Thursday, June 29

Even the Keyboards Have Accents

Today I had to go to the computer lab to do some printing. I had to navigate the strange, new keyboard. You can click on it for a bigger picture.
It reminded me of that time in Rothenburg, Germany when I had to use the hostel computer to get to the internet although this whole trip I've been using an Engineering Physics Dept laptop (thank you!). Sometimes I'd get wireless signals; but it wasn't happening in that town. They had a pay computer, € 0.50 for 8 minutes. I put in .50 and the clock started. I manged to get to the UW email website. I got my user name in and then had to type my password, which is a pattern on the keyboard. I didn't realize that they were in a different order until I couldn't log in. I ended up spending about 6 minutes searching the internet for "American keyboard" in order to figure out the symbols. I got in and checked.

Excluding the symbols, the German keyboards are very similar to our keyboards, mainly a letter or two are switched and instead of the ; and ' keys, they had something like ä and ö. As you can see, there is a much larger difference with French keyboards. By the way, Windows is the same but the words are obviously in French. This is what I can remember: OK is the same, annular is cancel, something like fermer is save, and imprinter is print.

Wednesday, June 28

They're Coming!

On Fox News.com today:


DaimlerChrysler AG will begin selling its fuel-efficient, two-seat Smart car in the U.S. during the first quarter of 2008, the automaker's CEO said Wednesday.

They're coming! All 9 feet of them!

They're literally a shoebox on wheels. I've seen them around Europe many times and I still laugh. By the way, they get 40 mpg.

the French Space Place & some soccer

I've been busy over the past few days and right now, I'm procrastinating, again. I shut the blinds so I can't look out my window, and I've checked my email enough times, so I'll blog!

Yesterday, we did another field trip. We went to the Centre National d'Études Spatiales, or CNES, which is France's equivalent of NASA. It was on the other side of town. We first went through the usual security. They must like to see American passports because it seems like they collect them as frequently as possible--perhaps it's because there's French in them. After affixing our visitor badges we were led to the welcome part. We walked down the street and around the roundabouts, past several office park buildings until we got to the right one.

The room to which they took us was appropriately all spacey. It was high tech looking with pictures of space, modern lighting, a model of a satellite, and a futuristic color scheme. We were all delighted to find free stuff sitting on chairs, for us! Inside of a black stylish (I'm actually not being sarcastic) CNES bag, there was an assortment of various objects: a pen, several pieces of literature (in English!) about CNES, and a bumper sticker. I really like the bag; I, in fact, used it today. It's perfect to hold notebooks and folders. Wait a second. That isn't important.

As we were admiring our newly acquired free stuff, they began to torture us with a power point. No offense to the guy who presented it, but I'm going to give some frank advise, although most of the French people that have spoken to our group speak better than I could in my second language, Spanish. To French people: French accents sound pleasant so you don't have to be embarrassed about it, just please, please, PLEASE! talk loud and slowly (at least at a normal pace) for the sake of everyone involved.

I don't know why, but I didn't notice something until recently: making a power point is like splitting the atom. Used in the right way, it can do amazing things, but when it falls into the wrong hands, look out! I guess I never noticed before because all my past experience with it was while being jittery sitting in line to give one myself in school. Lately, though, I've seen nothing but terrible power points and yesterday was no exception. To me the worst kind is when someone just narrates the various condensed phrases on the slides.

The first power point they showed us looked great, but I'd rather be spoken to and not read to. As I said before, the guy did a way better job than I could have done in an equivalent situation, which for me would be something like having to give a power point about something to do with UW-Madison to Spanish speakers. I can talk about everyday things well, but it's much harder to speak with a direction, especially when it's a one-way format instead of person to person.

In 10th grade English, in our public speaking unit Mrs. O had us give a 15 minute presentation about our heritage. Her condition, if we were to use power point, was that, since it was a visual medium, it should be mostly visual, keeping text to a minimum. And it had to be timed to our speaking, no mice or pointer clicking. I did a power point and I think it was and will be the best one I ever give. So minimizing words and maximizing pictures seems to be a reasonable philosophy about power points, to me. Luckily, the first power point had a bunch of pictures of their rockets and satellites.

