet (US: hood) shows general neglect.


For those who have their priorities straight!

BTW, did you hear about the world's laziest man? He was lying by the river with his fishing pole in the water, with a big fish hooked. Some kids passing by told him to pull in the fish before it got away. He said he was too lazy, so they suggested that if he had some kids, they could do it for him. But then he wondered where he might find a pregnant woman!




License plate on the SUV of an enthusiastic off-roader!


After I'd paid the cover charge, I realized this was not quite what I expected the place to be. (It pays to read the small print!)


The sign gives absolutely no idea as to what the organization does, but according to their website, "Righters Group exists, first and foremost, to make America a better place—both for ourselves and our kids and grandkids. We do that by helping only the most deserving and effective conservative/libertarian clients raise the millions of dollars they need to fight for a freer future for all Americans.





Do you suppose Counsellor Crook is a defense attorney who defends crooks?



Oh, the Things that I have Learned! – Part 1

© 2024 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

In my formative years, I lived in rural areas on farms with no nearby neighbors, and with siblings at least five years older than me who, for some years, boarded away from home during the school week. I learned how to entertain myself and I developed a vivid imagination. I explored, I experimented, and I found a way to earn money.

I don't know when it happened, but at some point, at least subliminally, I realized that reading could lead to learning, learning could lead to doing interesting things, and doing interesting things could lead to a fulfilling life. I also recognized that no-one else—least of all, my parents—was going to help me on that path, so I'd have to go it alone. And I was in a hurry! While I went the formal education route, I never shied away from investing in my own learning outside any formal structure. And now, with access to the internet, the world really is my oyster!

I've always been curious. I want to know what's on the other side of that hill, or what's around the next corner. And I'm always interested in the bigger picture, at the national and international level. This is reflected by the fact that I am a traveler rather than a tourist. I'm more than happy to discover things for myself rather than have someone lead me to them. I'm always asking questions and talking to strangers, especially if they have well-behaved dogs.

I didn't always have confidence, but I was never afraid to make mistakes, even large ones, publicly! (As Nietzsche famously said, "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger!") And especially not when I was learning and trying out foreign languages as I traveled. With respect to getting noticed, I've long claimed that being different is far easier than being better, and I have no trouble whatsoever in being different.

I'm a life-long learner, but for most topics, I'm not interested in becoming an expert; I just want to know enough to have a basic understanding and to be conversant enough to discuss and ask intelligent questions, and to appreciate the knowledge and its impact.

When did I first consciously set out to learn something? It was always there in some form, but I didn't really recognize it formally until I was in my early 30s. While I was waiting to get permanent residency (my Green Card, that is) here in the US, I started researching topics that I thought I might learn and use as the basis of the consulting business I'd start once I could be self-employed.

While I certainly learned a lot of things in the 25 years prior to moving to the US, the vast majority of what I have done in the 45 years since then is based on skills and knowledge that have been self-taught after my arrival.

In this multi-part essay, I reflect on some of my areas of interest and experience, and what I've learned about them and myself along the way. And the learning is far from over; I set out to learn things small and large, on a regular basis, and that's one reason I don't ever expect to retire in any traditional sense. There is so much new and interesting stuff going on in my professional world that I want to learn, and if I can make money from it along the way, that's OK too, but that's not a requirement.

Note that while there are "Lessons learned" in each of the sections below specific to that section topic, at the very end, there are some general lessons that apply to many or all topics.

Reading for Pleasure

As far back as I can remember, I've liked reading. However, surprisingly, it wasn't until I was 60 years old that I got a public-library card and started borrowing books on a regular basis. (As I write this, in a typical week, I read 500–600 pages of fiction, along with 100–200 pages of nonfiction.) While I was in elementary school and high school, I borrowed the occasional book from the school's library. At the start of each school year, as my dad happily wrote out a check for school supplies, I bought all new textbooks and support materials, more than a few of which I kept until my late 50's. Later, I mostly bought books, especially those deeply discounted or second-hand.

[A favorite cartoon of mine shows Hägar the Horrible, the Viking raider, with his son, Hamlet, who's a lover not a fighter. Hägar asks Hamlet why he is always reading. Hamlet replies, "Because books tell you things!" In the next frame, Hägar takes Hamlet's book and holds it up to his own ear, but he can't hear a darned thing!]

Here in the US, we have a non-profit organization, Little Free Library, "that promotes neighborhood book exchanges, usually in the form of a public bookcase." I have a number of such bookcases in my town, and I see them regularly when I travel by car. In fact, I am so eager to get books that I carry spare books in both of my cars to exchange whenever the opportunity arises.

For details of my reading history and book ownership, see my essay "October 2010: Books by My Bed."

Lessons learned:

  • I love printed books, and I love reading them. And while I do read a lot of reference material on-line, I have little interest in reading fiction or certain reference materials—think encyclopedic books or atlases—that way.
  • When looking at prospective novels to read, I generally reject them if any of the following are found, regardless of the storyline: Chapters longer than 20 pages, very narrow margins, small font size, passive writing, or very long paragraphs.
  • During high school, given the material, the teaching approach, and my very young age (I finished Year 12 a week before I turned 16!), I developed a distaste for literature. More than 50 years later, I still feel the same way, and that's OK with me!
  • When I stay in someone else's house and they have books, I always browse through them, looking especially at topics that are new/unknown to me. It's good to occasionally read outside one's preferred genres!
  • I've become a huge fan of Wikipedia, and a regular donor towards its maintenance.

Writing for Pleasure

I came to writing much, much later than reading! I've never kept a daily diary, and when I left Australia in 1979 and traveled in Asia and Europe for five weeks on my way to the US, I never made any notes of that trip. (Forty years later, my essay describing that trip, "June 2019: Travel – From Adelaide to Washington DC," was written entirely from memory!)

The first time I wrote anything personal that was non-trivial was a diary covering my 2-week trip across southern Chile and Argentina in 1991, at age 38. I wrote in a medium-sized, spiral-bound notebook, and I glued in all kinds of things like plane and bus tickets, postcards, receipts, and admission tickets. I continued this habit for about 10 years until I got my first electronic device with which I could travel, a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) and, later, a small laptop computer (see my essay, "June 2011: Just Me and MiniMe: Traveling with Technology). In 2023, I used MS Word's speech-to-text facility to transcribe my paper diaries into an electronic form, which I then linked many items to Wikipedia.

In 2012, I started thinking about all the places I'd lived. After a short while, I got so much information in my head that I started typing notes on my computer. A bit later, I thought that maybe, just maybe, I'd flesh it out into an autobiography. After sleeping on this idea for a few weeks—which allowed me to look beyond the romantic aspects of such an endeavor and for reality to set in—it still seemed like a good idea, despite the fact that I knew it would be a lot of work. It was, but it was worth it. It ran 125 pages, and covered the first 25 years of my life, up until the time I moved to the US. (More than a little of that diary has appeared in autobiographical essays on my blog.)

Lessons learned:

  • I love to write, although it's all technical or about personal experiences. I've never tried writing fiction, and my writing rarely contains dialog.
  • One early morning, while lying in bed in Germany, jetlagged, I came up with an idea for a series of short pieces, each with an accompanying photo, built around the travels of an inanimate object. I occasionally come across the notes I recorded at that time, but I have not yet turned them into anything concrete. That said, given the right motivation, I might have some fiction in me!
  • Despite my early ruination with literature, on very rare occasions I have written some credible poetry.
  • Despite having written many thousands of pages, I have never, ever been interested in learning how to type. I'm strictly a hunt-and-peck guy, which works for me. As a consequence, unlike some other prolific writers I've met, I've never suffered from repetitive strain injury (RSI).
  • One of my greatest takeaways about writing was from Strunk and White's well-known book, "The Elements of Style." It was, "Less is more." Don't write more words than you need to describe a situation!

In 1995, during a 4-weekend university English course, I discovered written essays, and then went on to appreciate spoken and video versions thereof. I also found that I could write essays. In fact, when I started my blog in 2009, I adopted the essay form for each installment.

My (extensive) experience in writing for publication is covered in the next section.

Writing for Publication, Editing, and Publishing

For the past 40 years, I've been writing for publication, either as a paid feature writer or columnist, or as the editor of formal IT specifications. Along the way, I dreamed up the idea for a new publication and was its founding editor, and later I was the editor and publisher of a quarterly journal. For details of these activities, see my essay, "February 2022: Oh the Things that I have Written."

Lessons learned:

  • There is nothing quite like a deadline to get the creative juices flowing. While sometimes struggling to get started on a piece, more than a few times it finally took off and was so long it had to be broken into two or even three parts!
  • Following the adage, "A picture is worth a thousand words," in technical writing, I've found that a visual aid such as a not-too-long-or-complicated computer program, a table, or a figure can be the key to writing understandable narrative. While it might take a while to get the right illustration, once found, the explanatory text easily follows.
  • A lot of people can write well but can't deliver on time. A lot of people can deliver on time, but their material is mediocre or worse. It's a rare writer who can consistently deliver quality material in a timely fashion!
  • Books on the mechanics of writing often stress the need to write, rewrite, and rewrite again. I have never followed that advice (which, I think comes mostly from teachers of writing rather than from successful writers themselves). For a technical piece for which I have a deadline, I write it, I proof it once for content accuracy, and once more from an English-language perspective. The proofing stages might take place over some days, which gives the piece "time to bake." Then I ship it. If you look at things you wrote much earlier, you'll always find ways to tweak (maybe even improve) it, but is it good enough as it is for its intended audience?
  • The shelf life of a publication matters. What goes into printed books can have a very long lifetime and can't be amended. However, magazines are "throwaway" materials; you read them the week they arrive or in the Doctor's office. Of course, having all kinds of publications online changes that, both in lifetime and the ability to make changes.
  • The choice of page-layout options is important regarding things like font size, typeface, whether lines are right-justified, and whether bad line- and page-breaks exist. Though rarely used in most writing, nonbreaking spaces help to make writing aesthetically pleasing to read. (See my essay, "December 2011: Making Good-Looking Documents.")
  • Understand and use your word processor's grammar- and punctuation-checking options.

[Another favorite cartoon of mine is from Shoe, in which all the participants are birds, working in a newspaper office up in a tree. The editor asks a staff writer how his column is coming along, to which the writer replies, "It's all finished except for the words!" I can certainly relate to having an empty page not too long before a deadline.]

See my essay, "April 2013: Standards – The Secret Life of a Language Lawyer."

Coming to Grips with English Grammar

Having attended a 1-teacher school in my early years, with 28 students in seven grades being taught simultaneously, I never got a solid grounding in English grammar and punctuation. And by the time I got to high school, it was assumed that I had one. Unlike US liberal arts universities, in Australia in the 70's, one did a 3-year degree, specializing in one's major from day 1, with no general education classes (such as English composition).

To me, grammar was an awfully dry subject to learn as an adult, unless one had a purpose, and for the longest time, I didn't. In any event, as a writer-for-publication, I had editors whip my submissions into shape. However, in 2012 (at age 59), I got into "formal English" mode, and started researching and writing about punctuation and grammar for my blog. (The 7-part series ran from June 2012 through October 2017.) I became so interested, I had to guard against having missionary zeal!

Prior to that, I had at least some need to understand grammar when I started learning Spanish and German. It's challenging to learn the grammar of another language when you don't know the grammar of your own!

Lessons learned:

  • I love the US university liberal arts model partly because of its emphasis on helping students to have better written and oral communication skills.
  • I love Patricia T. O'Conner's "Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English."
  • While ending a sentence with a preposition is frowned upon in the British-English world, it is not in US-English. That said, when I find myself about to speak in that manner, I often turn it around in my mind before I say it. And I automatically avoid that in my writing, at least as often as it makes sense. I'm reminded of the time Winston Churchill—a great writer and orator—was accused of ending a sentence with a preposition. He replied something like, "You are correct, Madam; that is something up with which I will not put!"

Dabbling in Foreign Languages

See my essay, "November 2011: A Little Foreign Language Goes a Long Way."

My first foray into learning a foreign language was teaching myself German from a set of cassette tapes. I had no real purpose, it was rote learning, and I couldn't ask questions. It was not very successful! In any event, no-one seemed to actually use the recorded phrases in real life.

