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small gray square I will never fly United again. I said this several times yesterday - the flights weren't specifically hellish, it was just endless delays. The initial was expected - when I bought the ticket, flight time was 11AM. But shortly before I left I was informed this flight would now be leaving at 3:30PM. Upon arrival the requisite 2 hours prior I learned of an hour delay, which soon stretched out to two, and was officially set at 1815 - our plane needed some part which wouldn't reach the aerodrome until 1730. Then I had to take the later flight from Chicago, and I didn't reach San Francisco until 2AM. But I arrived home eventually, everything intact. A very successful campaign; my tenth overseas adventure.

small red square Three of my four flights were on Boeing 767s with small screens set into the seatbacks, and armchair controls for switching between a variety of video channels, one of which is the great set of maps showing the aircraft's position. Got to watch "Casablanca" coming back over the Atlantic yesterday, that was fun (at least the first time). But this system come with some new airline nonsense - when one of the crew makes an announcement, the screens turn blue with the words "Programming Paused". But they lie! The tapes are still running. And although somebody has to start it, and then switch to the alternate program, no announcement was made, usually, on my flights - in other words you had to be really lucky to catch the beginning of the movie. (I didn't, the one time they showed "The Truman Show" <1>, on the way to - that was distressing, since the opening few minutes are among the best parts of that film.)

small blue square On my final flight segment last night, the Captain came on with a quick follow-up after the usual post-launch greeting: the Northern Lights were visible off to the right. Fortunately, since this last-night flight was only about a third full, it was easy to move around for prime viewing - a slowly shifting, nebulous mass was out there, glowing dimly - closer seeming than ever before. Like the other times I've seen them, no specific color could be detected. This elderly guy I worked with circa 1980 had been stationed in Greenland, and his description of the aurora at its best was "...all colors. All over the sky, all the colors." Not often, he said, but if you were up there a year you'd seem 'em.

small violet square A Conclusion: This time I tried something new - except for those three days in Slovenia, I had no guidebook. It seems like a particularly lame position to find oneself in, as worldly tourist-traveler, walking down some foreign street <2> or standing off to the side studying one of these Let's Go or Lonely Planet books, so I tried to transcend that look this trip. But you gotta have something - it's vital for that info-boost when you suddenly find yourself off-itinerary. This trip's method is also recommended, however - beforehand I took all kinds of notes from those books, and transcribed them on to a dozen double-sided sheets of hardcopy - my reference pages.

small cyan square Concerning those elliptical stickers people put on their cars to identify the home country, like "F" for France or "D" for Deutschland - the other day I saw a great one: "URL". Today I saw another - just a question-mark. During my recent travels I discovered that "HR" means Croatia, and tell me again why Switzerland is "CH"?

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small yellow square Y2K Spotlight

My mail contains my company's "Year 2000 Handbook" - it's very helpful</IRONIC MODE>. Pages and pages describe the problem, and even who will coordinate the problem fix programs. I'm reminded of a comment from a co-worker several years and jobs ago, about a frenzied suggestion of testing activity: "They're so busy building a watch they can't tell time."

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<1> ...or as it was billed in Slovenia, "The Trumanov Show"

<2>Anecdote: my first trip to Japan, leaving the general vicinity of the Sensoji Temple at Akakusa, a girl with a backpack came walking up out of a subway station, directly into my path. She was engrossed in reading the very travel book I had back in my hotel room! There was a shock of recognition as our eyes met; I was too stunned to speak, and we walked away from each other.