One of our classes this summer is an engineering communication class, so the professors have touched on power points. In an engineering situation, words are obviously necessary; 50 slides of schematics and graphs would make even an engineer pull out his hair. So, I guess, the best power point for the average situation is somewhere between the two, using thought out concise phrases, with ample pictures. Also, the thing that really makes a power point awesome is how prepared the speaker is. In a good presentation, the slide show is just going in the background; in a bad presentation, the speaker reads directly from the show.

I'm probably saying the same thing the professors said. Well, you, (the profs) didn't miss anything; the power points would have made you go bonkers, like that one conference. U-ni-ver-si-TEE.

After that, we then were led to the clean rooms. They are dust free environments where they build the satellites. It was pretty neat to see all the parts. They build a dummy to test the systems and fix things on Earth before they build the real one. I learned from the pictures that apparently satellites and air conditioners have very simular insides.

We then stopped by the department that runs the "Spot" group of satellites that map, survey, and take pictures of the Earth. I thought that was interesting because this past semester, I had a surveying class in which the professor talked about remote sensing which is using satellites to collect data.

Then we stopped by the control room. Unfortunately, nothing was going on and we weren't allowed to have cameras so I couldn't take a picture. We didn't get to go into the actual room, but we sat in the glass observation room above. It looked, basically, just like this other room at CNES:

Except it was an older room so there were all the computers, big screens, and technology, but it was decorated in the style of the end of the 60's with green marble or something on the walls. We had power point #4 here. They really got us because they had the first slide on the big screen already, so we didn't recognize what was going on until the control room guy started. All of the presentations weren't bad, but I tried to ask the guy a question about what kind of coordinate system they use to keep track of a satellite's position and it took me three rephrasings before he got the question. It turns out they use radar about once every two hours to get the postion and define the exact orbit of a certain satellite.

Finally, we went to the department where they diagnose and fix problems with electronic hardware. They had all the equipment: many different kinds of scanners, x-ray machines, electron microscopes, and other instruments that cost millions each. It was pretty neat, especially because they guy spoke to us directly--without a slide show--passed around satellite parts, then showed us their 'scopes, and took us in the glass room where they keep the expensive stuff.

All in all, I give the CNES tour a B+. They would have gotten an A for coolness, but four power points in two hours really bogged down the tour. On the plus side, their tour was very organized compared to the airplane testing place, to which I give a D (with the benefit of the doubt). They got that because they looked at the number of people and randomly split us up into two groups and then my group walked around in the hot sun for a couple of hours to see the "air blowey-thing", and then the building where they have the "airplane systems chamber do-hicky", then the "drop crash thing", and the "zapper-ma-bob". The other group saw the "landing gear bouncy thing" and the "warehouse".

Last night was rather exciting. At 9 pm, France played Spain in the World Cup and they're now to the elimination part so the loser was going home. In the first half Spain scored first on
a penalty kick (so it wasn't too legitimate), then France finally answered right before half time.

They spent the second half tied until 6 minutes left when France scored again. It was one of those where the French guy ran faster than the defenders so it was him and the goalee. Then they scored again in the same way with about 90 sec left in injury time, the usually about 3 minutes they stick on the end to make up for injuries. Afterwards, people started driving through the streets and honking their horns. (One could almost pretend it was VE day again) Too bad they now have to play Brazil, who along with England, is probably the best team in the world.

I never really watched soccer before. It's not really that bad. According to a news article, only 6% of Americans are following the World Cup closely. I think I'd be in the 'somewhat closely' group, 15%. 'Not very closely' is 31% and 47% of Americans are following it 'not at all'.

Tuesday, June 27

Reinventing the Wheel

Here in France, things work a little differently. I've noticed that they like to do/make their own thing. Yesterday, France came out with its own version of those online map sites like Google or Microsoft and Jaques Chirac is working on 'Quaero', a French search engine. People have told me that the French think that French culture and the language are the best so they only speak their own language.

Don't get me wrong; I'm glad they think that, but it seems a little redundant. When they were giving us the tour here, one of the professors showed us a partly assembled helicopter and explained that although the US and Israel have had autonomous helicopters for a while, they want to invent their own.