My first formal course involved 30 hours of introductory Spanish over 10 weeks with three hours each Saturday morning. It went very well, and, soon after, I started traveling in Latin America to try it out. Next up, was a similar course in German, but it turned out to be taught in German with materials in German. I did OK, but only because I bought a supplementary German grammar book in English. I then went back for a second class in Spanish, but I didn't much care for the teacher's style, nor the teaching materials.

Then just for something completely different, I set out to learn basic spoken Japanese from a book written in English and using Romaji, a way of writing Japanese using a Latin script. And all without speaking it or hearing it spoken. It was quite straightforward, and when I was first able to actually use it, it went quite well.

Over the years, I've looked a bit at Russian (Cyrillic alphabet), Greek (Greek alphabet), Dutch, and French.

Lessons learned:

  • One needs to be realistic about the effort needed to learn a language as an adult. Each week, can you learn and remember 20 new words and the basic conjugations of 5–10 new verbs?
  • Almost all my language learning has been self-taught by reading, trying it out, and asking questions. Most people who have learned a language don't use it that often, and as a result can understand more than they speak. I'm the complete opposite. I can speak far more than I understand. To get good at it, one must not simply learn the mechanics, one must master comprehension (which I have not), and that requires lots of listening.
  • I don't do well at all in a language immersion class. I need the materials and teacher to at least start in English.
  • I don't care for language labs that involve recording and playing back one's voice. I'd rather be out there "living it and making my own mistakes."
  • I want to be able to communicate rather than be fluent.
  • When I started looking at Japanese, my first writing system that did not use Latin letters, I quickly decided that up to a point, it is OK to speak a language without being able to read or write it. (Technically, that is being illiterate!)
  • While German has three genders, Spanish has only two, which is still one too many! And so, when I discovered that Japanese has no gender, no articles, no plurals, and no verb conjugation, I was ecstatic. (Of course, they complicate things a great deal when it comes to reading and writing.)
  • My German grammar textbook tells me, "There are eight common ways to form a plural in German." Really? I don't even want to think how many uncommon ways there are!
  • I like to be correct, but when one learns how to say in perfect Japanese, "I do not speak Japanese." that can confuse the listener.
  • Those foreigners have words for everything! Just when you think you know something, such as the words for dog or flower, you realize that you don't know the words for any breeds or species!
  • Even if you learn only a few words and phrases (along with a few cultural gestures), when you use them in the right context, they can gain you considerable respect.
  • No matter how much formal training you receive, in the real world, people do not use the same statements and questions you learned! You must learn the phrase patterns and be ready to substitute different nouns and adjectives (for example) in those patterns.
  • You need to stop thinking in terms of English. Spanish (and some other languages) has the adjective after the noun, which is OK. Russian has no articles. Their rules are not stupid or wrong, they are just different!
  • Not all written languages use an alphabet. (Japanese uses Kanji ideograms and kana syllabaries.)


For much of the past 40+ years, I've travelled extensively, both in the US and abroad. (See the trip diaries and travel-related essays on my blog, many of whose titles begin with, "Memories of ….") As I am not a fan of cold weather, each northern winter I look to go someplace warm for a few weeks (think, Central America or the Caribbean). However, several years before the Covid pandemic, I just couldn't get enthusiastic about going anywhere, not even on one of the many free tickets I had in my frequent-flyer bank. It occurred to me that after two million air miles (see my essay, "May 2010: Travel – Fly Me to the Moon") and 65 countries/regions, I'd had enough! That said, although I didn't get on a plane for three years after Covid hit, I have more than a few flying trips in the planning stages should I ever get motivated.

Travel has greatly improved my language skills, my geography and history appreciation, my understanding of government and local conventions and customs, and it inspired my long-running blog series, "What is Normal?"

For some details of my travel accommodation, see my essay, "December 2014: Travel – Oh the Places I have Stayed."

Lessons learned:

  • Normal is relative and changes every 100 miles (or 100 kms) in small and large ways. You would do well to understand this regarding travel in your own country, let alone travelling to another. It's OK that your normal isn't the same as other peoples' normal; embrace it and learn from it! (See the section, "What is Normal," below.)
  • When you travel, if you want things to be just like when you are at home, then perhaps you should stay there!
  • Always have a Plan B, even for Plan B! (See my essay, "January 2018: Having a Plan B.") This advice is applicable to life, in general. Don't ruin, or let others ruin your trip because you or they aren't flexible.
  • Being in possession of an airline ticket is no guarantee you will get on that flight, or any other flight!
  • For ideas of what I've learned about packing and luggage, see "January 2012: Travel – Packing and Preparing."
  • For my experiences with airports, see "January 2017: Travel – Airports."
  • Be prepared for unexpected wait times/delays at airports, train stations, and such, and take along an activity (such as a book to read or a puzzle to do), especially when traveling with kids.
  • Ranting at a hotel desk clerk, an airline employee, or other such travel-related person who is just trying to do their job won't do you any good. (He says, having witnessed firsthand numerous such confrontations, one of which ended in the offending woman being arrested at an airport and her small children taken away by child-custody services!)
  • Remember that you are an ambassador to your hometown, state, or country.
  • Always take some small sheets of aluminum foil with you. It has a myriad of uses and takes no space to carry.
  • When planning any trip, it's good to ask yourself, "How do I expect to be changed/improved by the experience?"
  • To really engage with the locals, stay with host families or rent rooms in private houses.
  • To learn a lot about a culture
    • Walk through a store or market and try to identify what everything is and how its name differs from what you are used to.
    • Sit in a public place and watch everyone go by.
    • Watch tradesmen at work. There are alternate ways of getting things done.
    • Hop on a local train or bus, ride to the end of the line, and spend some time in the terminating village/area.
    • Try to communicate with the locals.
  • While I'm a traveler rather than a tourist, each has its advantages and disadvantages. It's OK to be one or the other, or a hybrid of the two.
  • Traveling completely around the world on a few, long flights, going east is tough (I've done it four times.) I find it very challenging to pretend that each travel day is (sometimes significantly) less than 24 hours. Although I am in no hurry to do it going west, I suspect that would be much easier.

When someone says to you, "Why do you travel so much? We have everything we need right here, at home. We have no need to go anywhere else!", you might think it a lost cause to try and convince them of the benefits of travel. But if you are inclined to try, quote to them the following from Mark Twain: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." (He is widely recognized as having written the first modern travel book, The Innocents Abroad.)

What is Normal?

I've written extensively on this topic. For the first blog essay on that blog series, see "What is Normal – Part 1: Getting Started.")

Lessons learned:

  • Never say never about possible cultural differences and conventions. For example, some writing systems go left-to-right, top-to-bottom; others go right-to-left, top-to-bottom; while still others go top-to-bottom, right-to-left. While I don't know of any that go bottom-to-top, I wouldn't be surprised. Afterall, it's just a convention!
  • Just because you don't understand something doesn't mean it's silly or stupid. Saying so just displays your ignorance and/or unwillingness to understand (and even appreciate) an alternate approach or viewpoint.
  • I am very proud of never having been accused of being normal!


Without a doubt, the biggest lesson that I've learned in my 70 years on this planet, is that my three worst enemies are frustration, frustration, and frustration! What are yours?

See you in Part 2!

Travel: Around the World in a Daze – Part 1, Milan

© 2008, 2024 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

After traveling continuously on business for eight months, from late August 2007 until the end of April 2008, I gave myself most of the next four months off. (Frankly, I found that working was highly overrated!) Of course, all good things must come to an end, so there I was in September with duty calling.

This time, I was off on a 14-day trip around the world (take that, Phileas Fogg), taking in Milan, Italy, and then Jeju, Korea. Frankly, it would have been preferable to go west rather than east, but, unfortunately, that wasn't an option. There was one good bit of news, however; I was seated in Business Class all the way.

Sound exotic? Want to trade places? Be careful what you wish for as you just might get it. Being wide awake in a hotel room from 2–6 am is no picnic, and neither is trying to stay awake and be productive mid-afternoon in a business meeting.

Now, for a trip like this, one must prepare in advance. In my case, I had a 6-day "practice" trip, going west, to Yokohama, Japan, 13 hours non-stop each way. I got back from that little jaunt six days before this new trip started. So just when I'd nearly recovered from that big time-change, I was trading one direction for another. So, sit back, relax and join me for a whirl around the world.

Preparing for the Trip

In the morning, I took care of some domestic chores, and got house guests Lis and Ivor breakfasted and off for a day of sightseeing in Washington DC. After lunch, I spent a few hours on business, and then casually tossed a few bits of clothing into my case along with my slippers, toothbrush, and razor.

At 4:30 pm, my cab arrived, complete with a driver from Kathmandu, Nepal. Like me, he'd recently gotten U.S. Citizenship. We chatted on the way to the airport. It was a glorious afternoon, and we had the windows down. Things were rather quiet at United's Business check-in counter. I was offered an upgrade to First Class for the first leg for a paltry $650! I politely declined. (As it turned out, the plane was a Boeing 767, and First Class was only marginally better than Business as it had only reclining seats rather than convertible beds.)

I moved through security rather quickly, and caught the shuttle to Terminal D. There, I settled into a comfortable leather seat in United's Red-Carpet Club, and sipped a tall cup of English Toffee coffee. Next to me sat a mother and daughter from Florida. They were traveling to St. Andrews, Scotland, where the daughter was about to start a 4-year university program.

The Flight Over the Pond!

At 6 pm, I headed to Gate 15, where boarding of premier passengers began just as I arrived, so I walked right on-board. I settled into center-aisle Seat 6C. The configuration across was 2-2-2. I had legroom to burn! Flight UA953 to Frankfurt, Germany, took off on time, at 6:53, and soon we were headed northeast. Warm nuts and drinks were served once we leveled off. I watched the movie "Deception," starring Ewan McGregor and Hugh Jackman. It was time well spent.

Dinner was served during the movie. First came some smoked salmon and salami slices with vegetable crudité and sun-dried tomato dressing. That was followed by a garden salad with a choice of two dressings. The main course was a selection from three choices: mustard thyme-scented chicken with warm horseradish potato salad; braised short rib of beef with red wine demi-glace, with potato pancakes and oven-roasted root vegetables; or Boursin lasagna, alfredo, and marinara sauce. I chose the beef.

For the busy executive on the go, for whom time really is money, an alternative offer was "Express Dine – a 3-course meal served all at once at the time of one's choosing, to allow one to maximize one's time," don't you know. And while I'm certainly "on the go," I wasn't that pressed for time.

Of course, nowadays, international business seats come complete with power outlet, but the last thing I want to do on a plane is work on my laptop computer. Dessert involved some vintage cheese, port wine or cognac, caramel tiramisu, and tea or coffee. I was so disciplined that I declined them all.

Two and a half hours into the flight, we'd passed over New York City, Boston, and Bangor, and were headed out over the North Atlantic from the north coast of Newfoundland, Canada. Flight details were as follows: ground speed 574 mph, altitude 36,000 feet, outside temperature -61 degrees F, 1376 miles behind us and 2737 more ahead, tail wind 44 mph. Total flight time was estimated to be 7:36 hours.

I changed my palmtop computer from Eastern Daylight Time (GMT-5) to Western Europe time (GMT+1). As a result, I went from 9:45 pm Friday to 3:45 am Saturday in an instant. (My, how time flies!)

[Next day] I laid my seat back all the way—which was considerable in Business Class—and started counting sheep. Fortunately, I fell asleep almost immediately. Unfortunately, I was awake again in less than two hours. Ah, the joys of flying east overnight! By then, we were due south of Keflavik, the airport that serves Iceland's capital, Reykjavik.

As we flew over Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland, breakfast was served. It consisted of a rather large plate of assorted fresh fruit, a croissant with orange marmalade, and yogurt. I washed that down with three cups of quite decent coffee, taking in enough caffeine to counter the distinct lack of sleep. From there, we flew just north of Amsterdam, and on into Germany, passed Cologne and down to Frankfurt am Main (FRA), arriving more than 30 minutes early.

