Paris, end of Week 1

So it’s Friday, I have made it through my first week in Paris. All in all, things are going fine. My new apartment is comfortable and easy to deal with.  I’m quite close to the Metro station I use to get to the office (half a block), and the ride is about 20 minutes.  

I’ve mostly shifted sleep schedules (though for some incomprehensible reason, i couldn’t sleep well last night.  Not sure what was up with that).

I’m trying very hard to get as much French and city culture into me as possible, but I fall back on comfort food and headphones when it gets overwhelming.  There’s a lot of simple restaurants around the apartment that have been great for “tonight I’ll just have X” for food.  Supermarkets are no problem, though sometimes it’s hard to decipher food labels.

For example, milk. “Lait entier” is whole milk, “demi-écrémé” is the equivalent of 2% (it’s closer to 1.5, but whatever), and “écrémé” is skim.  Almost always sold in 1 liter bottles (I have yet to see the depth-charge sized GALLON milk jugs so prominent in the US.

There’s whole volumes of stuff I’m learning about paris, france, the people and the country.  So far I’m enjoying it, though I do miss home.  My coworkers are helping me enormously with my French, and if I can get more of that working, it’ll make the whole experience more rewarding.  I can feel myself learning the idioms and I feel like i’m on the edge of assembling comfortable dialog, but I’m still in the “groping for the right word” phase.  I’ll get there!

For map searchers, I’m living in the 15th arrondissment, which is on the western side of the city, about 8 blocks from the eiffel tower (which I can see outside my window every day).  I take the metro about 1/3 of the way across the city to go to work.  I haven’t missed having a bike or a car yet, though the electric scooters that so many people ride around may be a great way to get around.  For now, I’m sticking with the Metro (I have a full 5 zone pass that gets me anywhere in Paris and the surrounding areas, as many times as I like.  That’s a huge win).

Now that I’m relatively settled in, I’m going to start looking around for ‘things to do’.  Volleyball, pingpong, biking, music, art, longer walks – dunno, I need something to keep me active, otherwise I just work all day (this week has been pretty much steady 10-12 hour days).

I have another 4 weeks until I have family folk coming to stay with me.  I think it’ll be okay, if I can keep my brain occupied and not spinning off into lonely spaces.

Suitcase Life

So I’m packed. Three months abroad. Now it’s not like I’m heading to the mountains of the Moon or anything. It’s friggin Paris. They do have restaurants, department stores, and pharmacies there. Not to mention, Ya no, shelter from the elements.

So the pack up is 90% clothing, and 10% geek support hardware. Cables, adapters, all that stuff. The new apartment is supposed to be complete, but I’m taking no chances. I even enabled my amazon.fr account. Gonna be roughing it I tell ya.

Honestly I’m sort of surprised I got everything into these bags. There was some judicious editing by Mrs Geek to be sure. But it’s ready to go.

I’m off to the airport in 3 hours. As an experiment I’m going to be blogging directly to planet-geek from my phone. If you want to stay updated, make sure you add my RSS feed to your reader. Y’all are using an RSS reader, right? Right?

Paris

I’ve been in Paris for the last couple weeks, spending time with the engineers I work with. It was a great trip, but I’m also happy to be home in my familiar surrounding… the busy-ness of my home, and the deep deep greens of a beautiful spring.

I spent 2 weeks at a hotel right on the Place de la République, which was an adventure in it’s own right. The Place is about 8.5 acres of open space in the middle of busy part of the city. There is ALWAYS something going on there. Could be demonstrations, could be parties, could be music, could be dancing… for the last weekend, there was a Biodiversity fair where they literally hauled in few acres of sod, grass and plants and make it into a small farm. Complete with cows.

For the last few days, Mariama joined me, and did the sightseeing thing, walking something like 20,000 steps a day for 3 days (OW MY FEET). Gotta admit, the Paris Métro was clean, fast, easy to understand navigate, and EVERYWHERE. You were always a block or three from a station.