Monday, June 26

Are You Ouvert or Geschossen?

One thing you'll notice if you travel to Europe is that all the stores close early. England turns into a ghost town promptly at 5:30 pm and it seems like the continent closes at 7 pm. Everything closes except for restaurants and some landmarks. Pretty much everything is closed on Sundays, too, which is kind of awkward if you're a tourist and only have so much time.

Here's an article about how stores on the Champs-Elysees, the big tourist area, in Paris are fighting to stay open on Sundays. In Germany, they're watching what's happening as they've relaxed the rules for the World Cup. In some countries, the Catholic Church is doing the fighting to keep stores closed, but in France, they make the observation that keeping stores open could help to reduce the nearly 10% unemployment.

Thanks to Dave B.

By the way, 'ouvert' is 'open' in French, and 'geschossen' is 'closed' in German.

Sunday, June 25

The Southeast Corner, Carcassonne, and Cathars

The reason I haven't blogged in a couple of days is because we went on a two-day field trip. On Friday we bright and early to go to Carcassonne.

Today, it is a small double walled city but in the past it was much more important containing 3,000 people. There's been a settlement at the site since 600 BC but it wasn't fortified until the Romans came. It lies on two important trading routes: Atlantic to the Mediterranean and the Massif Central to Spain. After the Romans, it was passed around to the Visgoths and then local groups. By the 1100's, the Cathars hid out in it from the Catholic armies.

The southern part of France had always been different from the northern part, different language and rulers, until the Crusade against the Cathars. The Cathars were a different kind of Christianity. They were all over Europe but their base was in the southern part of France. Eventually, they were wiped out by the 1300's. Also, the French king in Paris used this opportunity to annex the southern part of present day France.

the east gate to the city
a window in the cathedral
looking across the bridge to the castle to the other side of the city
Over all, I like Rothenburg ODT better, but Carcassonne has much more history. We were surprised by how small it is. It literally has 5 streets and it took us about half an hour to walk around it.

After escaping from another 2 hour meal, we headed southeast through the northern edge of the Pyrenees to Quéribus. Although I've never been to California, Toulouse, I gather, has nearly the same climate: dry, warm, and sunny. The landscape looks semi-arid, with different trees and scrubby plants. Going into the eastern part of the Pyrenees, the land changed again and got even drier looking.

Also, another thing is that when you go traveling, you see different things in the fields. Near my home, there's usually either corn or soybeans. Near Kenosha there are cabbage fields. In other parts of the country, there are wheat or tobacco fields. In southern France, it's grape fields.


After an hour or two, we made it into the area of Quéribus, a ruined castle on top of a hill. Back in the 1600's, France took a bite out of the northeastern corner of Spain. They then had to build a series of castles to guard the new border. Quéribus is one of 5 castles watching the border that communicated back to Carcassonne. It stands on top of the highest hill around at 730 m and watches over a mountain pass. After a scary bus ride on a road at the edge of a cliff over a deep gorge, we got to climb up the rest of the way. But it was worth it.

There were some pretty amazing views. If it hadn't been hazy, the ocean would have been on the horizon. From down in the valley, you can see the castle for miles around. It's the little bump in the center of the picture.
We then went wine tasting. We stopped by a peaceful little vinyard out in the country run by a husband and wife. The wife showed us around. Mostly she and her husband, along with some other employees, take care of 18 hectares, about 45 acres, of vines. I asked her how much wine they make in a year. I can't exacly remember, but I think it was around 40,000 L. Although she pretty much didn't speak English at all (our tour guide translated) I could tell how passionate she was about growing grapes and wine.

So then she showed us how to properly taste wine.
1) swirl it around a lot in the glass
2) smell it
-either stick your entire nose in the glass and wiff
-or snif it in the center and then from the edge
3) take a sip, don't swallow
4) for the lack of a better term, make fish lips and suck in air to mix the wine with oxygen
5) do #4 for a couple of times
6) admire the taste
7) spit (which we were all sure to do)

We sampled 4 different wines and all her wine was very good. In the grocery stores here in France, most bottles of wine cost between .89€ to 15€. She said that her's usually sell for around 10€ and hers gets imported to the U.S.

