Google Street View ReflectoPorn

Tuesday, March 6, 2012 

Google drove past our little village in Italy and caught themselves in the turning mirror just about perfectly.

The coverage they have is getting pretty impressive.

Posted at 22:59:11 GMT-0700

Category: mapphotoplaces

USAir, not my favorite airline…

Monday, November 7, 2011 

Carolyn and I were flying from LGA to DCA early this morning. I booked an award ticket through UAL on USAIR, but mine was a connecting flight through PHL as there wasn’t any availability on the direct for award tickets. On UAL this means you have a confirmed flight on the less optimal route but if there are seats at the gate the agent will get you to your destination the most efficient route available, which is also the lowest CO2 emission route and the lowest cost route for the airline: everybody wins.

I called US air the night before to verify that I could fly standby (no problem, I was told) and that there were seats (looks like plenty, I was told). No problemmo.

But not with US-Air. Not that they weren’t friendly enough, but as my booking class was “X” and they didn’t have any “X” seats left, they couldn’t book me even though there were plenty of open seats. I tried with the gate agent, the supervisor, all to no avail. I called UAL but they don’t have any visible inventory because US-Air doesn’t share it with them. US-Air tells me UAL has to get me into one of their open seats. UAL shows no open seats.

So I figure I’ll just go to the gate. Gate agents have special powers over last minute seating. I show them my ticket and they immediately hand it back “no, we already called United, they won’t put you on this flight.” I’m thinking there must be a note on my ticket – but no, apparently the counter had called the gate and specifically told them not to let me on the flight. I get on the phone with UAL and they tell me “I don’t understand why they won’t just accept your coupon.” No budging.

I thought maybe I’d take the shuttle over to JFK and fly direct to IAD, but Carolyn pointed out there was a UAL express flight from LGA-IAD. As I have to get back to IAD later in the day anyway, it is a better option (pick up a rental car and drive myself into DC and back out). UAL got me on it no problem. I bus myself over to the UAL counter, and a very cool and very knowledgeable agent at the counter tells me about his family in Italy and his recording business in Rome while he gets me a very good seat on the LGA-IAD shuttle and clears my upgrade and tickets me for tonight’s flight back to SFO. Friendly agents, premium seating, no hassle, expedited security line.

UAL win: USAir Fail.

Glad I’m not causing a transfer payment after all. Lesson: it is worth flying a less convenient route on UAL than a more convenient one on USAir.

Posted at 05:27:04 GMT-0700

Category: -

Halloween at Borgo a Mozzano

Wednesday, November 2, 2011 

Borgo a Mozzano hosts the biggest Halloween festival in Italy and this year was the biggest yet. The streets were so packed with people it was almost impossible to move in some places. There were at least 8 stages, each hosting several different bands through the night playing all sorts of music from heavy metal to gypsy punk to polka, but one of the best was the marching band which had our town butcher out dancing with a cows head.

Posted at 10:42:55 GMT-0700

Category: Eventsplacestravel

Lucca Comics and Games 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011 

Lucca Comics and Games is a bit like Comic-con except in a medieval walled city, which goes well with a lot of the costumes.

World of Warcraft?

Posted at 09:12:49 GMT-0700

Category: Eventsplacestravel


Sunday, October 30, 2011 

Arriving in Italy we found our apartment had been squatted in by a swarm of hornets, probably through the chimney. It appeared they’d recently had a massive party and most, but not all had died.

We started a fire to clear the chimney and dispose of the corpses, which given how gigantic they were, was a lot of burning. By a lot, I mean dustpans full of hornets, some still crawling, at a time.

They could have been European Hornets, but the largest were closer to 5cm or so, fairly large even for European Hornets.


Posted at 02:05:58 GMT-0700

Category: Geopostphototravel


Thursday, September 22, 2011 

There’s been an interesting newskkake and premature twittergasm of commentary on the pre-publication announcement of results from an experiment at CERN that suggest that neutrinos traveled from CERN to Italy faster than the speed of light.

The announcement reminds me a bit of absolutely unbreakable quantum cryptographic key distribution where the theory was strong but weaknesses in any real detector make Eve’s job easier than theory would suggest.

As the CERN paper was published in the last few hours none of the reporters who’s breathless reports are generating so many tweets actually read the paper they are reporting on. Remember what happened when UT issued a press release before the paper was peer reviewed.

The conclusion of the paper is that the experimenters measured a time of flight discrepancy of 60.7 +/- 14.3ns or 0.00248% +/-.00058% [(v-c)/c%]. If one reads the paper, the complexity of measuring time of flight over 730km to a nanosecond or two isn’t trivial and there’s a huge number of very complicated (but very accurate) measurements between Switzerland and Italy that go into computing this result, it isn’t like you can just call up and fire a neutrino and say “let me know when you see it.”