I have tons and tons of stories to tell from the trip, too many to ramble about here. But, in my usual style, here’s a bullet list…

  • The Eiffel tower is really friggin huge.
  • Coffee in the EU is challenging for Americans. I stand by my tweet from a few months ago:

  • Did you know Paris is 6 degrees further north than Boston? Yeah, means it gets dark at 10pm around now. Surprise!
  • The French know to to make a damned tasty burger.
  • The French also really like smoking 🙁
  • Contrary to popular perception, most French are pleasant and open and charming. Sure I had my taste of a grumpy personality or two because my french is atrocious, but the VAST majority of people were happy to work a sort of mishmash of english and french that worked well.
  • I did find myself missing open green space. The city is very tightly packed stonework, asphalt, and cobblestone. When I spend more time there, I’ll definitely need a way to get out to the parks and trails outside the city.

I’ll be coming back in the fall… looking forward to it!

My Personal EDC Geek Kit

This month finds me in France for a few weeks, away from hearth, home, family, and all my worldly posessions. While getting ready for this trip, I spent a bunch of time reviewing what I carry in my backpack – cleaning out debris that had accumulated (A few handfuls of receipts, some cold meds, and cables that didn’t make sense anymore), and making sure I had everything I’d need while away from home for an extended trip.

Contents of my every day carry backpack.

I realized while double-checking my kit that it really doesn’t change much. And since I got here (about a week ago) I haven’t had to replace or change anything, and I haven’t gone “Dammit, I’m missing something, guess I’ll go buy it.”

Now I’m not off in the wild jungle or anything – Paris does in fact have stores – but I’m pleased to say everything I’ve needed for work, and for my various jaunts around the city, have all been pretty well covered.

Someone on Slack asked about what I’m carrying for kit gear, so I decided to quickly write it up…

