December 4, 2005

Back from England

I am back home after my trip to England (UK) with stops in Oxford, London, Brighton, and London (Heathrow). It was a very good trip on many fronts, which I will share later. I was amazed at the transportation problems in London (traffic jams even with Congestion Charging, outages on the Tube due to security issues and switching problems on the Central line, and clueless ticketing agents at Victoria Station (who asked if I wanted "day return" at 16.47 hours and I said no, still ticketed it for me, which really messed things up the following day trying to return from Brighton to London, but also took nearly 15 minutes to process my credit card payment).

None-the-less I met with fantastic people at each step of the way. Oxford had changed quite a bit since 1988 when I last lived there, but not so much I was lost. I had a great time meeting David Smith in person and chatting about everything it seemed in a little more than a couple hours (it is always great to meet people in person that you have known on-line as it gives understanding to the digital references we have in our heads, it also allows for asking questions we never get around to on-line). I really enjoyed going back to The Centre for Mediaeval and Renaissance Studies and meeting current students studying there from St. Mary's College of California to get the tour. The Centre is still wonderfully run and brought back a great part of my life. I also got to visit the QI (Quite Interesting) bookstore and private club. The bookstore is wonderful as it jogs the mind in wonderful ways in that it arranges books by there, intermixing fiction and non-fiction and various subjects to create wonderful themes. I had a meeting with somebody new to me at the club and really enjoyed the venue and my company (I would hope to have the fortune of both again in the not too distant future).

London was really turned around for me as I was staying in a different section that I had ever before and was approaching it from a different angle. I really enjoyed the Online Information Conference as it brought some good questions and regarding folksonomy and brought some very bright people together. The Open Rights Group initial gathering was fantastic and I met some great people there with stellar ideas and drive. I also had a great meeting at DNA on my InfoCloud work and they had some brilliant questions that followed (unfortunately my Mac did not want to drive their beautiful monitors (not sure what went wrong as it was the first presentation in more than 50 that my Mac did not just fall in love with the monitor and just want to run off with them).

I also had an utterly brilliant time in Brighton and Hove with the Clear Left gentlemen and Pete Barr-Watson. I had never been to Brighton and Hove, but found I really enjoyed it. It reminded me of Oxford in 1988 when I walked down the main street in Hove looking for breakfast.

The ticketing mix-up, poor traffic, increasingly bad weather, and the need to care for work related to running one's own business kept me from returning back into London proper on Friday afternoon. I dropped my things off at the hotel near Heathrow (and was berated by the taxi driver in a very un-polite British manner for having such a short inexpensive fare not the 40 to 50 pound fare he had been waiting in queue for three hours for). The weather turned and I had not heard back from two friends I was hoping to meet up with for pints after their work on Friday (turns out my stupid phone will not send e-mail while I am in Europe and my requests were still sitting in my phone).

I never got to do the shopping I intended to do (other than Muji, Neal's Yard Dairy (with Matt Biddulph making wonderful suggestions), and buying the Banksy book. I did realize I was not quite dressed properly as I thought would work, so I stopped into Charles Tyrwhitt at 92 Jermyn Street in London to fix the situation with a new shirt and seven fold tie (I picked up the tie from a much less expensive stack, but with the somewhat baffling price reduction it made it seem less that my other option).

I also hope I never have the mis-fortune of dealing with British Midland Airways (BMI) again. They did not have the capability to deal with an electronic ticket, they were completely disorganized (with the exception of one wonderfully patient and helpful gentleman at their customer service desk), and under trained. I sat at the gate a Heathrow Terminal 1 watching the flight departure time come and go before we boarded, which I was told by those sitting next to me is quite normal. At Heathrow Terminal 1 they only announce the gate for the flight 45 to 30 minutes prior to the flight. It does not seem they have the capability to plan beyond this, nor do they point you to the correct security entrance. This made for no shopping in their shops and no relaxing. It was a very poor experience and one I do not care to ever repeat. In all, the signage in Heathrow (Terminals 4 arrivals and 1 departures) was horrible. It was difficult to sort out what direction to go. Conflicting signage was up about the Tube and Heathrow Express, with some saying things were not running and others stating where to go. In all the rail transportation related information in the UK is a mess as there is no easy central place on the web to find travel times and prices. The privatization has seemed to lead to nicer rail cars, but poor service and poorly coordinated information. I will take the less nice cars from 1988 and much better service, thank you very much.

In all I had wonderful accommodations, great hospitality, and had wonderful conversations with bright people. This was what I really wanted from this trip. I also got a lot more, but that will be coming in time.

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