We then headed back to the little town of Maury, population 600, to spend the night. After having a delicious dinner in a nice little family run restaurant, we happened to walk out to the street at the same time there was some kind of a festival. There were little kids running down the street with flashlights followed by bigger kids with torches followed by a firetruck with its lights and sirens going. They turned the corner and went up a block. The festival they were having resembled a middle school dance.

On Saturday we went to the ocean. We went thourgh Perpignan to Collioure, which is where Picasso and friends hung out. It's about 4 miles from Spain. The landscape changed again as we got closer to the coast. The plants turned tropical: palm trees and bamboo.The fortress and lighthouse in Collioure

We then had another lengthy lunch. The salads had anchovies on them. That was the first time I had one. It was a flavor explosion, I would say. People then had a choice between fish or steak for the main course. I chose steak, remembering the plot from Airplane!. The people who got fish, got a fish. I thought it was pretty good, but the anchovies and the steak were fighting in my stomach all afternoon long. Then for the afternoon, we then went to the beach, arriving home in the late evening.

Thursday, June 22

Week 3

This past week was a very good week. We went to Paris and Versailles and saw the sights. Then we returned and went to a French military testing facility where they bored us to death on Monday.

For the second time, I rode on a TGV, train a grande vitesse. They're France's high speed train, reaching speeds up to 200 mph. However, it sounds fast, but they stop too often to really save time, and they have to be on the track just for them or else it's too dangerous to share the tracks with normal trains at that speed. Also, people think that you'll be on it for shorter so they don't have to make it very comfortable. On a TGV, it takes us 5 hours to get to Paris, coming back, we rode on the fastest, express-type normal train. They call it the Teoz, and it's got periwinkle colored interior, cushy cars. Since we always book at least 6 seats at a time, they put us in the group that sits facing each other at a table so it's fun. Besides, coming back from Paris, it took about 6 hours and about 12 stops. I'd prefer to go on the express train, although it takes a little longer. Our car even had a standing area, which is nice to stretch ones legs.

So then as we were coming into Paris from the southeast, if you craned your neck around and leaned as far as you could, you could catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Up until that point, it hadn't really hit me too hard that we were going to Paris, the city of lights. After we got off the train, we navigated to the subway to drop off our bags at the hostel.

Let me tell you about the subway. I've only been in four: Washington DC, London, Toulouse, and then Paris. Paris, by far, takes the cake for grossest. It's like the above ground is so pretty, they have to stick the ugly somewhere and it's all in the subway. All of the subway smelled like sewer in the background with an occasional strong whiff. In some of the stations, the ceiling dripped. When the train pulls up, 95% of the time, it's standing room only; not that there aren't seats, it's that people are piled in like sardines. The entire time we were on the subways, I'd have my left hand on my wallet in my pocket, my camera around my neck, and my right hand on the pole.

Also, humans drive the subways in Paris. On most of the subways, you have to push a latch from either the inside or outside that opens the door once the train stops. Then, as people are still getting on and off, the driver pushes a button which starts the door closing process with a ring of the buzzer. Sometimes the doors are only open for a few seconds. It was strange to get back to Toulouse, where a computer drives, because the doors are open for, perhaps, nearly 30 seconds at a stop. All of us, after being to Paris, are thinking "Let's get this show on the road".

So once you've managed to find the right subway and squeezed onto a car, and managed to be still unpickpocketed, you get to stand millimeters away from 10 other people in the sweltering subway heat. Also--I don't mean to sound like I'm complaining--the subway jerks up and down, side to side, while squealing a horrific metallic scrapping sound. You'd figure that after 10 million runs, friction would have taken care of what ever is causing it.

We then eventually made it to the downtown. The first thing we saw was the Ill de Cite, the island in the centre of the river that was the entire city in Roman times. We walked past the Palace of Justice, which is what the French call courthouses. From there it was a few blocks, still on the island, to Notre Dame. We went in. Whoopee Catholicism!!! My people! It's crazy to think how old the things are here in Europe. Wisconsin is coming up on 160 years, next year, Jamestown turns 400 and this place is older than 800 years! Well, I guess Paris is from Roman times, so 2,000 years is a good approximation. I know it's nothing big, but people live in houses that are hundreds of years old! It's like that saying, if walls could talk.