  • OGIO Camera bag – I got this bag something like 5 years ago, and it’s been great. It’s starting to get a little worn, but nothing is broken, and it came with a rain shroud that I’ve used a few times. It has a special pouch along the bottom specifically for camera gear.
  • Macbook Pro 13 – this is my every day computer. I don’t have a desktop machine at home.
    This is both my work and my personal machine. I’m typing on it as we speak!
  • Camera Flash – A small electronic flash for my Olympus
  • Memory cards – This bag contains about 20 memory cards – some USB3, some SD, a few microSD cards, and adapters. I used to have a specialized plastic case for cards, but there’s no reason to keep them that organized. Just toss ’em in the bag.
  • Earplugs – These are wax custom forming earplugs. I’ve used them on overnight plane flights, or in hotels that are just Too Damned Noisy
  • Macbook power supply – The smallest configuration I could get
  • Checkbook – Yes, there’s circumstances where I may need to use a check. I will probably just pick a few checks off this and put them in my wallet soon.
  • My journal – I have a journal. This was a gift from my sweetie – it’s about 3/4 full of a lot of dense writing. I find the act of writing in it cathartic. It slows me down and lets me think without all the geekery
  • Brainwavez Delta IEM Headphones – This is my second set of these (and I’m using them right now). They’re still fantastic sounding, and roll up into a nice light zippered case. The only reason I replaced them was the laptop fell off my lap at one point and bent the headphone connector all out of whack. Oops
  • Yes, I carry a rubiks cube around. It’s a great fidget toy, and a great way to relax. Also tends to start conversations. Best time right now is 1 minute 14 seconds for a full solve. But I’m out of practice, so nowadays it’s closer to 2 minutes. Also, a friend just reminded me that I sometimes use it for showing scale in a photo. Everyone knows how big a rubiks cube is.
  • Generic clip-on Sunglasses – these are a pair of clip on sunglasses I got off Amazon. They work remarkably well
  • My work ID pass
  • My passport – I don’t keep this with me all the time, just for this trip. I keep it in a buried pocket in the pack, very difficult to reach unless you’re trying hard Pickpocket proof as best I can do it.
  • Cleaning cloth for glasses – I wear glasses. I have sunglasses. Not having a good cleaning cloth at hand can be infuriating, particularly if you’re not wearing a cotton shirt or something.
  • KMASHI K-MP816 10000 mAh battery – This is critical. This battery has saved my ass a dozen times. It’s your typical portable battery pack. The reviews on it aren’t particularly stellar on Amazon, but for $12, I’ve totally gotten my money out of it. It’s a good balance between weight and capacity.
  • LKY DIGITAL Travel Adapter – This is a nifty little cube (it’s int he black zippered case) that has also been a godsend. It is a multi country adapter, able to plug into most European countries, as well as Japan and others I don’t know about. The real kicker is it has 2 USB charging ports on it also, so at night I can plug in my laptop, my cell phone, and my watch for recharging (or my travel battery), and have enough plugs for them all.
  • Apple Displayport to Ethernet adapter – Sometimes you’re in a place where the wifi just plain sucks or isn’t available (like a datacenter).
  • Charge cable for my Android Smartwatch
  • WMZ Multi Charger Cable – I love this thing. It’s a single USB cable with 3 ends on it. Lightning, Micro USB, and USB-C. It’s pretty rare I need more than one at a time, but I have a very good cable in case I need to charge my SO’s iPhone, or charge my KMASHI battery. My phone uses USB-C, so I’m all set no matter what I need. The cable itself is very well built, with a little velcro keeper and everything.
  • A spare small USB multiport charger, just in case.
  • Gerber Bear Grylls Compact Multitool – So, this is a bit of a problem. This is a very small (and inexpensive) multitool that I like to have with me, because having a multitool is handy. I normally carry that inside the Altoids tin with the rest of my ‘support stuff’, but out of the last 10 plane flights, two of them have been pulled out by the TSA and confiscated. Now what I do is take the multitool out of my bag and put it in my checked luggage (if I’m bringing some). If I don’t have checked luggage, I leave the multitool at home. Frustrating, because this thing is tiny, and incredibly useful.
  • Altoids ‘kit’ – It’s a little hard to see in this pic, but there’s 2 altoids tins there. One is full of tasty altoids goodness. The other is a sort of emergency kit I build after reading some of the more sane prepper sites. In that second tin I carry:
    • Bandaids
    • Antibiotic ointment
    • Advil
    • A small LED flashlight
    • Some cash
    • Several rubber bands
    • Several paper clips (these things have come in handy SO MANY TIMES, I honestly cannot tell you. Seriously, carry some.
    • Some anti-itch cream
    • Alcohol wipes
  • The rest of the items are specifically for my Olympus PEN-F Mirrorless Camera. A note here – this is the first long trip I’ve taken with the smaller camera, and I LOVE IT. I’m already having ideas for different lenses to carry but my current set is working quite well.
    • Spare lens caps
    • Olympus 25mm F1.8 Lens – The equivalent of the standard ‘nifty fifty’ lens so common on 35mm bodies. It’s been okay for my work, though I think I’d like faster glass.
    • Spare batteries and charger. I carry 3 batteries with me, because I’m almost ALWAYS having one go down, so having one to switch to that’s fresh, and one in the wings is great They charge pretty fast, so keeping them all charged isn’t much of a challenge.
    • Panasonic Lumix 20mm F1.7 Lens (on camera) – A great landscape lens. Flat and easy to work with, great for scenery and tourism shots!
    • Olympus 40-150mm Zoom Lens – This is equivalent to a 300mm lens in the 35mm body family. It’s great for doing ‘long lens’ work, and is extremely light.
    • Olympus PEN-F Mirrorless Four-Thirds Camera – See my other blog post about this camera, but this is now my everyday shooter. I love it.
    • Leather case for PEN-F – I freely admit one of the reasons I got the PEN-F was it’s retro styling. This brown leather case completes the image, and of course works really well protecting the camera. I leave the lens cover off when carrying it around on shoots, and bundle it up when it’s on it’s way any long distance (like on a plane).