A Short Layover in Frankfurt

By the time I got settled into the Lufthansa business lounge, my eyes were getting heavy, which was not surprising since my body clock registered 3:15 am! I stocked up on some emergency rations and read some European newspapers. I was informed by a lounge hostess to allow one hour to get from the lounge through security and to my gate. So, I followed her instructions, only to find it took me 15 minutes. Don't you hate when that happens! Along the way, I got another stamp in my new U.S. Passport, and had to go through a security checkpoint.

At my gate, B13, I saw no plane, nor, indeed, any place for a plane. Boarding was announced in German and then English. We went down a flight of stairs, out the terminal and onto several articulated buses. Then we drove at least a kilometer around the airport. I thought perhaps we were driving to Milan! Eventually, we came to a Lufthansa Boeing 737. Mobile stairs lead up to the front and rear doors. It was a 2-class service, and I was in Seat 3A, which was severely lacking in the legroom department. However, Business Class had few passengers, so I moved to a bulkhead row with more room.

Flight LH3954 to Milan's Linate city airport took off on-time at 10:55 am with safety announcements made in German, English, and Italian. At 55 minutes, it was a short flight, and I didn't expect much service. However, those of us up front got a full-service lunch. With Oktoberfest coming up soon, lunch was a Bavarian affair with various cold cuts, kraut, gherkin, potato salad, cheese and bread, plus a small dessert and a piece of chocolate. It was very impressive. The flight attendant said it was best eaten with beer. There's nothing quite like being sedentary for 12 hours while regularly eating and drinking!

Soon, we were over the Swiss Alps, which had a light dusting of the new season's snow. Then came some deep valleys with farms, large lakes (including Lake Lugarno) and occasional small cities. On approach to Milan, we passed over lots of farms, all neatly organized with lots of tree borders. Quite a few still had cereal crops waiting to be harvested.

Arrival in Milan

We landed right around noon in very nice weather. The vast majority of the planes on the ground belonged to the Italian state carrier Alitalia, which was very close to going bankrupt. A bus took us the short distance to the terminal, and our luggage arrived very soon after, a welcome benefit of using a smaller airport. A few days earlier, a series of strike actions occurred in the local transportation section, but, fortunately, my flight and airport were unaffected.

I picked up a city map from the information desk, checked out my transportation options and coaxed €100 from an ATM. (The exchange rate had become more favorable in recent weeks, but it still made things expensive.) I hopped in a cab and headed to my hotel downtown, some 5 km away. It was sunny with a light breeze, and people were out driving and shopping. I chatted with the driver who asked if I was in town for the big fashion show. Although he was serious, looking at my hiking trousers and boots, I thought that was pretty darn funny!

After €14 and 15 minutes, we arrived at the hotel Mediterraneo at Via L. Muratori, 14. It was a relatively new building. I checked in and the desk clerk said that if I waited 10 minutes, he'd have housekeeping prepare me a room with a larger bed on account of my height. So that was a good start. The room rate was €203 per night, which included breakfast, and wireless internet service was available for an extra charge. (Hey, what do you expect for $300/night?)

My room was on a corner of the 7th floor and was well appointed. It came with a small refrigerator, work desk, comfortable chairs, French doors opening out over a yard, plenty of storage space, and a large bathroom complete with bidet and telephone on the wall by the toilet. From the windows, I looked out on roofs of classic orange terra cotta tiles. It all looked, well, so Mediterranean!

In the bathroom, I noticed a cord hanging down the wall by the bath, and thinking it activated the ceiling fan, I pulled it. As soon as I did, I noticed a small sign further up the wall, that said "alarme," and I knew I'd done something wrong. Sure enough, within seconds, the phone on the wall rang and the front desk was asking me (I suppose they were, as they spoke in Italian) if I'd had an accident in the bath. I politely informed them that everything was okay. (Considering how many accidents do occur in bathrooms, it seemed like a sensible idea; however, I'd never seen it before.)

By 1:30 pm, I was fading fast, and contrary to conventional wisdom, which says to stay awake on the day one arrives, I hopped into bed and was sound asleep in seconds. More than 3 hours later, my alarm politely informed me that it was time to get up. An easy thing to suggest, but it actually took me 30 minutes to get into a vertical position. While the sleep was good, the 30 minutes after one wakes up can make it seem like a bad idea.

I connected to the outside world, and, sure enough, email was waiting for me. One message was from a Japanese colleague, Toshiaki, who was just departing Tokyo's Narita airport, telling me he was on his way to Milan. Another from Hawaii told me that the U.S. Head of Delegation had been hospitalized and would not be coming to Milan this week. I hooked up my internet headset and made a few phone calls catching up with Astrid in Germany and Jenny back home. I had a selection of TV channels, most in Italian, but with several in German, one in French, and one in English, CNN International. There were also some music channels.

Around 7 pm, I ventured out. It was a quiet residential neighborhood with an occasional shop and restaurant. I found a large supermarket where I took my time looking in every aisle just to see the differences in products, packaging, and advertising. Between my basic knowledge of Spanish, German, and a bit of French, plus the pictures, I was able to figure out quite a bit. At the checkout, the woman was quite patient and helpful as I sorted through a large handful of Euro coins to make payment. On the way there and back, I looked at the menus of several restaurants.

Back in my room, I settled down to read and watch some TV while snacking on leftovers from my trip and cold drinks. Then I had a hot shower that was delivered via an extremely aggressive one-setting-fits-all massage shower head. That definitely left me feeling refreshed, if not bruised.

So, what was I doing in Milan? I was there to chair a 4-day plenary of committee ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 22, or, more simply, SC 22. This committee oversees the so-called ISO standardization of computer programming languages such as COBOL, Fortran, Ada, C and C++. From 1999 until 2007, I attended these plenary meetings as a U.S. Delegate, being U.S. Head of Delegation for the past eight years. Last November, I took over as acting chair for one year, and, this coming November, I'll start a full 3-year term. As chair, I'm no longer part of a National Body delegation, so I have to be impartial. We meet once a year, typically in September. Last year, it was in Singapore; this year in Milan, Italy; and next year, in Delft, The Netherlands. We try to rotate between locations in Europe, the Americas and the Asia/Pacific region, depending on offers to host. It's my job to find new hosts.

By 10 pm, I was starting to fade, so I pulled the heavy drapes closed, put in my earplugs and set my alarm. As I turned out the light, the clock on the TV read 22:22; an omen, perhaps. I'm sure I was asleep before 22:23. The travel experience thus far was good; no lost luggage, no delayed flights, some decent food, good service and I met some nice people. After the constant exposure to Italian, I was getting into the mood, and my hands were moving around "eager to get talking." It had been more than 10 years since I was last in Italy (in Milan, in fact), but all those useful words and phrases started coming back to me. Things like "prego," "grazie," "buon giorno," "ciao," "arrivederci," "Mama Mia," and, my all-time favorite, "What's a da matter with you Luigi?"

[Next day] Some 5½ hours later, I was wide awake, so I got up and got an international news fix while eating some emergency rations of cheese and crackers with cold whole milk. Just the thing for a growing boy. As is usual, more emails had come in overnight, including a message from Toshi that he'd arrived safely and was ready to meet me at noon to play tourist. Another colleague told me he was several hours away in Padua, but would arrive later that same day. I did a few logic puzzles on my computer (where "few" can sometimes translate to "no more than 100") to get my little gray cells stimulated, and then worked on this diary.

Out and About!

I tried to sleep again, but no such luck. At 11:30 am, I left my hotel to walk the 20+ minutes to Toshi's hotel. It had been two years since we'd last met, at a conference in London. He had been up for some hours, and had already toured the main downtown area, which included the Duomo (cathedral). So, we walked to a large castle and gardens, preserved for several hundreds of years. The weather was wonderful, sunny with a light breeze. We walked and talked, then sat and talked some more. Then we strolled through a whole street of food and craft stalls stopping for a cone of delicious hazelnut ice cream.

By mid-afternoon, I was fading, so we walked back to our respective hotels. There, I took a 3-hour nap, but felt worse when I woke up. At 6 pm, I met Sally, the Secretariat of my committee, who lived and worked in the heart of New York City. We went in search of dinner, but found that most restaurants were not open for another hour. However, we found one that had set up an outdoor cooking area, so we sat outside and ate there. The food was passable.

Back in my room, I made a few phone calls and played a lot of games on my laptop while listening to some albums of music (Amy Winehouse, you rock). Lights out at 10:45 pm.

Meeting Day 1

I slept for five solid hours, but, at 4 am, was wide awake. I caught some international news while snacking. From then through 6:45, I tried sleeping again, but mostly just lay there. Day broke around 6:30. At 7:30, I was seated in the breakfast area, and Sally joined me.

At 8:30, we headed off to the local office of the Italian Standards Organization, UNI, a 15-minute walk away. Once again, the weather was pleasant. Many of the conference attendees were already there when we arrived. To allow delegates to find the meeting place, I delayed starting until 9:15. Six countries were represented; Denmark, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, UK, and US. Delegates from China and Germany were also registered, but failed to show. The group totaled about 20 people.

Mid-morning, we broke for coffee, tea, and juice, and then continued until 12:15 pm, when we broke for lunch until 2 o'clock. Having had a big breakfast, I stayed in over lunch working on a resolution I'd discussed with various delegates earlier that morning. Mid-afternoon, we had another break. This year's meeting agenda was somewhat slimmer than those of previous years, so we got through a lot of items. So much so, that it looked like we might finish a day early. We broke for the day at 4:45, and Sally and I walked back to our hotel stopping to buy some groceries along the way.

At 6 pm, I walked to McDonalds for a light supper while sitting in the glorious sunshine. Nearby, I bought a travel pouch from a street vendor as mine was wearing out from constant use. Back in my room I caught up with world news and email and worked on this diary. By 7:15, I was fading. Lights out at 8:30, asleep at 8:30:05!

Meeting Day 2

I slept soundly until 2 am, at which time, I snacked, watched some world news and handled some email. I also phoned home, as it was a convenient hour (8 pm, EDT). At 3:30 am, I went back to bed hoping to get more sleep, and, surprise, I slept until my alarm went off at 7:15. Soon after 7:30, I was eating breakfast. At 8:30, Sally and I headed out. It was quite fresh out and a bit colder than the day before. In any event, we got some vigorous heart exercise during the 15-minute walk. Automobile traffic was steady, but not too busy, especially as we didn't have to cross any major roads.

We had invited a guest from Geneva, Switzerland, to speak, and he arrived at the start of the day, so after a small amount of administrivia, we spent the morning with his presentation and resulting question and answer session. That was followed by a 2-hour lunch, and a short afternoon session. Members of the resolution drafting committee then met to refine the text of the resolutions we'd agreed to thus far.

To the onlooker, it might seem that we spend a lot of time on breaks, and long lunches and dinners, and we do. However, it has been my experience that a lot of important business gets done during such social settings. People run ideas by each other, and they get to know each other. And those who develop a personal relationship with each other are more inclined to behave more civilly towards each other when in conference mode.

I walked back to the hotel in the late afternoon, and the sunshine was very pleasant. I worked a bit while some classical music from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" played in the background. It was altogether quite civilized.

Just before 6 pm, I walked to a hotel nearby where I met our invited guest. As we visited a number of restaurants in the area, we found none were open until 7, so we sat in a park and chatted. We'd met once before, when I was in Geneva earlier this year, but only briefly. After 7, we made the restaurant rounds again, and settled into a small place. More than 4 hours later, we had covered a lot of personal and business ground while managing to not eat or drink too much. I walked back to my hotel. Lights out around 12:30 am.

Meeting Day 3

After five hours of solid sleep, I was wide awake, although I did try for more. I was down at breakfast by 7:30 am, and off to my meeting. We'd made such good progress that we were a day and a half ahead of schedule, so I proposed, and the attendees agreed, that we'd finish at lunchtime that day. Those who could change their travel plans did so, while the rest of us planned to take a bit of time off and/or work from our hotel rooms.

The main business of the morning was to take the wording of the resolutions the drafting committee had produced, and to modify that wording to get the most consensus from the National Bodies present. While unanimity is preferred, the chair (me) determines if or when consensus has been reached. (For example, a 4-to-2 split would be considered consensus.)