The CERN measurement isn’t that far off the 2007 MINOS measurement of 0.0051% +/- .0029% (v-c)/c%. The MINOS experiment wasn’t hyped, but it does tend to validate the CERN experiments (or, more accurately, vice versa).Opera_C_plus.jpg

It is important to remember that the six sigma of the 10x more accurate CERN measurement (than MINOS) is about 2 parts per billion, not far off the odds of winning a multi-state lottery. That is, chances are 50/50 that if you had 500 million researchers testing fundamental constants to equal accuracy, you’d get an anomalous result like this overturning some branch of physics every publication cycle that would turn out to be erroneous. And this is why scientists don’t start rewriting textbooks on the first anomalous result, even if breathless journalists try to.

Further, it is also important to note that the researchers do not speculate that the neutrinos are actually traveling faster than light in violation of general relativity, even if the experiments can be repeated, rather that Leonard has created a little more work for Sheldon. Both “traditional” relativistic phenomenon and poly-dimensional theories (like string theory) provide a theoretical framework whereby in our observation frame an object moving in a different reference frame might appear to be moving faster than the speed of light in our reference frame, for example, perhaps neutrinos interacting oddly with gravitational time dilation. Or, maybe, just maybe, there’s room in the universe for a 0.0051% error: good enough for government work. Or maybe, as Newtonian mechanics described life at human velocities accurately but failed to describe relativistic phenomenon, so too relativity may not be a complete description of the universe.

Posted at 21:34:23 GMT-0700

Category: technologyTwitter

Cinque Terre

Friday, July 15, 2011 

We had a visit to lovely Cinque Terre. A bit touristy and too many SF types in the crowd (including the owners of the Atlas Cafe) but otherwise quite cool.


Monterosso al Mare







Riomaggiore at night
Posted at 00:38:08 GMT-0700

Category: photoplacestravel

Italy at Night

Friday, July 8, 2011 

I was playing with long exposures with the NEX5. I got a cool picture with a shooting star in the background – it wasn’t visible to the naked eye, but showed up on the image (almost typed “film”). It was a 30 second exposure at ISO 6400, very cool that it resolved the color of the trees and tower by starlight.

The village was is an automatic HDR composition which reports 3.2 seconds at ISO 1600.


Posted at 17:32:25 GMT-0700

Category: photoplacestravel


Tuesday, July 5, 2011 

I remember when I was a kid we used to fill jars with fireflies believing we could read by them – and while they weren’t quite that bright, it is now quite cool to find even a single firefly. What happened to them?


Posted at 15:31:29 GMT-0700

Category: photo

Singapore Air: Nice planes, Crappy customer service

Saturday, July 2, 2011 

Singapore Airlines sucks… OMG.   Not only do they seem to have real trouble handling bags, they have absolutely no customer service at all.  None.  Zilch.

I flew SFO-JFK on a UAL PS flight first class on the 1st; JFK-FRA on Singpore Air, first class on the 1st-2nd; FRA-FLR on Lufthansa business the 2nd.  When I arrived in FLR, no luggage.  I waited for the next FRA-FLR flight to arrive, no luggage.  There had been 3 FRA-FLR flights before mine my luggage could have taken, no luggage.

I had a 3 hour layover in JFK, somehow Singapore did not get my luggage on my flight, despite flying first class and having one of those “priority” tags on my bag (as if). United’s scan showed they delivered the luggage to singapore on time, but that Singapore just hadn’t boarded it, and rather than find the fastest way to get it to me at my destination, put it on the same flight (SQ25) 24 hours later.  They hadn’t bothered to try to contact me.  At all.

Now that’s lame, lame for coach, pretty much intolerable for first, but to make matters worse:

Their online luggage check tool at does not have current information, but United has more recent information – FOR SINGAPORE. If they could give me some information, any information about the luggage, I’d be more confident, but that the only useful information I could get at all came from United, and from them only as a courtesy, is just astonishing.

I was given this number by united to call: 800 742 3333, it is a call center that could do nothing at all to help but sound vaguely apologetic and give me the Local airport number.

I called that number, 718 751 3832, and got voice mail. Of course I left a message, of course nobody called back.

I called their lost and found number at 1 800-2244243 and got fast busy every time (during daylight hours Singapore time, daylight hours EST, daylight Europe time… the number seems disconnected: WIN SQ!).

I wrote them at, no answer so far.  (update, 12 72 hours later, no response at all).