I'm pretty sure that Notre Dame had gotten run down over the ages and especially from the French Revolution until Victor Hugo wrote the Hunchback of Notre Dame. They did a fine job of fixing it up. From there, we went back to the Palace of Justice and stopped by a chapel from the 1200's. It too was Gothic. It had tall and narrow stained glass windows and the ceiling was painted dark blue with those golden pointy clover symbols that seem to be the symbol of France.

Paris is amazingly beautiful. I guess the best comparison I could make is to Washington. Going around Washington, all of the buildings in the downtown, mostly government, have big carved stone exteriors. Paris is like that but, obviously, in a different architectural style. And whereas downtown Washington is pretty much within a few blocks of the national mall, Paris is for miles and miles. Another comparison is Washington looks even better at night when the lights are on the buildings and monuments, Paris looks absolutely amazing.

It's also a pretty neat moment when, after going around and seeing the sights, you begin to realize how the buildings and monuments are all laid out. Everything comes together really nicely. For instance, there's the Champs E‰lysees that starts at the Arc de Triomphe then runs east to the Plaza du Concorde and the obelisk, which intersects the line of sight of Napoleon's tomb, continuing on to the Louvre at the other end.

The Eiffel Tower is a very appropriate symbol for the city. Really, what is the point of it? They eventually found a purpose as a radio broadcast tower, but it's art. It doesn't do much; it's just art. That's what Paris seems like. The entire place, of course does business and makes stuff, but it's so pretty. It truely is the center of Western culture.

There were several times that I thought, "It's good to be the king", if you've ever seen History of the World, part I. I think that I, too, would impeach the king if he built gi-normous palaces for himself. The Louvre is freaking huge! It's at least four floors, has a giant courtyard and two wings that are longer than a mile. It's impossible to take a picture of its long side from any angle.

Before becoming an art museum, the Louvre used to be a palace. From the 1500's to the end of the 1800's, the kings allowed artists to live there and make art. When they took the king to see Dr. Guillotin in the 1790's, it was only natural that it should become an art museum so it did.

Then on Sunday, we visited the Chateau de Versailles (I learned that chateau is French for castle). It is also very gi-normous. On the map they give you, the palace is just some little rectangles on the bottom, although it is very large. I though it was ironic that of the king's many chambers, he has a 'war-drawing room' and a 'peace drawing room'. Then we went into the Hall of Mirrors, which is under restoration so we saw a part of it. It's the room where Bismark established the German Empire after the Franco-Prussian War, and where the Treaty of Versailles, which ended WWI and set in motion the causes of WWII, was signed. I just realized that it's ironic that the most important room in German history is in France.

Anywho, Versailles is where the king built the huge gardens and artificial canal. The palace sits atop a hill which slopes down in the back to fountains and then the canal. The other end of which is 3.5 km away from the palace.

Besides the subway, the only thing about Paris that left me disappointeded was that I didn't see any mimes. There was one guy on the corner on the opposite side of the street, Saturday evening when we were waiting in line to go up Notre Dame, but he was talking so it wasn't true mime. There also were no robot guys. Very disappointing.

After being spoiled by Paris, the rest of this week has been rather quiet. On Monday, we had a technical visit to CEAT, where they commenced to bore us to death. They can do pretty much any test that can be done to something that flies which would have been really cool except mainly, they took us around and read off of a sheet listing statistics of their various instruments. I think, because they showed us their stuff here as well, on the tour of ENSICA, that normally, people must just be floored by their stuff. Like that time they showed us their high-tech microscope here. The whole time I was thinking in my head "I can't hear you over the buzz of our four scanning electron microscopes at Madison". A good time was had by few, if any.

Another development this week is that there are several study abroad groups here in Toulouse. The other American group, from Colorado, I think, are spending this week here at Ensica. They are very annoying. Sitting in the cafeteria, we can't even talk across the table because they're so loud on the other side of the room. I guess, normally, I try to blend in when I go somewhere.