I adjourned the plenary around noon, at which time a US delegate gave a short technical presentation to those who wished to stay. After that, the delegates said their goodbyes and departed. Three of the four Japanese delegates asked if I could join them for lunch, and I agreed. One of them was a long-time colleague; I met the other two for the first time at this meeting. We had a most enjoyable time. The €10 set menu was cheap and included two substantial dishes and non-alcoholic drinks.

I walked back to my hotel in glorious sunshine, but once I saw my bed, I remembered how short of sleep I was, so, at 3:15 pm, I lay down for a "quick" 3-hour nap. And when my alarm sounded at 6:15 pm, I set it for yet another half hour of sleep.

At 7 o'clock, Sally and I went to another hotel to meet some others for dinner. Friend and colleague John had brought his partner, Vicki, and they were having a vacation. We ate a variety of Italian dishes. Given the very low prices of the pizzas, I assumed they wouldn't be very big; however, when mine arrived, it hung over the sides of my very large plate. It was most enjoyable, but a struggle to complete. Over two hours, we covered a lot of topics not the least of which was the up-coming U.S. Presidential election. Back in my room, I handled some email and watched an Italian variety show with lots of singing, all in Italian. Lights out at 11 pm.

An Unexpected Free Day, Sort Of

I was awake at 5 am and got my world news fix, which, mostly involved the meltdown of the U.S. financial system. Senator McCain had suspended his campaign and wanted the first debate postponed, and had urged Senator Obama to do likewise. Given McCain's weakened position of late and his less-than-stellar ability at public speaking, my initial reaction was that his was a diversionary tactic to try and make him look more presidential without having to debate. As such, I was very happy when Obama responded that he was not inclined to postpone the debate. After all, a president would have to handle multiple non-trivial events at the same time, so why not deal with the financial crisis and have the public debate?

I worked a while on this diary, and then planned the day's business activities. With an unexpected free day, I would be able to take care of most, if not all, of the action items I'd taken on as a result of the plenary. I had a leisurely breakfast, sipping hot tea with honey while working on an especially difficult Sudoku puzzle.

Back in my room, I settled into work until about 11 o'clock, when a petite chambermaid came to clean my room. She was ever so sorry to interrupt me, but after a series of "pregos," "grazies," and smiles, we agreed that she could come in and clean and make-up my bed. While she cleaned, I pulled on my boots and went for a short walk in the sunshine to pick up emergency rations at the supermarket. I took care of all the major food groups: whole milk (latte intero), apricot juice (albicocca), salted peanuts (arachidi con sale), and chocolate with hazelnuts (cioccolato al latte con nocciole).

I worked until 2 pm, snacking along the way. Then I darkened the room and lay on the bed without setting the alarm, to give me a chance to well and truly catch up on sleep. For the next four and a half hours I drifted in and out of slumber, and when I awoke for good at 6:30, I felt the worst I'd been all week. So much for catching up! What's more, I'd caught a cold from the draft coming in my open window. Don't you just hate that when that happens!

Well, the best cure for tiredness is disciplined hard work, which I did for nearly six more hours, stopping for the occasional snack break and TV news fix along the way. At 12:15 am, I sent my last email, spoke to Jenny back home, and turned out the lights.

A Very Long Travel Day Begins

I was awake at 4 am, which excited me not at all. I soon got back to sleep but was awake again at 6. And despite further efforts to stay in bed, I was up, showered and down for breakfast at 7 o'clock. Although the food selection was very good, and the staff friendly, after six days, it was getting rather repetitive. And to complicate matters, I was stuck on more than a few clues in a crossword puzzle. Don't you just hate that when that happens!

Back in my room, I packed my bag, reorganized my computer bag, wrote in this diary, and did a bit more work. It was to be a big Travel Day: taxi to the Milan airport, plane back north to Frankfurt, plane west to Seoul, bus to the domestic airport, plane to a resort island, and, finally, bus to the resort hotel, with a change of day tossed in for good measure and some eight time zones to cross, a number of meals in flight and snacks in airline lounges. Is that something to look forward to, or what? (Still want to change places with me?)

I took care of some last-minute business email—the sun never sets on Microsoft—browsed some business news websites, and put on my long-distance traveling clothes, which looked remarkably similar to those I wear on short trips. There were my L.L. Bean hiking pants with zip-off legs, heavy socks and separate sock liners, loose-fitting shirt and jacket, and my trusty hiking boots, which were showing signs of serious wear.

At 10:15 am, I was at the front desk checking out. I pretended to faint at the size of the bill, but it was as expected; no nasty surprises or fines for pulling the emergency cord on the first day. Within minutes, my taxi appeared, and I was on my way to Linate airport. The sun had finally appeared. The driver spoke quite some English, so we chatted during the 15-minute drive down tree-lined streets. The fare cost €15, and I gave him my loose change as a tip. He protested, but took it anyway, and said that he should pay me for the English lesson.

I had arrived rather early for my flight, and planned to sit in the business lounge. However, the lounge was through security, but the check-in desks were closed until 11 am. So, I chatted with a young American woman who was also waiting. She'd tripped and broken her ankle some three weeks before just as she was about to leave. The doctor put a cast on her leg and prohibited her from flying for several weeks, so she had an unexpected extra-long stay.

The 11 am-time came and went, and around 11:15, a couple of Lufthansa staff ambled in, chatted with each other for a while, and, eventually, decided to deal with the long line of passengers, but only on their own terms. After all, this was Italy! "Are you in a hurry? Well, that's your problem." "You got a problem? I don't want to hear about it."

Although I was flying beyond Seoul, I made sure my bags would be unloaded there, so I could hand-carry them to the domestic terminal, especially as I wanted to catch an earlier flight, if possible. Security was very lame. Twice I walked through the detector, and twice it beeped. The security guard simply shrugged his shoulders and waved me through.

Yes, there was a business lounge, but one run by a contractor for a number of airlines. It was comfortable, but had only the basics on offer. I passed the time reading several European newspapers. I made a cup of tea, but, unfortunately, the temperature of the so-called hot water was about that of gnat's urine, which, as everybody knows, is certainly nowhere near boiling (fortunately for the gnat).

At 12:25 pm, I went off to Gate A4, a short walk away. Our bus arrived, and, after a few minutes, we went up the stairs of a Lufthansa Boeing 737. Once again, I had been assigned Seat 3A, but as Business Class was almost empty, I moved to 1A for the extra legroom and better view out the window in front of the wing.

Flight LH3955 took off, on time, for the 1-hour trip north to Frankfurt. Soon after, we were over the Swiss Alps and then Germany. Once again, a very nice lunch was served, complete with chocolate mousse in chocolate syrup and, yes, with two pieces of chocolate on the side. That took care of three of the major food groups.

Another Layover in Frankfurt

On the ground, we were bused to a terminal, which was, of course, nowhere near the terminal I needed next. On the way, I saw planes from Morocco, Iran, Portugal, Cyprus, Australia, the U.S., Germany, Lebanon, Singapore, South Korea, Kuwait, Canada, Thailand, Japan, Turkey, Denmark, Croatia, Italy, China, Israel, Tunisia, Poland, Brazil, and Qatar. And I saw another half dozen planes whose tail insignia I couldn't identify. In the terminal, the main flight board showed 100 different flights departing in the next three and a half hours. FRA certainly is an international hub, not to mention a small city.

As I had three hours to kill before boarding my next flight, I took my time getting to Terminal C. Then it was through passport control and security. Once again, the alarm went off, and, this time, my U.S. Passport was found to be the culprit.

I located the Lufthansa Business Lounge, right next to my gate, and was welcomed outside the entrance by a smiling hostess, who immediately noticed my Prussian bearing. She checked my documents and noticed I was a Star Alliance Gold member. As a result, she invited me to the First-Class lounge next door. Well, that hadn't been my plan, but I relented just that once. And guess what, I was the best-dressed hiker in the whole lounge, fresh from Milan with the latest in grunge fashion!

Not having eaten or drank for at least 45 minutes, I made the rounds of the kitchen area. (After all, it would be a shame to be in the First-Class lounge and not take advantage of it.) The hausgemacht (home-made) turkey soup looked so inviting I just had to try it. And after I loosened my belt another notch, I sipped several cups of milchkaffee. On offer were complementary wines from Austria, Italy, Germany, France, and South Africa. (Meanwhile, those poor people in the Business Class lounge had to make do with only three choices. "Let them eat cake, I say!")

The lounge windows were well insulated, so while I had a bird's eye view of the traffic on one busy runway, it was like watching a silent movie. And my fellow lounge mates were subdued, probably because, like me, they were in transit waiting for the next long haul. An interesting oddity was that all the external gates were carrying advertising for the Royal Bank of Scotland, one of Europe's largest banking conglomerates. It just didn't look right for a German airport, but, I guess, that's globalization in action.

While I was working on this diary, I overheard two people talking in a familiar accent. I asked them if there was an Aussie reunion in the lounge. The man was with Siemens pharmaceuticals ordinarily based in Australia, but currently living in Shanghai, China. He was on his way back there. The woman was also in the medical science field, working for a Boston-based company while working on an MBA degree. She lived less than 10 miles from me in Northern Virginia. She'd been installing an instrument near Munich, and was on her way home to Washington DC. We exchanged travel stories over drinks until their flights were called. By then, I was 30 minutes away from boarding myself, but when I checked the monitor, my flight had been delayed 30 minutes. Apparently, our plane was late arriving. Don't you just hate that when that happens!

At 5:40 pm, our flight was called, and I went down the stairs to find, yes, another bus waiting. We took the scenic tour of the airport, finally pulling up alongside a behemoth 4-engine Airbus A340-600. After some time, an agent came on the bus to tell us that the plane was still being cleaned, and we'd have to wait on the bus 15 minutes. We waited for that and more, and then two large busloads of passengers leaped out like sheep released from a pen, and raced to two narrow mobile staircases. No priority boarding there today; it was every man for himself. Once we were seated, the pilot said the good news was we were all ready to go. The bad news was we'd lost our air traffic control slot and would have to wait another 15 minutes. I saw a pattern developing.

Stay tuned for the second half of the trip, to, in, and home from South Korea!

Signs of Life: Part 34

© 2024 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From time to time during my travels, I come across signs that I find interesting for one reason or another. Sometimes, they contain clever writing, are humorous, or remind me of some place or event. Here are some, mostly from a trip to Australia.


Yes, you read correctly, poo, as in poop! Fortunately, no poo was actually included.


Like a good Aussie, I "gave it a go" and it was quite tasty!


When you are driving on the Barrier Highway, you can indeed be "a long way from anywhere," as this sign shows. And although the distances are in kilometers, that's still a bloody long way!


And speaking of driving in remote areas, it can be a long time between drinks!


Some interesting additions to signs west of Broken Hill, Australia.


Perhaps this place is run by aging outlaws!


As they say, "Whatever floats your boat!"


Well, I've certainly heard of the term "Every Tom, Dick and Harry," but I'm thinking these guys are not just anyone!


When you are really hungry, there's nothing quite like a feral feast!


BTW, a quandong is a fruit found in the Aussie desert.


Just the place to catch up with the local news.


An unusual name for a wine-producing company. According to the founder, "I want to create wines that are a tribute to the strong women and men in my family. With five matriarchs and their amazing rogue husbands it isn't hard."


This Renmark, Australia, business rents houseboats.


Ah, now I see where I went wrong!


Of course, James makes hand-crafted rings and other jewelry.


That sounds quite serious!


More words of wisdom.


He never was famous like his older brother, the Lone Ranger.


Odds and Ends: Part 3

© 2023 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.