I found the JFK office number on the Singapore site, which is actually their “traffic number” at +1 (718) 751-3830 and called and got voice mail, no answer, no response. (update, no call back 12 hours later UPDATE again – still no contact at all from Singapore – 3 days).

I found the JFK baggage office email at and sent a note there, of course no response.

I filled out the form at and at, but of course got nothing back – so far not even an automated response (update: got an automated response, but no real response 12 72 hours later).

I called the 24 hour call center in singapore at +65 6223 8888 and their phone tree system had real trouble recognizing DTMF signals and they had no default to human operator. It’s a reservations system and has endless hold problems, but at least I eventually got hold music. No help, but hold music. Update – I did eventually get someone but they were as useless as the first number. I had serious trouble explaining that I needed to speak to a human being and that it wasn’t useful to give me a number to call where nobody answered.

I demanded that the operator connect me, and she finally connected me to someone who said “hello.” I said “hello.” He said “hello.” I said “hello.” Excuse me, who are you? No “can I help you?” No “I’m sorry we screwed up and didn’t get your luggage on the flight?” But finally, finally, someone at Singapore who could, if not entirely politely, at least look up the status. I had to correct him when he said “you lost your bag” to me: “No YOU lost my bag, you failed to board it on my flight. Where is it?”

People rave about Singapore Air and while the flight was comfortable enough and the food excellent… and the FAs the nicest and most attending I’ve experienced, their baggage handling and customer support is horrible. Unbelievably worse than even a discount airline in the US. And the thing that pisses me off most (and this is the same with UAL): they KNEW my luggage didn’t get on the plane before my flight took off – certainly long before I landed. Why wait until I get to my final destination to file a claim before fixing it? Flying first class on a transcon flight they should have had someone waiting for me at FRA with a toiletries kit and an apology and an update as to where my luggage was so I didn’t have to waste 90 minutes at the airport filing a claim and another hour or two following up to find out the status of their screw up (Update: 4 days later and Singapore has yet to take a single step to rectify their mistakes or apologize).

UPDATE 1: 12 hours after arrival, UAL is still the only airline that is willing to answer their phone or check on updates.  I haven’t tried to track down Lufthansa, though they haven’t yet answered  their email.  UAL is at least polite and responsive on the phone and can track the bag for me, even though they didn’t lose it, Singapore did.  Note that Singpore has known my bag wasn’t on my flight for almost 36 hours already and has not bothered to contact me (update: 4 days later and not a word from Singapore)

UPDATE 2: 24 hours after arrival, Singapore’s web site still says “Bag 1 Status TRACING CONTINUES. PLEASE CHECK BACK LATER”   But FINALLY got through to Singapore Air and spent some time teaching the bag guy there how luggage scanning works at different airports and why it is reasonable for him to be able to answer whether my bag had made it to FLR yet or not (shaming him a bit by explaining that if he couldn’t answer, I can call UAL and they DO know because their computer WORKS).

He kept telling me he was the one who “rushed” my bag to FLR.  I’m sorry, using the word “rushed” for putting my bag on my same itinerary 24 hours late isn’t “rushing.”  Just like making me call HIM to find out the status when he knew my bag was misplaced isn’t “customer service.”  In a moment of honesty he said “I don’t know why your bag didn’t get on your flight.”  SQ simply screwed up, but hasn’t done anything to fix it at all.

He finally managed to look it up after I basically explained how to do it over the phone and confirmed it was in Florence, but had made no arrangements for final delivery.  At least he knows how to check on the status of a missing bag now, so if anyone else loses their bag out of JFK on Singapore and wants to find the status, call +1 (718) 751-3830 during regular daytime hours and if you’re lucky the same guy will be there and know how to look it up for you.  You’re welcome.  I forgot to ask him to add a local cell number to the record, but that was too painful, I’ll call UAL and ask them to do it, even though this is all SQ’s fault.

UPDATE 3: 36 hours after arrival, Singapore’s web site now says “Bag 1 Status ITEM LOCATED, PENDING CONFIRMATION”  According to Singapore Air the bag was actually delivered to FLR last night. I called the airport and they were very polite but couldn’t give me any information other than to take my number and offer to call tonight.  As it might be out for delivery, I won’t drive back to the airport yet.   Singapore still has yet to call me, message me, or respond to any email. UPDATE – they were wrong, the bag had not made it to FLR.  They were either lying or incompetent.