Theres naturally other stuff I have that’s not in the pic, like my cell phone, but one thing I’d like to add in is I carry a Pocketmonkey Wallet Multitool. This is a super handy thin credit card sized piece of metal that has things like a bottle opener, screwdriver, wrench, etc etc on it. I’ve used it half a dozen times, and it is 100% TSA approved (I’ve only gotten nudged on it once, where an overzealous TSA agent asked about it, took it out of my wallet, went over to confer with his supervisor, and came back “Huh, these are 100% okay. Cool!” and off I went.

I’m sure there’s stuff I’m missing. Leave a comment if you think of something I should change or get. I will probably be looking to replace my Ogio pack soon, as it’s a little long in the tooth. Something a little more outdoorsey would be nice.

A Weekend in Salem

The last couple weeks has been pretty stressy and work-focused, so Mariama and I decided to take a weekend off and go visiting someplace new.  We’re trying to expand our destinations a bit and avoid the trap of “lets go someplace comfortable and known…” – we hope to travel abroad in the future, and always going back to places you know isn’t gonna mesh too well when we’re travelling in new countries and strange places.

So this weekend we settled on visiting Salem, MA – I’d been here once a long time ago (we’re talking 15+ years, while managing a toddler), but really hadn’t looked around much.  This time we planned on exploring, biking, and walking as much as time allowed.

Because I booked things so late, our options for hotel stays wasn’t that wide, but I ended up booking a room with the Salem Inn, right in the middle of town.  We ended up in one of their ‘satellite’ houses, about a block away, called Curwen House.  Think early 1800’s colonial manor house and you’re not far off.  It was well apportioned, comfortable, and had free breakfasts each day (which was really good).  My only gripe was the air conditioning was stuck on HIGH all weekend, so we were a bit chilled.

Friday night we walked around town a little – we seem to be in mid/off season.  It wasn’t crowded, but it wasn’t dead.  It was cool without being chilly.  Pretty much perfect timing for exploring.

Saturday we got up early, had breakfast, and biked out to Marblehead.  This was our first ‘long’ ride in quite a while – things just have gotten in the way, and we haven’t been on the bikes nearly enough.  We rode about 9 miles total, out to marblehead, then down to the beach (Hello ocean!), and back to town.  We got back good and tired, but rather than fall into bed, we decided to go get a lateish lunch.  A really good restaurant called Bonchon was our destination (think upscale Korean fried chicken), which was delightful.  We were sort of energized after lunch, so decided to do more foot exploring.  Originally we had hoped to visit the Peabody Essex Museum (which had a series of exhibits that sounded great.  Ocean Liners, Movie Monsters, and some other nifty things going on), but the weather was so nice, and there were so many ‘little’ places we wanted to see, we decided to just walk and explore.

Saturday night we were initially going to go a very nice italian restaurant, but ended up at a place called Bambolina (which we found on Yelp).  It was wonderful!  This is absolutely not your neighborhood pizza joint.  We had fantastic appetizers and a hand made pizza (which was made right in front of us) that was outstanding.  Highly recommended!

Salem is an interesting town.  Naturally, it’s best known for the whole witch thing, and it’s hard to get away from it.  It’s the source of 90% of their tourist industry I suspect.  But the town isn’t particularly ‘high brow’ as many Massachusetts coastal towns are.  There’s definitely money to be found (particulary out on the coast near Marblehead and Swampscott), but a good portion of the town is fairly middle class.  It was interesting going from the touristy strip on Essex street and after a block passing homeless folks and loud Irish bars, then jumping right into restored 19th century homes.

Some takeaways…

  • This is a great place to visit that’s not far away from home (about an hour and 15 minutes) to get away for a weekend.
  • The restaurant scene is remarkably good.  Even though we only stopped in 2 places for meals, I could see spending time figuring out all the nifty places in the town.
  • The Salem waterfront is a big bay, so there’s not a lot of feel of ‘being on the ocean’ unless you go north or south a bit on the shore.  Having said that, there’s a huge marina and maritime museum right in town.
  • If you have an interest in early-mid 1800’s history, this is the place to be  The place is drenched in it.  Buildings, families, stories, monuments – they’re all here.