Continuing on from Part 2, here are this month's topics:

  1. Certain popular products or ideas can have a name associated with their place of origin. For example: Chianti wine is from that region of Italy; champagne is from that region of France; muenster cheese is named for the city of Munster in Alsace, France; and port wine for the Portuguese city of Porto. Sienna is a yellow-brown pigment whose name comes from the city of Siena, Italy, where it was once made. To read about attempts by the EU (and others) to protect such regional names, click here and here.
  2. In Part 2, I mentioned the term Ides of March. Apparently, the Roman calendar had two other special times of the month: the "Nones (the 5th or 7th, nine days inclusive before the Ides) and the Kalends (1st of the following month.") Apparently, "debtors had to pay off their debts on this day. These debts were inscribed in the kalendaria, effectively an accounting book."
  3. Speaking of things Roman, consider Roman numerals. I see them in film copyright notices and in their lowercase form, as the numbers of pages of front matter; that is, those pages before page 1 of the first chapter. Try doing arithmetic using them; for example, adding 3 and 4 (as in III + IV) which results in 7 (that is, VII). It definitely is challenging, partly because the digits 1–9 can involve 1, 2, or 3 symbols.
    Separately, I'd only ever seen 4 and 9 written as IV and IX, respectively. However, a few years ago, I saw IIII and VIIII used on some clock faces.
  4. Who knew that earthquakes swarmed! According to Wikipedia, "an earthquake swarm is a sequence of seismic events occurring in a local area within a relatively short period of time. … In the summer of 1996, a swarm of 4,070 earthquakes was recorded at Lōʻihi. At the time this was the most energetic earthquake swarm in Hawaii recorded history."
  5. In the Good Old Days of English law, if one caused another person's death, one had to forfeit some piece of personal property, which was referred to as a deodand, from the Latin phrase "deo dandum," which means "to be given to God."
  6. According to Wikipedia, Darby and Joan "is a proverbial phrase for a married couple content to share a quiet life of mutual devotion."
  7. If you read much English or American history, you'll come across the now-defunct political factions called the Whigs (England, US). The term grew out of the word whiggamore.
  8. Lettuce is a member of the sunflower family. Apparently, some people eat lettuce soup!
  9. Say "Kiwi" and one tends to think of the adjective describing something as being from New Zealand. But is that where kiwifruit originated? According to Wikipedia, "Kiwifruit is native to central and eastern China. … In the early 20th century, cultivation of kiwifruit spread from China to New Zealand …" Also known as Chinese gooseberry, it really isn't a gooseberry. Click here to learn all about the dessert Pavlova, and how it often is topped with kiwifruit.
  10. Each section of some citrus fruits (such as orange, mandarin, and lemon) is called a carpel.
  11. Throughout the UK and parts of the British Commonwealth, the term loo is well-known as a slang term for a toilet. But how did it get that name? Wikipedia, states, "The etymology of loo is obscure" and then goes on with theories of its origin. It also mentions the euphemism crapper! Before we had an indoor toilet, I well remember my mother having a guzunda, an Aussie term for a chamber pot, which "goes under the bed!" Have you ever had to spend a penny?
  12. We're all familiar with the idea of a cartoon. But did you know, that "The concept originated in the Middle Ages, and first described a preparatory drawing for a piece of art, such as a painting, fresco, tapestry, or stained glass window."
  13. "The English word 'cash' originally meant 'money box,' and later came to have a secondary meaning 'money.'"
  14. "The term graveyard is often used interchangeably with cemetery, but a graveyard primarily refers to a burial ground within a churchyard."
  15. Mark Twain was the pen name of American writer Samuel Langhorne Clemens. According to Wikipedia, "He maintained that his primary pen name came from his years working on Mississippi riverboats, where two fathoms, a depth indicating water safe for the passage of boat, was a measure on the sounding line. Twain is an archaic term for "two" … The riverboatman's cry was "mark twain" or, more fully, "by the mark twain", meaning "according to the mark [on the line], [the depth is] two [fathoms]", that is, "The water is 12 feet (3.7 m) deep and it is safe to pass.""
  16. Apparently, in the good old days, it was not uncommon to hire people to applaud various kinds of theatrical performances. Such people are referred to as claqueurs, while a group of them is a claque.
  17. If you are a fan of boxing, you may know about the [Marquess of] Queensbury Rules, which according to Wikipedia are, "The code of rules on which modern boxing is based, the Queensberry rules were the first to mandate the use of gloves in boxing."
  18. Thirty-odd years ago, I was touring Finland when I came across a townhall clock that looked quite odd; it took me a few minutes (no pun intended) to notice that it had no minute hand! Although I have not been able to pin down when a minute hand was first used, it appears to have been in the late 1400s, but not widely accepted for another 200 years. The second hand seems to have debuted in the late 1500s. Of course, race clocks for certain Olympic events (such as swimming) show hundredths of a second as well.
  19. A cultural oddity from ancient Rome involved the naming of sons. The first four were given ordinary names, but after that, they were numbered, as in Quintus (fifth), Sextus (sixth), Septimus (seventh), and so on.
  20. There I was, chatting with several of my wives over afternoon tea, when the discussion turned to the idea of a woman having multiple husbands; that is, she practices polyandry. Now while polygamy is generally understood to involve one husband and multiple wives, strictly speaking, that is polygyny. Polygamy includes either of those arrangements. As the old joke goes, the big downside with having multiple wives is that generally means having multiple mothers-in-law!
  21. You likely know the modern meaning of propaganda. However, according to Wikipedia, "Originally this word derived from a new administrative body of the Catholic Church created in 1622 as part of the Counter-Reformation, called the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (Congregation for Propagating the Faith), or informally simply Propaganda."
  22. The term sterling has come to mean "high quality," as in sterling silver, the UK's Pound Sterling currency, and "She gave a sterling performance!"
  23. Just when you thought the digits on your hands were not especially interesting, you find they each have names: thumb: (Click here to learn about thumbs-up and thumbs-down.); first finger: index finger, forefinger, pointer, and more. (I especially like lickpot!); second finger: middle finger, tall man, and more. (Can you snap your fingers using other than your middle finger?); third finger: ring finger and more; and fourth finger: pinkie, baby finger. Not all cultures have the convention of wearing a wedding ring on the ring finger, and while many do, they might use the other hand. Back when I was learning Spanish, I discovered that "big toe" was translated as "dedo pulgar del pie," the thumb of the foot!
  24. The first few islands discovered by a Spanish explorer in 1542 in the current country of the Philippines were collectively called Felipinas after Philip II of Spain.
  25. As you may know, catgut is a fiber made from animal intestines and often used to make strings for instruments and tennis racquets, and in surgical sutures. And, no, it doesn't come from cats!
  26. Have you seen your neighborhood phrenologist lately? No, then perhaps it's time! According to Wikipedia, "Phrenology is a pseudoscience which involves the measurement of bumps on the skull to predict mental traits." It would be interesting to know what such a specialist thinks about Sponge Bob Square Pants' head!
  27. The spinning Jenny is well known as a significant contributor to the Industrial Revolution in the textile industry. But just who was Jenny? Read here for the possible origins of the device's name.
  28. Just what are the differences between an alligator and a crocodile? It seems that they are very similar except when they are not! While crocodiles can live in salt water, alligators keep to freshwater habitats. During a trip to the Amazon River in northern Peru, having nothing better to, I agreed to go out at night in a dugout canoe looking for caiman alligators. Well, we found them and got quite close to some. They were about a meter long. Right about that time I decided to keep my hands very much inside the canoe; I also helped bail the water out that was leaking in through a hole the guide had previously tried to plug with mud! On a vacation back to Australia, with friends, I visited Crocodile Dundee Country, Kakadu National Park, that is. There, we camped several hundred meters away from the river where crocodiles lived, and that made me a bit nervous. But as the locals told us, "She'll be right mate! They usually don't go too far from the water!"
  29. The word hibernation comes from Latin and means "passing the winter."
  30. From time to time, I come across references to a geographic feature called "The Solent," but I've never been able to remember just what it is. According to Wikipedia, it's "a strait between the Isle of Wight and mainland Great Britain." It's a very popular place for sailing. On one of its shores lies Portsmouth, the home port of much of the Royal Navy's surface fleet
  31. While browsing in a 100-year-old encyclopedia, I came across the terms Mohammedan and Mohammedism. Apparently, these were replaced by Muslim and Islam in the 1960s. When I attended Year 12 at a high school in rural Australia, my featured novel was Shakespeare's Othello, who, of course, was a Moor. That may well have been, but it wasn't for many years that I learned just what a Moor was!
  32. I live near the mid-Atlantic coast of the US, and in the autumn, we get hurricanes (which Wikipedia calls, a tropical cyclone). Thankfully, tornados do not come to my area. However, in Australia, my country of birth, they have cyclones. Then I experienced typhoons (which Wikipedia calls, a mature tropical cyclone) in South Korea and Japan. And, apparently, there are anticyclones and, of course, monsoons. Frankly, I think the differences are just a lot of wind!
  33. KLM is a well-known international airline. But just what do the initials stand for? Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij; Royal Dutch Airlines, of course, in Dutch! The Dutch King, Willem-Alexander, piloted more than a few KLM flights.
  34. I studied chemistry for three full years in high school, and for six years after, I studied and worked in that field. As such, I was more than a little familiar with the Periodic Table, which is an organized list of all the chemical elements. And while the names and abbreviations for many elements were obvious to a native English speaker, more than a few were not. For example, sodium (Na from the Latin natrium); potassium (K from the Latin kalium); iron (Fe from the Latin ferrum); copper (Cu from the ancient Greek Cyprus); silver (Ag from the Latin argentum); tin (Sn from the Latin stannum); tungsten (W from the German wolfrahm); gold (Au from the Latin aurum); mercury (Hg from the Latin hydrargyrum); and lead (Pb from the Latin plumbum). In the spirit of "What is normal?," what do non-English speakers call these elements? To the Spanish speakers, Na is sodio, K is potasio, Fe is heirro, S (sulphur) is azufre; Ag is plata, and Au is oro. The French call N (nitrogen) azote and Sn is étain. The Germans have H (hydrogen) as Wasserstoff, N as Stickstoff, and O (Oxygen) as Sauerstoff. While the Russians use the Latin-lettered abbreviations, they spell their names in Cyrillic; for example, H is Водород, O is кислород, and Au is Золото. Now, do the Japanese and Chinese versions go top-to-bottom and right-to-left like their writing systems? Actually, NO! So, it seems that while the abbreviated names are universal, the spellings of each full name are localized. Fortunately, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) is at the forefront of standardizing such things.
    For a (humorous) list of fictional elements, materials, isotopes and subatomic particles, click here.
  35. I was reading a short piece about when tobacco from the Americas was first introduced to Europe. That led me to Wikipedia, which stated, "Nicotine is named after the tobacco plant Nicotiana tabacum, which in turn is named after the French ambassador in Portugal, Jean Nicot de Villemain, who sent tobacco and seeds to Paris in 1560, presented to the French King, and who promoted their medicinal use. Smoking was believed to protect against illness, particularly the plague." I must say that I have not met any smokers who suffer from the plague, so perhaps that much is true!
    I'm reminded of the man who swore that the regular use of nicotine patches helped him quit smoking. He put one over each eye, so he couldn't find his cigarettes!
  36. We all know that the color of a piece of orange fruit is, well, orange! However, that's an English convention. Apparently, prior to that, according to Wikipedia, "the color was referred to as "yellow-red" (geoluread in Old English) or "red-yellow"." Apparently, no word rhymes with orange.
    It seems that oranges somehow made it from Asia to the Province of Orange in France where they were grown. William III, King of England, was the Dutch William of Orange, whose title came from that province.
  37. The current meaning of cynic is "1) A person who believes that all people are motivated by selfishness. 2) A person whose outlook is scornfully negative." However, originally it was related to "A member of a sect of Ancient Greek philosophers [call Cynics] who believed virtue to be the only good and self-control to be the only means of achieving virtue."
  38. What does it mean to have "catholic tastes?" It's an adjective that means universal or all-encompassing
  39. If you've ever watched a western movie, you've probably heard of the word posse, a group of armed men brought together by a sheriff to go after some bad guy(s). It was derived from the Latin posse comitatus.
  40. So, who was the first to fly an airplane? While the American Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur, are widely credited as being the first, in December 1903, there are claims of earlier efforts. These include Indian Shivkar Bapuji Talpade (1895), German-American Gustav Weisskopf (1901 and 1902), American Gustave Whitehead (1901 and 1902), New Zealander Richard Pearse (March 1903), and Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont (??).
  41. A lot of people claim to be concerned about the number of calories in some food or drink, yet what percentage of them actually know what a calorie actually is? According to Wikipedia, "The calorie is a unit of energy that originated from the obsolete caloric theory of heat. For historical reasons, two main definitions of "calorie" are in wide use. The large calorie, food calorie, dietary calorie, or kilogram calorie was originally defined as the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. The small calorie or gram calorie was defined as the amount of heat needed to cause the same increase in one gram of water. Thus, 1 large calorie is equal to 1000 small calories." OK, so what does that really mean? Frankly, I find it all very confusing, and since I don't "count calories," I've never bothered to find out. Follow the link above for more information than you care to know.