UPDATE 4: 48 hours after arrival, still can’t reach anyone at Singapore at any number.  I’ve taken to calling sequentially all of their listed numbers in the entire world trying to reach someone, anyone, with 1/2 a clue… or who will even answer the phone.  As that was complete FAIL I called UAL again.  Of course they knew exactly what was going on.  My luggage seems to have gone on SQ 25 from JFK a day late, and flown to FRA… but…  it seems they FORGOT TO UNLOAD IT.  WTF?  OMFG.

So UAL tells me it is now actually on SQ 326 from SINGAPORE to FRA.  It is supposed to connect tomorrow on LH308 arriving on the 5th.  They lost it on the 1st.  That’s 4 full days Singapore has known they screwed up, and two MAJOR screw ups, and not a single contact from them, not an email, not a phone call, not an SMS, not anything.  I’ve written them maybe 6-8 emails and called every number I could find and actually talked to two people, including the guy in NY who insisted that he RUSHED to get my bag on the same flight 24 hours later (but didn’t bother to contact me or assist me in any way to either locate my luggage or offer to assist with the absence of luggage) and still not one single proactive step from them at all.

I finally got some poor guy at the LA office and gave him a bit of a chewing out for their corporate incompetence.  He promised to tell his manager and try to get back to me.  We’ll see, but what can they say?  “Um, sorry we forgot to load your luggage.  Sorry we didn’t bother to say anything at all about it.  Sorry we forgot to unload it in Frankfurt and took it on a world tour instead… I guess we’re just incompetent morons?”

UPDATE 5: 60 hours after arrival.  Still not a word by any means from Singapore Air. They have yet to even apologize for losing my luggage, not once, but twice on the same trip.  That’s just inexcusable.  I called FLR’s automated luggage line and they told me the luggage has been found and will go out for delivery as I arranged with them.  No call yet to arrange delivery, but at least it is no longer in Singapore Air’s incompetent hands.

UPDATE 6: 72 hours after arrival.  I got through to someone at FLR.  Their automated line in English and Italian is at +39 055 3061 302.   The information they provide has so far proven correct, so it is a fairly reliable system (unlike Singapore Air).  They also have a direct line, though the people there are quite hassled and busy, but if you need to update your record, you can reach them at +39 055 3061 680.  Still not a word, not an email, not an SMS, not a call from anyone at Singapore.

UPDATE 7: 84 hours after arrival.  I finally got an email from Singapore Air – first contact from the company.  It reads:
Dear Mr Gessel,

thank you for your e-mail sent to our baggage enquiry department in SIN.

According to your Missing Report FLRLH82547 raised in Florenz with LH, the bag was received in Florenz yesterday, on the 05th of July.
Unfortunately, I cannot tell you the status of the delivery as I´m at Frankfurt. But I´m confident that our colleagues from LH will arrange a fast delivery to your mentioned adress in Italy.

We apologize for any inconveniences caused to you because of this unfortunate incident.

Best regards,

Silke Ruthotto
Senior Customer Services Agent

Gebäude 201 HBK 277
60549 Frankfurt/Main

Tel.: 069-690-32881
Fax.: 069-690-54681

I appreciate the apology, but it has been 5 days since Singapore first discovered they lost my luggage and this is the first they’ve bothered to say anything, and that thing is “OK, we’re done screwing it up, Lufthansa can sort it out.”   Still no delivery advice. Perhaps he could have taken the time to find out what the delivery timing will be and let me know.

UPDATE 7: My luggage was just delivered, at 0710 ET July 6.  Singapore Air first became aware they had failed to board it on SQ 25, presumably shortly after takeoff at 2125 ET July 1.  It took them 100 hours to contact me at all, and then only after I sent them dozens of messages and called every number they had to try to track down my luggage, and my luggage finally go to me 92 hours late.

It has been all over the world since I checked it in at SFO 5 days ago.  The Singapore reroute tags tell the tale: they start on the 2nd, and are crossed out and updated with 4th and then 5th.  Nice work!  Once it got to LH, it was delivered quickly.

My Luggage travels more than I do

Conclusion: Singapore Air gives a great front office experience, but their back office needs some serious work.  With the amount I’ve flown, I’ve had my luggage misdirected plenty of times, but never twice on the same flight – never misdirected in the effort to get it to me.  That is a special category of fail.  I’m particularly annoyed by Singapore’s astonishing lack of responsiveness: they provide no functional way to track down luggage they’ve lost.  None at all.

If you’re lucky and you’ve connected with another carrier, a responsible one, you can get updates and keep track of what is taking so long, but not through Singapore.

Singapore’s in-cabin reputation is well deserved, definitely one of the best in the business, but their back office is one of the worst.  Discount airlines do a better job.  I would not trust them with my luggage again.

Posted at 16:15:59 GMT-0700

Category: planestravel