Will we come back?  I think so, yes.  As I said, it’s not far away, and with a little juggling, I think we could find lodging that’s comfortable and not very expensive.  Everything is within walking distance, and biking is very easy and gives you access to a lot of the area.

Know what’s no fun? Smartphone failure while travelling.

Last week I was in California for a big tech summit my employer throws every 2 years. It’s a pretty big deal, with 3 days of presentations, workshops, tech demos, and interesting keynotes. I had a great time, met many of my coworkers I only know through voices on conference calls, and generally learned a ton.

Thursday night I was in the San Francisco offices, getting ready to head to the airport. I had 4 hours until my flight was scheduled to leave, and while in a meeting, I noticed my Moto X Pure (aka ‘Style’) phone reboots itself. “Okay, no worries, probably an update in progress. NBD.”

I went back to my meeting, and glanced at the phone again 10 minutes later. Looked like it was rebooting again. “Hmmm…. shouldn’t do that, but… okay…”

Half an hour later and continuous reboots, I was beginning to get worried. The pattern was the same. Boot, Optimizing apps, starting apps, reboot. Something was definitely wrong.

A little googling found me an article that describes the Moto X doing this sometimes when either an app gets corrupted, or there’s problems in the cache. Using instructions on the net I reset the cache from the bootloader, and let it try to boot again.

Nope, stuck in the loop again.

I was beginning to get very concerned. Traveling without a working phone, to echo a great movie… “Possible… but not recommended!”

In the end, I had to pull the ripcord, and do a full factory reset. Time until getting on the plane? 3 hours, with a half hour drive to the airport. This is the first time I’ve had to wipe and reload my phone from scratch as far as I can remember (we’re going back to Treo days here), at least where that sort of reload didn’t also involve replacing the phone completely.

In the end, it worked. The unit was able to do a factory reset, came up, did a few updates, and was back online with my normal account. It didn’t automatically reinstall all the apps (which I found a bit odd), so I had to manually tell Play to re-install the critical pieces I needed (including the authentication tool I use for work).

I was able to be on the road and mostly operational inside an hour, and made my flight just fine. I’ll credit my rabid use of 1Password for helping me get all my accounts re-connected.

Naturally, there’s still a few things that are out of whack. I spent a year twiddling that install to make the menus line up nicely, or set my backgrounds just so, etc, so post-reload, it sort of feels like a new phone, but really isn’t.

Now I’m on another trip, this time to Utah, and my phone is happily keeping me company. Alas, I’m finding all the little bits I haven’t reinstalled, such as all my local cached music in Spotify – something that would have been helpful on this flight But, that’s something to set up once I’m back in the hotel.

I went Sailing Again.

Sailing on Boston Harbor
Sailing on Boston Harbor
This afternoon Zach and I took advantage of a Meetup group in Boston to go sailing on the ‘C’est si bon’, a 46ft Formosa out of Marina Bay, south of Boston. I’d sailed with Ralph before, but this was the first time I was able to go with my son Zach. It ended up being awfully hot, and not much wind, but as many have said before me, a bad day out sailing is better than a good day in the office. We had enough wind to take us from Marina Bay all the way to Deer Island and back again over around 5 hours.

We had a great time, and Ralph was as always a wonderful skipper. We had a crew of 6 total, which was just the right number of people, with skills ranging from newbie on up.

I ended up being completely wiped out by the trip, and once I got home, fell into a zombie-like sleep. I’m still sore and worn from 5+ hours on the water, but it was a great day out.

Travelling to Tennessee

Over the next few days I’ll be travelling with my Mom to Knoxville, TN to visit relatives neither of us have seen in many many many years. I’m both looking forward to and nervous about this trip, as there’s lots of chances for things to go off the rails.

I hope to be tweeting fairly constantly during the trip, checking in, posting pictures, etc. Please follow me! 🙂

I’m also going to enable Facebook cross-posting from Twitter. If you’re on Facebook, hopefully whatever they use for an algorithm will allow you to see my tweets.