    Similarly, I've made it to age 70 and take no medications, all without knowing what vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates, and gluten are!
  42. One of the things English speakers tend to take for granted are the names of old places, cities, and countries. Indeed, some have different current names in other languages; for example, the Netherlands (commonly referred to incorrectly as Holland) is known to the Spanish as Países Bajos and the French as Pays-Bas (both meaning Low Countries); to the Germans France is known as Frankreich; and Germany is known variously as Deutschland, Allemagne, and Tyskland. But what about all those Roman places? I first became aware of this when riding a bus between Amman, the capital of Jordan, and Jerash, to see the latter's ancient ruins. As I looked out the window, I saw a sign for the University of Philadelphia. Although I was not familiar with a university by that name back in the US, I thought one might exist and had a campus in Jordan. Au contraire! Back in the day, Amman was called Philadelphia! According to Wikipedia, "In the 3rd century BC, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, Pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt, rebuilt the city and renamed it Philadelphia." For a list of cities founded by the Romans, with their modern-day names, click here.
  43. For a trip to London, England, I took along a whole lot of 1-pound coins and some banknotes I had left over from previous trips. Imagine my surprise when many of them were rejected by the ticket machine on the Underground! Apparently, the powers that be decided that coins and banknotes older than a certain date were no longer accepted as legal tender, although they could be exchanged for newer versions at any bank. It turns out that this is not uncommon in other countries as well. However, according to my 2017 World Almanac, "All US currency issued since 1861 remain valid and redeemable at full face value."
  44. According to Wikipedia, a demonym "is a word that identifies a group of people (inhabitants, residents, natives) in relation to a particular place." For example, someone from Asia is Asian; from Pakistan, a Pakistani; from Turkey, a Turk; and from New York, a New Yorker. Some of the non-obvious ones are, as follows: Costa Rica – Tico/Tica, St. Kitts – Kittitian, Monaco – Monegasque, US state of Indiana – Hoosier, Australian state of New South Wales – New South Welshman, US city of Albuquerque – Burqueño/Burqueña, and the English city of Bath – Bathonian. Follow the link for many examples, including where an Angelo comes from. Now if you are travelling in Crete, the locals are Cretans, which is definitely not to be confused with cretins!
  45. When I was growing up in rural South Australia, we got our medical prescriptions filled at a chemist shop. Then once I was exposed to American TV and movies, I learned about pharmacies and, heaven forbit, drug stores! Then as I started traveling around Europe, I kept seeing signs for Apotek (from Latin and Greek), and which is related to apothecary. Now more than a few Aussies complain about the undue influence of American language and customs in their life, but when I noticed that their chemist shops were quietly renamed pharmacies, no one seemed to recall having been forced to do so. Even the famous British chain Boots the Chemist has been rebranded as Boots!
  46. If you want to read about an impressive economic organization that for 400+ years transcended political boundaries, take a look at the Hanseatic League, which "was a medieval commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Central and Northern Europe. Growing from a few North German towns in the late 12th century, the League between the 13th and 15th centuries ultimately encompassed nearly 200 settlements across seven modern-day countries, ranging from Estonia in the north and east to the Netherlands in the west and Kraków, Poland, in the south."
  47. It's not uncommon to read in the newspaper about a military coup, which involves a (usually bloody) overthrow of a government. The term coup is shorthand for the French coup d'état, and can be used in business or other situations in which some sort of regime or practice is toppled, or a group is taken over. A palace coup is an interesting variation.
  48. If you ever traveled in Western Europe, you may well have come across Thomas Cook, a global travel company, founded by a man of that name in 1841. My introduction to them was through their travelers' checks, which we all used until credit cards and cash machines came along. Apparently, they "took their last trip" when they went out of business in 2019.
  49. So, how did the Pacific Ocean get its name? Originally called Mar del Sur (Southern Sea), later, it became Mar Pacífico (peaceful sea). Quick now, name the world's five oceans! And when a person "sailed the seven seas," just where did they go?
  50. If you've read about or seen photos or movies featuring young western women in the 1920s, you will have come across the term flapper. According to Wikipedia, "Flappers were a subculture of young Western women in the 1920s who wore short skirts (knee height was considered short during that period), bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behavior. Flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes in public, driving automobiles, treating sex in a casual manner, and otherwise flouting social and sexual norms." That article also discusses the possible origins of that term.
  51. The Hungarian capital, Budapest, is actually made up of three cities: Buda and Óbuda (Old Buda) on the west side of the Danube River, and Pest on the east side. They were combined into one, Budapest, in 1873.
  52. From Wikipedia, "The term lunatic derives from the Latin word lunaticus, which originally referred mainly to epilepsy and madness, as diseases thought to be caused by the moon."
  53. The expression, "To send someone to Coventry" means to completely ignore them. I'm thinking "to unfriend them" is a modern-day equivalent. Coventry, a cathedral city in England, is where legend has it that Lady Godiva reportedly rode naked through the streets.
  54. The term paisley refers to a pattern appearing on textiles. Its origin in Persian, and its name comes from the Scottish town of the same name. Paisley patterns became very popular in the 1960s, partly due to the Beatles. I confess to once owning a number of paisley neckties.
  55. In the 1980s and 90s, each time I arrived at a European Capital's main train station, I was "welcomed" by an Andean flute and drum band. At that time, the pan flute was very popular. (See Zamfir, a Romanian musician.) According to Wikipedia, "The pan flute is named after Pan, the Greek god of nature and shepherds, often depicted with such an instrument." (Apparently, Peter Pan's name was inspired by Pan.)
  56. Speaking of Pan, the word panic is also tied to him, as he was thought to be the source of mysterious sounds that alarmed people and animals.
  57. The provincial and territorial borders within Canada were mostly fixed by 1905. However, Newfoundland remained a separate dominion of the British Empire until 1949 when it became a province. (Its name was changed to Newfoundland and Labrador in 2001.) In 1999, a big part of the Northwest Territories was spun off to form the new territory, Nunavut. (Click here to read about Canadian Confederation.)
  58. According to Wiktionary, a pariah is a "person despised and excluded by their family, community or society, especially a member of the untouchable castes in Indian society." It is a Tamil word for a drum that lower-caste people played.
  59. Cashmere is wool that grows under the outer hair of a cashmere goat. One popular garment made from it are pashmina shawls. The word is an Anglicization of the Himalayan region of Kashmir where such goats come from.
  60. The current concept of parole—provisional or supervised release—has an Aussie connection: "Alexander Maconochie, a Scottish geographer and captain in the Royal Navy, introduced the modern idea of parole when, in 1840, he was appointed superintendent of the British penal colonies in Norfolk Island, Australia."
  61. When Captian James Cook came upon the present-day Hawaiian Islands in 1778, he named them Sandwich Islands in honor of his patron back in merry old England, the Earl of Sandwich.
  62. In May of 2023, I had houseguests from Australia, and I told them that if they brought me some of my favorite Aussie lollies (US: candy, UK: sweets), I'd let them sleep inside the house. They did, and I did! I was surprised to find that Chicos were renamed Cheekies in 2020, in the spirit of political correctness.
  63. During my time in the Andes of Peru and the Patagonia across Chile and Argentina, I have had a number of close encounters with llamas, alpacas, and guanacos. Far less common, however, are vicuñas. Apparently, these can only be shorn once every three years, and in Inca times, "it was against the law for anyone but royalty to wear vicuña garments." 
  64. There I was driving down the highway in Red Cliffs, Victoria, Australia, when I came across a beautifully restored, and very large, tractor called Big Lizzy. When it was built more than 100 years ago, it likely was the biggest tractor in the world. The feature that made it so useful was its Dreadnaught wheels, the forerunner to caterpillar tracks, as used on heavy earth-moving equipment and military vehicles.
  65. I am definitely a fan of ketchup (also known as catsup, or in my native South Australia, tomato sauce [whose rhyming slang name is "dead horse"]). I've only ever eaten or even come across ketchup made from tomatoes. But according to Wikipedia, "early recipes used egg whites, mushrooms, oysters, grapes, mussels, or walnuts, among other ingredients." In my high school days, the standard cafeteria lunch was a meat pie or pasty with sauce!
  66. The game of chess has a special move (called En passant) in which a pawn captures an opponent's pawn but does not occupy that pawn's square afterwards!
  67. You may well have heard of the Boer War in South Africa, which involved the British and the Dutch settlers. It turns out that this war actually refers to the Second Boer War (1899–1902), while the First one occurred 10 years prior. When I visited the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, I was surprised to find that country referred to the conflict as The South African War instead. For a moving Australian film, set in that war, see Breaker Morant.
  68. When we read or hear about the speed of ships and planes, we often hear the term knot. According to Wikipedia, "The knot is a unit of speed equal to one nautical mile per hour." Clearly, it's not a metric measurement. A nautical mile is 6,076 feet, as compared to an ordinary or statute mile, which is 5,280 feet. The name comes from knots that were tied in a line on a chip log.
  69. It is well known that some animals go into a suspended state during winter, and that state is called hibernation. Recently, I read about reduced activity at other times of the year, and then only for hours or days rather than months. This is called torpor, a word that was new to me. A related term is aestivation.
  70. Beef stroganoff is a well-known beef dish served in a sauce. It's sometimes called beef Stroganov, as it was named after one of the members of the influential and wealthy Russian Stroganov family.
  71. The term Gothic is used in various contexts, but apparently there is a negative side to it. Wikipedia states, "The term Gothic architecture originated as a pejorative description. Giorgio Vasari used the term "barbarous German style" … to describe what is now considered the Gothic style, and … he attributes various architectural features to the Goths, whom he held responsible for destroying the ancient buildings after they conquered Rome, and erecting new ones in this style."
  72. Great Britian was created by the Acts of Union 1707, when the Scottish and English Parliaments agreed to merge. The Acts of Union 1800 brought Ireland into the fold. Then after Ireland became independent, in 1927, we saw the creation of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
  73. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V is reported to have said, "I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse." I first learned of this quotation when visiting a Danish friend who had retired to rural Denmark to run a Christmas tree farm. His local tongue-in-cheek version was something like, "I speak Latin to my priest, French to my lover, German to my butler, and Danish to my dog!"
  74. I came across a sentence that was claimed to be a Native American saying, "He understands death is simply a place toward which he has been walking since his birth." Hmm!
  75. A thing commonly used when playing board games and games of chance is a pair of 6-sided dice, with each one having the numbers 1–6 on its sides. [Apparently, dominoes and playing cards evolved from dice.] Strictly speaking, dice is the plural of die, but many people use dice to mean singular as well. Did you know that the opposite sides of a die add up to 7?
  76. Growing up in Australia, I learned about a carat having something to do with the purity of gold in a ring. As it happens, 24-carat gold is pure gold. Now the term carat (abbreviated c or Ct) is British, while the US version is karat (abbreviated k of Kt). This is not to be confused with a carat (abbreviated ct), which is used for measuring gemstones and pearls.
  77. In recent years, here in the US, the term Kwanzaa has started to appear on calendars. According to Wikipedia, it "is an annual celebration of African-American culture from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a communal feast called Karamu, usually on the sixth day. … Kwanzaa was first celebrated in 1966."
  78. Various folklore tales use the term seven-league boots, which apparently allow their wearer to take strides of seven leagues per step. With a league being about the distance a person could walk in an hour, that's a pretty big step!
  79. Metrology is the scientific study of measurement. Clearly, this should not be confused with meteorology, the study of weather.
  80. I recently came across the idea of deep time, a concept in the field of geology.
  81. Now and then we hear about a river running upstream! This happens near a river's mouth with a tidal bore, when the leading edge of the incoming tide forms a wave. The only one I've seen in person is near Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, where twice a day 100 billion tons of water is forced up the Petitcodiac River from the Bay of Fundy. The resulting wave can be up to a meter high.
    I was recently reacquainted with this phenomenon when I watched a video involving the pororoca, a bore that runs up the Amazon River in Brazil, can be as high as 4 meters, and which flows very fast! The destruction due to erosion along the banks was something to see.
  82. In the US, a dessert menu might have "pie à la mode," which means "pie with ice cream." However, in the original French, this term means "fashionable" or "trendy," and is used in contexts other than cooking. For more than you want to know about French words and expressions in English, click here.
  83. The Judge said to the man in the dock, "You are accused of being a cruciverbalist; how do you plead?" So, what was the man's alleged crime? Being a person who constructs or solves crossword puzzles!