Americans kind of have the stereotype of being loud, over here. It's true, but we're not really that loud, it's just that Europeans are quiet, even whey they're talking to a group, which makes tours interesting. When I'd be in Paris walking around or on the subway and I'd hear people say stupid things in English without an accent, I thought "stupid tourists". It's funny, I think. I feel...more international, because I can see the faults committed by my own countrymen in a foreign country. I guess that'd happen, especially since I haven't been in the US, even a place that speaks English, for 26 days now. But, I mean, I enjoy traveling and I feel like my perspective has expanded greatly.

Wednesday, June 21

Photo Caption Contest

Here's your chance to be creative. I saw this sign in Paris and can't tell what it's trying to say. 'No holding hands!' is too simple. What do you think it is trying to communicate? Leave your guess(es) in the comments.

Tuesday, June 20

Paris 2 of 3: Saturday, or how I took a million pictures of/from the Eiffel Tower

We did a lot on Saturday. First, we beat the crowds to the Eiffel Tower. We only had to wait about 45 minutes on the ground to get to the second floor, from which we got up to the top without waiting again. The Eiffel Tower is just under 1,000 feet tall and it was built in 1887-89.

the Arc de Triomphe from the top of the Tour Eiffel
the Louvre is the long building on the other side of the river

a view of the lines from the first floor

Napoleon's tomb
It it quite similar to the rotunda of Wisconsin's capitol. Here's the big little man, himself.
We then went to the greatest art museum in the world, the Lovre. I felt bad about being in a museum and slowly shuffling instead of stopping but we only had two hours. We followed the crowd to the Mona Lisa. I would have taken a picture, but they don't allow pictures in some parts of the museum. It was most awesome. Luckily, there wasn't a line, it was more of a crowd in front of her with guards in suits who swatted at people attempting to take pictures.
big art
famous art (Venis de Milo)
old art
functional art (Hammurabi's Code) It is the first set of written laws in history.
future art
Glass Onion? No, glass pyramid!
The French Navy was out on full patrol. Just kidding!
We finally made it to Notre Dame after escaping from a French restaurant that held us hostage for 2.5 hours for dinner. I mean, of course we paid for it; we didn't run out on the bill. We then climbed the 80 metres to the top.
You'd figure that after having sat there for hundreds of years, the one on the corner would have conquered its fear of heights.
Then we went and did a nighttime boat cruise on the Seine. The buildings are even prettier when lit up. The recording was in about a dozen different languages and the English voice refered to the Eiffel Tower as a "three story metallic assembly".

Monday, June 19

Paris 1 of 3: Friday

Like I said, we got up bright and eary to take the train to Paris. We arrived at noon. I wasn't too excited because I really hadn't thought about all there is in Paris, but after walking around a little, I got giddy. Here are the pictures from last Friday.

From far up and across the river
the Palais de Justice on the Ile de la Cite, the government has been located at this spot since Roman times
Notre Dame, started in 1160 and finished around 1345, is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture
the inside
the memorial to the French Jews deported during WWII, located in the block behind Notre Dame
the river
Sainte Chapelle was built in the 1240's and now is surrounded by the Palais de Justice
L'Assemblée Nationale, France's congress
The main gallery of the Musée D'Orsay, which covers the 19th century
To the south of the city Sacre Coeur, a basilica, sits atop butte Montmartre
a little bit closer now
A little down the slope of Montmartre is where all the artists hang out. I didn't see a single mime! What the heck!?!
Napoleon's tomb is under the golden dome and surrounded by a French military museum
It's the Arc de Triomphe! Much larger than I ever imagined and ordered by Napoleon!
From the top of the Arc de Triomphe, a view down Champs Élysées. It's not "Champs-Elise" (how I pronounced it at first) it's closer to "SHAWM-zay-le-zay".
The other end of Champs Élysées, the shopping district, is the Louvre.
Now, we went to the Eiffel Tower, but the top was closed so we decided to wait until another day. Later it was dark so we took many tons of pictures. Technically, the image of the Eiffel Tower at night is copywritten, but this picture isn't of the Eiffel Tower at night, it's of me standing in a park in Paris at night. We hypothecize that the circles are bugs in the air.