Travel: Driving to Michigan

© 2010, 2023 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

In August of 2010, my wife, Jenny, and I headed out on an 11-day driving trip that would take us to parts of the US states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and West Virginia.

From Home to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

We were up early and had a light breakfast. We packed our luggage, took the back two seats out of Jenny's Dodge Caravan, and loaded everything in. At 10 am, we departed Reston via Route 7 west to Route 15 north. At Point of Rocks, we crossed from the state of Virginia into Maryland and continued north to Frederick where we caught Interstate Highway 70 (I-70) west to Hancock. Then we turned north crossing into Pennsylvania. That first 100 miles took us two hours.

We then traveled west on I-76, which is a toll road. None of the rest stops on that section had any picnic tables, so we had our picnic lunch in the van at a gas station. The weather was great for driving; we had the windows down the whole way with the sun mostly behind us. The countryside was green with forest most of the way.

By the time we exited I-76, we'd paid $8.40 in tolls. From there, we ventured west on I-376 on into Pittsburgh. However, the tunnel through the hills at the exit of the downtown area was closed for repair for the weekend, and it took more than 90 minutes to go about five miles due to the detour, single lane, and lots of traffic. We'd gotten some hotel discount coupons from a visitor center along the way and made our way to the Knights Inn in Bridgeville, just west of Pittsburgh. Originally, we'd planned to go back into the city for the evening, but with the tunnel closure and subsequent traffic jam, we decided to stay in and eat another picnic for supper. The hotel room was cheap ($56), very comfortable, quiet, and came with a microwave and fridge. As is the case with many cheaper hotels around the country, it was operated by an Asian Indian family.

A short, light rain shower fell as we lay on our beds reading novels. We watched a bit of TV, and I connected my laptop computer to the free Wi-Fi link, took care of mail, and surfed the internet. Lights out around 10 pm. By the day's end, we'd driven 260 miles.

On to Cleveland, Ohio

We were up around 8 o'clock and lay in bed reading. A light breakfast was included in our room rate, so we went down to the breakfast room for that. We loaded up the van, checked out of the hotel, filled the car with gas, and hit the highway at 10 am going north on I-79, west and north on I-376, and then west on I-80 where we crossed into Ohio. Along the way, we crossed over the Ohio River, which starts in downtown Pittsburgh at the confluence of the Alleghany and Monongahela Rivers. We stopped at an Ohio State visitor's center to pick up some hotel discount-coupon books and other information and had a cup of tea and picnic lunch at a table in the shade. The weather was wonderful.

We exited the freeway onto local road 422, which ran through some small towns. We stopped at a yard sale where we bought a flowerpot (50 cents) and a toolbox ($1). Along the way, there was forest, forest, and more forest! Using the hotel books, we located a very cheap hotel near Cleveland Airport and arrived there around 2 pm. It cost only $46 for two people, and included continental breakfast, free Wi-Fi, an indoor pool, and hot tub; what a deal!

We spent the afternoon at the RainForest Center and adjoining Zoo, which, combined, cost $10 per person. The RainForest Center was two acres on two floors, enclosed in a glass-domed room and walls. It featured animals; birds; flowers from Africa, Asia, and South America; and a huge waterfall. A digital clock counted the world's population at a rate of 165 births per minute while another counted the number of acres of rainforest destroyed in the world at a rate of 120 acres per minute. These were very sobering statistics.

We crossed over to the zoo and started at the large Australian exhibit, which included animals, birds, and a recreated outback station (ranch) house. There was also a sheering shed complete with Merino lambs and camel rides. [Camels were taken to the Outback for the early explorers, and many went off to breed in the wild. Now, more than a few are exported to the Middle East for racing!] From there, we walked around the African Savannah, through a butterfly house, to the veterinary medicine facility, and on to the rhinos.

On the way home, we looked for possible eating-places, and ran across one of our perennial favorites, Denny's. So, at 6:30, we pulled in for supper. They had new $2, $4, $6, and $8 menus, which were great value. One of their selling points is that they serve breakfast 24 hours a day. I had biscuits (AU: scones) with white sausage gravy and a side order of four sausage links. Jenny had chicken wraps. It was all very tasty and cheap, and we had a very nice young waitress. As we went to pay, we found that we were eligible for a 20% discount for "old farts" (although we were only 56 and not retired, we were members of the American Association of Retired Persons).

We were back in our room by 8 o'clock, and once we removed our shoes and lay on our beds, we hardly moved. Later, I started this diary while listening to an instrumental CD by an Aussie composer. We read novels until lights-out at 10:30. We'd driven 160 miles.

A Visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

We slept quite well until 8:30 am, and thanks to the very heavy drapes the room was pitch black inside. The continental breakfast was served until 9 am, and it was spartan even from a Spartan's point of view! 'Nough said. Back in the room, I checked my email to find a message from the guys ripping out the old bathroom and kitchen in one of our rental properties. The good news was they had started the project on time. The bad news was that they had discovered that the original plumbing was in poor shape. C'est la vie!

We left the hotel soon after 11 and drove downtown right to the waterfront where we found an all-day parking station for $10. After a 5-minute walk, we were in the "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," which opened 15 years ago. Admission cost us $22 each. We walked around the main exhibit floor for several hours looking at guitars, cars, clothes, and other memorabilia from numerous well-known artists including Elvis. And we listened to many song snippets at various audio stations as we learned of the artists who had influenced the more well-known stars.

Next, we moved to a theater with a very large screen to watch several hours of a 4-hour concert filmed earlier that year. It featured many of the hall's inductees all performing at the same place. We came to it near the end when Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel were playing. After a few minutes break, the video re-started, and we watched a lot more. The seats were comfortable, we got a stage-side view, the price was right, and the volume was LOUD! We really enjoyed the performances.

We looked at more exhibits on other floors before sitting in another theater watching a 60-minute video that covered the highlights of all the hall's inductions, which started in 1986 well before the hall was completed. While we were familiar with most inductees, there were a few we'd never heard of. The Hall closed at 5:30 and we spent a bit of time in the gift shop. After six solid hours of high-volume Rock and Roll, our ears were ringing a little.

Just outside the Hall, we waited to cross the street when a woman drove through the intersection and caused an older guy riding his big motorcycle to fall off on the ground. I went over to help him up and gasoline was pouring out of a broken fuel pipe. After a short sit, he was able to get up and walk around, and his bike did not seem damaged otherwise. [Ohio doesn't require riders to wear helmets, and we'd commented earlier that no matter whose fault an accident was, the rider would always come out worst off.]

On the way home, we found our way to Denny's again; however, our waitress from the night before was not on duty, so we had to "break in another one!" I had studied the menu the night before, so was ready to order immediately. I had ground steak with BBQ sauce, gravy, grilled red and green peppers, mashed potatoes, green beans, onion rings, and slices of garlic bread. It was just like Grandma used to make! Jenny had an omelet with biscuit and white sausage gravy. The meals were big enough that we took the excess food home.

Back in our hotel, we found that housekeeping had passed us by, so we made our own beds. Oh well, we had gotten an extra cheap rate anyway. I worked on this diary and we both read our novels. Lights out at 10:30.

On to Michigan

We were awake soon after 7:30 am, and we read in bed for a while. For breakfast, we finished up leftovers from the night before, and they tasted just as good. By 9:15, we were loaded and checked out. We stopped off at a gas station near the hotel to fill the cooler with ice. From there it was a straight run north to Highway 6, which ran east/west along the southern shore of Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes.

Light rain fell intermittently as we drove west. There were many very nice houses along the coast, most of them with huge front yards covered in grass and large trees. There was very little traffic. After some time, we were among cornfields and vegetable gardens. We stopped in a quaint little town called Vermillion where we rescued some "treasures" from a consignment shop and bought some books and videos at a Goodwill charity shop. Just west of Sandusky, we drove north on a peninsula up to a ferry that took day-trippers to one of several islands on the lake. We found a small picnic area in a local park and ate lunch there while planning for our time in the next state.

On the outskirts of Toledo, we waited in a long line of traffic at a light when a woman wanted to get across in front of us from the on-coming lanes. So, we backed up a bit and let her through, for which she thanked us by waving and smiling. She pulled across in front of us and then started to cross the next lane when a guy came racing along from behind us in that lane and hit her car dead center. There was a loud bang, and the impact pushed her vehicle across the road and up into a garden on the side. I dare say both drivers' days were ruined, although neither appeared to be injured. If we hadn't had been kind to her, she would have avoided the accident!

We drove north on I-75 and crossed the border into Michigan soon after. It was our first time back in that state for 30 years, when we lived in Chicago in 1979–80. We stopped at the Visitor's Welcome Center to pick up a hotel coupon book, and after studying that, we found a favorite chain that had a property right near where we wanted to be, so we headed for that location.

We arrived around 4 pm and they had a nice room with a king-size bed for $45 + tax. The desk clerk was a very pleasant and efficient young woman. Free Wi-Fi was included as was breakfast, a daily newspaper, and tea/coffee in the lobby. We unpacked and made a plan for the next day. Then we snacked in the room while watching some TV. Later, we took care of some email and read our novels. Lights out at 10. We'd driven 170 miles.

A Visit to the Henry Ford Museum

We slept soundly waking at 8 am. The room rate included a breakfast voucher for $3.50 per person at a local restaurant, so we walked there for our morning exercise. Leon's Diner was busy and a typical neighborhood place with regulars. The menu had a wide selection and cheap prices. I had bacon and eggs with toast and hot tea, and Jenny had eggs with sausage, ham, and hash-brown potatoes.

We departed the hotel around 9:30 and after a short drive to the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, we parked at the Henry Ford Museum. We'd visited it more than 30 years ago, but didn't remember many of the details. We bought a combined ticket for the Museum and the adjacent Greenfield Village, which we'd visit the next day. The museum contains a collection of Americana all housed under a 12-acre roof. The main exhibit areas are Manufacturing, Furniture, Agriculture (tractors and implements), a futuristic house promoted in 1946 as the "way of the future," Power Generation, Liberty and Justice (including the bus on which the black woman Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man; we sat in the bus itself and heard of that historic event), Early Aviation, and Transportation (including the car in which President Kennedy was shot). On one exhibit, I read the following text: "American woodworking machinery became famous in the late 1800s as fast and labor-saving, but very wasteful of wood. In many ways, Americans today continue to have similar attitudes: willing to sacrifice natural resources for convenience and labor-savings." An interesting observation. After seven hours, we'd covered the place from one end to the other pretty much without a break. It was a short drive back to our hotel where we were very happy to put our feet up, have a cold drink, and read our novels.

Around 7 pm, we headed out to a Bob Evans family restaurant nearby to inspect their menu. I had a wonderful chicken quesadilla fully loaded with tomatoes, peppers, cheese, onion, and salsa with sour cream. Jenny had the homemade meatloaf, gravy, and mashed potatoes on a slice of Texas toast. We had great service from all the staff. Back in our room, we read, and I brought this diary up to date. Lights out at 10:30.

A Walk Back in Time

We slept late and took our time getting going. Once again, we enjoyed breakfast at Leon's Diner, and then we drove a few miles to Greenfield Village, another of Henry Ford's pet projects. In 1929, he opened the museum we'd visited the day before. He also decided to gather in one place the original buildings (or in some cases, reproductions), in which numerous notable people had lived or worked. As he was a good friend of Thomas Edison, he recreated Edison's New Jersey research labs and Edison's lab in Florida that was next to his holiday home. Ford also brought the county courthouse from Illinois, in which Abraham Lincoln had practiced law for many years, and the poet Robert Frost's house, Ford's own birthplace, the Wright Brothers' house and workshop, and many others. All of these were put in Greenfield Village. The land occupied by the Village is more than 250 acres, but only 75-odd are in use for buildings and supporting gardens, farms, and animal enclosures. Some of the rest is being developed.

We spent five hours alternating between live entertainment, visiting houses and workshops, and riding around the park. We saw a 30-minute song-and-dance review of Broadway shows; listened to concerts of women, men, and co-ed groups; and heard stories told by a man posing as Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. A fleet of Ford Model T vehicles (sedans, touring cars, and small buses) took people on 10-minute tours around the village. We paid $4 each to ride in a 1914 touring car, one of the nearly 15 million Model Ts built using the same engine design. For another $4, we rode a steam train around the whole compound, and while it was enjoyable, there certainly was a lot of coal soot. Quite a few locomotives and carriages have been restored and put into service. The last thing we did was to listen to a live 15-minute presentation by a 1904-era Federal Forest Ranger. He was dressed in a uniform from the time period and carried a .45-caliber Winchester rifle in a saddle scabbard and a matching revolver on his hip. His horse was named Catherine, and her breed was distinctly American.

On the way back to our hotel we stopped to resupply our emergency rations kit, and then we had supper in our room. I settled into a couple of hours of work to help pay for the trip. Later, we read and watched a bit of TV. Lights out around 10:15 after an interesting and educational day.

Back to Ohio

Once again, we slept late, then packed and checked out of our hotel. We ate our usual breakfast at Leon's Diner while reading the national newspaper. By 10:45 am, we were headed south on the freeway on the next stage of our trip.

It was great weather for driving, not too hot with the windows wound all the way down. We headed south on I-75 to Toledo and continued south for another hour. Then we went east on a state highway that took us through corn and soybean fields aplenty. After about 2½ hours, we stopped at a very nice rest area and had a light lunch at a table in the shade.

By 3 pm, we were in the metropolitan area of Columbus, the largest city and capital of the state of Ohio. We found a nice Red Roof Inn hotel with a great price. Our room was still being cleaned, so we waited 30 minutes in the lounge/breakfast area, sipping drinks and surfing the internet on the public computer. An ever so tiny chambermaid from Mexico finished making up our room, and we moved in with our gear. A microwave and fridge were included as was a large selection of cable TV channels, a continental breakfast, and all for $50/night. Jenny went off to work out in the exercise room while I worked on this diary.

Jenny met a woman who told her that the Ohio State Fair was on and would end the coming weekend. As we had never been to a state fair and we'd just been talking about the possibility of attending one sometime, we jumped at the chance. And, don't you know, as a local supermarket chain was selling $10-admission tickets for only $6, we bought tickets for the next day. On the way home, we stopped off at Pizza Hut for a salad and pizza. Lights out at 10:15 pm. We drove 190 miles.

Our Very First State Fair

The heavy drapes kept the room dark, and we slept through until 8:15 am. The hotel breakfast consisted of juice, tea, coffee, bread, and pastries, and a toaster was available.

We left the hotel in very nice weather and drove the five miles downtown to the fairgrounds. It had opened at 9 am, and as we arrived before 9:30, we got a parking place quite close to an entrance. Parking was very orderly with swarms of State Police everywhere directing traffic. After entering, we took the program and map, and sat for 15 minutes to see what was on when and where, and just how much there was to see and do. There was a lot to do with some events scheduled only once, others every few hours, and some running continuously. And the grounds were extensive. The fair is one of the biggest in the country and runs for two weeks.

As far as livestock went, we saw a lot of beef and dairy cattle, horses, pigs, sheep (including an Australian Shepherd dog and a Border Collie pair with five new pups), poultry, and many hundreds of rabbits. We also watched some judging. For entertainment, we watched a family of four juggle (sometimes on unicycles), two artists singing new country, a high-diving troop, a barbershop quartet, a juggling comedian, and a 200-student All-State Choir. We joined a large crowd to watch a pig race. After much anticipation by the people, out waddled three very fat and slow pot-bellied pigs, which were quite entertaining. A large petting zoo included the usual farm animals, some exotic ones (including camel, deer, and zebra), along with a pair of kangaroos, and three emus. Some dog handlers demonstrated their skills with black labs and retrievers, which swam out into a pond to fetch decoys while directed by hand gestures and whistles. There was also a pumpkin contest with the winner coming in at 790 lbs. (360 kgs) that grew in 52 days.

The weather was excellent all day with quite a lot of cloud cover to hide the hot sun. We alternated between sitting and watching events, visiting animal halls, and strolling through sheds full of commercial, educational, art, and handicraft displays. In total, we spent more than 10 hours there, and it was well worth it. Back in our room, we put our feet up and ate slices of leftover pizza and drinks. Lights out at 10:15 after a most enjoyable day.

A Look Around Downtown Columbus

After a restless night, we were awake soon after 9 am, but decided to take things easy. I worked on this diary while Jenny got a few more ZZZs. We made breakfast in our room and topped that off with hot drinks from the fancy machine in the hotel breakfast room. I settled into some personal and business email, a call back east to friend Phil, and some work on my personal blog. Jenny went off to do a load of washing at the local laundromat, which turned out to be quite crowded.

At 1:30 pm, we headed south to downtown Columbus where we parked in the shade next to the State Capitol. We entered and chatted a bit with a young State Highway Patrol officer at the front desk. There was no security check; it was nice to know that there were still parts of the country that hadn't yet succumbed to the "surrounding everyone with everything" Homeland-Security mindset. We joined five others for the 2-o'clock guided tour, which took us through the basement, the Senate, and the House. It was most informative. Afterwards, we toured a small museum where we learned that Ohio adopted ideas from the Australian Voting Act of 1891 requiring all candidates' names and party affiliations to be printed on the same ballot slip, which was only distributed to voters at a polling station on Election Day. Apparently, this went a long way to removing the corruption that had plagued prior elections. On the way out, we stopped and chatted with a male and female trooper to find out how one becomes a state policeman and what the job entailed. We spent 1:45 hours there touring the buildings and walking around the grounds.

Next up was a visit to a full-size replica of Christopher Columbus' flagship, the Santa Maria. The name of the city Columbus was taken from the famous explorer, and the ship was built for the 500th anniversary of his discovery of the Americas in 1492. For a $4 fee, we got a 40-minute tour literally from "stem to stern" lead by a young university student. He knew his stuff and answered all our questions.

Many years ago, the Ohio School for the Deaf stood on a 10-acre block downtown. After the school was relocated, the city turned the block into a very nice park and commissioned a sculptor to make metal frameworks around a set of yew trees to shape them into people, animals, birds, and boats, all to look like the scene from a famous French impressionist painting. The result was the "Topiary Garden at the Old Deaf School." We stopped by to take a look. A few people were looking at the sculpted trees while others sat in the sun or shade reading. Free Wi-Fi was available throughout the park for those people who just "had to be connected!"

On the way home, the traffic slowed down as we approached the state fairgrounds. It was the final day and people seemed to be leaving in large numbers, so we got off the freeway and drove back through some local neighborhoods. Jenny went off to the breakfast lounge for her late-afternoon cup of tea while I brought this diary up to date.

At 6:30, we drove a few blocks to a Red Lobster restaurant where we had a very nice meal. Our waitress, Nia, was a student studying psychology, and she was both interested and interesting, much more so than most 21-year-olds. We watched a movie until lights-out at 11 pm after a restful and educational day.

On to West Virginia

We were up, packed, breakfasted, and gassed up by 9:15 am. We took state and local highways south and east all the way to the West Virginia border, stopping a couple of times along the way to stretch and snack. We also visited a small factory that made washboards. While some sales go to musicians and others become souvenirs to hang on a wall, most are actually bought by people who wash clothes by hand! One group that does the latter are US military people in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we saw letters and photos of that on a pin-up board.

We got to Charleston, the capital of West Virginia, mid-afternoon. As it turned out, the only thing we really wanted to do there was to visit the State Capitol. It was a magnificent building and we walked around on our own. There was no security desk. After that, we decided to head in the direction of home and we drove more than an hour northeast on I-79 until we were tired, and we found a hotel. Pretty much all we saw was trees, trees, and more trees. We had supper at an Italian family restaurant and bought some emergency rations at the supermarket nearby. Lights out at 10 pm. We'd driven 250 miles.

Headed for Home

We got up soon after 8 am and had a light breakfast before heading out. It was great weather for driving. After an hour on the interstate highway, we turned east and wound around smaller roads for more than two hours, passing into the western tip of the state of Maryland then back into West Virginia.

We found a picnic stop in a small town and sat there for a while. By that time, it was well over 90 degrees F, so we started up the van's air-conditioning. Soon after, we crossed into Virginia and drove the 75 minutes home. We'd driven 250 miles that day and 1,380 all told.

We unloaded our gear and packed everything away. It was good to be home. We'd covered a lot of ground in 11 days, but got a taste of each area we visited. It was a most enjoyable trip.

Signs of Life: Part 33

© 2023 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From time to time during my travels, I come across signs that I find interesting for one reason or another. Sometimes, they contain clever writing, are humorous, or remind me of some place or event. These photos were taken during a trip Down Under.


A fish-and-chip shop in North Adelaide, South Australia.


A sign above the sink in the staff kitchen of St Peter's Cathedral in North Adelaide, South Australia.

Despite having lived in that area for 10 years in a previous life, this was my first time visiting the cathedral. An elderly volunteer greeted me at the side entrance, and I jokingly asked her if I was late for morning tea. She said that if I spoke to another volunteer, I could get a guidebook and a cup of tea/coffee. (If you don't ask, you'll never know!) I had a look around; it was pleasant without being austere or too much, and had some nice stained-glass windows. The second volunteer then took me into the staff kitchen where she made me a cup of coffee.


This Aussie burger chain's name includes the word concrete. As best as I could find, "the menu focuses on the simple things—burgers and concretes—and aims to do them perfectly."


An interesting take on William Golding's book "Lord of the Flies."


Well now, this looks like a friendly place to get some ink!


I'm thinking their use of asylum leans more toward "lunatic asylum" rather than "safe haven."


Wow, a ridgy-didge Aussie pizza place! It looks like the swagman from Waltzing Matilda is camped by a billabong eating a pizza with a wallaby.


An Aussie chain of bottle shops (US: liquor stores).


Hmm! Just what does Australia taste like?

Frankly, if you didn't grow up with Vegemite on your dummy (US: baby pacifier), you likely won't ever aquire a taste for it.


Although I've long been a fan of FruChocs (dried apricot and peach paste, coated in milk chocolate), I'm not sure I want to eat them in a fondue.


I can understand that after having drank here you might be caffeined, but then one meaning of fiend is "addict or fanatic."


"Ankle biter" is Aussie slang for a young , possibly annoying, child.


Parking place reserved for Mums (US: Moms) with small children.


Here's one idea about exercise!


From my home town of Loxton, South Australia.


BTW, the Men's Shed movement started in Australia.


Now it's always wise to give way to cattle in the Aussie Outback, but for some unknown reason, some young Aussie guys feel the need to shoot .22 rifle bullets into road signs.


If you have ever driven through areas with livestock, you'll be used to opening and closing gates. And the rule is to leave a gate as you found it, open or closed.


That's a very long way to have to pay close attention as to what is hopping across the road in front of you, especially at dawn, dusk, or night when visibility is low.


My older brother had a 75-pound kangaroo "come out of nowhere" and right through the front windscreen (US: windshield) of his car while he was driving at 60 miles-per-hour (100 kph) on a paved highway. Don't you just hate that when that happens!