Electronica 2010: More Cultural Observations And Computer Frustrations-And-Revelations
Last night, on the rainy walk home from an enjoyable dinner near Marienplatz (i.e. Munich’s city center…my hotel’s near the central train station at Haupfbahnhof, about 20 minutes’ brisk stroll away) I experienced a bit of culture shock. I’d previously mentioned that last Saturday evening prior to the organ concert (and prior to leaving for Europe), a friend and I had taken in the sights at San Francisco’s Union Square district. We’d come across several street-corner ‘musicians’ (I’m being charitable), including one guy incessantly banging on a set of overturned plastic buckets and another young man (badly) doing his best Jack White imitation (or maybe it was Billie Joe Armstrong…hard to tell).
Yesterday evening here in Munich, at two different locations on either side of the public strolling path that interconnected Marienplatz and Karlsplatz, I encountered quite a different sort of concert. In both cases, huddled underneath a protective building overhang, a cluster of musicians were performing classical compositions, complete with CDs for sale and the obligatory open container inviting donations. A piano, a bass violin, a viola, and several woodwind instruments comprised each musical suite; these delightful experiences came on the heels of my having encountered, the previous day, a woman playing an accordion (beautifully so, I might add) for monetary contributions at the entrance to the subway station. Clearly I’m in the land of classical, not rock-and-roll, music. And mind you, I’m not complaining.
Speaking of subways, last night’s dinner companions clarified my previously stated observations that nobody seemed to be paying for subway tickets. Apparently, month-duration unlimited-ride passes are also available, which most locals purchase, and inserting them in the time- and date-stamp machines isn’t required prior to each subway ride. Instead, it’s only necessary to keep the pass on your possession in case the transportation authority representatives stop you and ask you to present it. Speaking of the authorities, they don’t typically enforce the fare regulations during international conference timeframes, since the ticket machine instructions are only printed in German and non-native speakers might therefore be understandably confused (and subsequently ticket-less). But if you do get caught riding the subway, train or bus without paying, it’s a 40 Euro (~$55 USD) fine.
My culinary compatriots, several of whom were press relations representatives for Electronica, also explained something else I’d previously found odd. Normally, when I sign up as a press member for a conference in the United States, I’m given the opportunity on the registration form to specify whether or not to allow conference organizers to pass along my contact information to companies who’ll be exhibiting at the show, and if so in what form(s)…email address, mailing address, phone number, etc. Sometimes my narrowed preferences are honored, other times they’re ignored…and sometimes, the over-exuberant conference organizers even proffer my contact information (presumably snagged from EDN’s editorial masthead) to interested recipients even if I haven’t registered for the show!
For example, I started getting contacted by companies for next January’s post-new Year’s Day CES…a month ago, in mid-October, ahead of Halloween. At Electronica, however, I received scant pre-show communication from exhibitors, which I found strange until I was told last night that by German law, the conference organizers are forbidden from passing along personal information. The most they can do is provide a list of the publications which attended the previous Electronica show two years back, but even in that case they don’t give out specific press attendees’ names. In retrospect, I now recall that I wasn’t offered the option to forward my contact info to exhibitors when I registered for Electronica several months ago; at the time, I suppose I presumed that I was de facto opting in to such shenanigans, but perhaps I shouldn’t be so cynical in the future!
My laptop remains offline here at the hotel, although it continues to work just fine on either of the two wireless networks at the conference, thereby fingering the hotel’s setup as the root-cause culprit. I’ve remained reasonably productive by doing heavy-duty email transfers and RSS downloads while I’m at the show, focusing my hotel room computing activities only on offline-capable functions, and relying on the iPad (which at least through this morning remained in the hotel network’s good graces) for at-hotel online needs. But when I returned from the show this afternoon, the iPad refused to access the Internet, too. Thinking that it, like the MacBook Air before it, had for unknown reasons been declared a computer non grata by the router, I powered up my iPhone, which I haven’t outfitted with an international SIM (and yes, whose roaming data setting I’ve disabled) but which also has an 802.11 subsystem…but it wouldn’t access the Internet, either.
Nor would my Android-based, Wi-Fi-inclusive Motorola Droid. Nor, as it turns out, will any of the hotel’s own computers, either. The hotel manager had apparently reset the router earlier in the day in attempting to resolve my MacBook Air woes, an appreciated effort which unfortunately somehow made the problem even worse. And the contractor who set up the network isn’t even located within the city’s borders. The poor manager is currently pulling out his hair, imagining a hotel full of upset guests this evening. I therefore hope (and suspect) that the situation will somehow get resolved in short order. But I must admit that I’ll think twice before I stay at the Fleming’s Hotel (home of ‘free Internet service’…apparently you get what you pay for) again, in spite of its other attributes such as the far superior ‘free breakfast service’.
Speaking of the iPad, attempting to use it as my part-time primary computing and communications device has been an interesting experience. Each day, I call a friend back home using Skype, which I normally run from the laptop but which I’d thankfully also installed on the tablet prior to departing the States. It works fairly well, even though it’s an iPhone-native (not iPad-inclusive, far from iPad-exclusive) application, although late night usage results in a fair number of dropped syllables, words and calls due to inevitably heavy time-of-day-dependent hotel network traffic (early morning my-time Skype calls work much better). Via the Kindle app, I’m slowly working my way through Chris Andersen’s seminal missive, ‘Free’. And the Pulse RSS app enables me to keep current on new content published at key sites I regularly monitor.
For word processing, I use the Office2 HD facilities I’ve mentioned before. I’m unable to directly post online writeups via the iPad’s Mobile Safari browser to WordPress, so I email them to a Stateside coworker who thankfully handles this task on my behalf. In this regard, the application suite’s default Microsoft Office-compatible formats are convenient, as is the ability to directly email a file from within Office2 HD. Aside from the earlier-mentioned WordPress mismatch, along with a few other minor site glitches (such as some pages on EDN’s website, ironically, which insist on trying to download a Flash SWF file even though I’m running a Flash-less browser), Mobile Safari is surprisingly compatible with most every site I attempt to visit via it. I plan to try out other iPad- and iPhone-cognizant browsers, such as Atomic Web, Opera Mini and Skyfire, in the coming days to see if they further enhance what is already a pretty impressive web-via-iPad experience.
I’m really glad that I brought the Bluetooth-based Apple Wireless Keyboard along on this trip, because typing on it greatly improves the otherwise marginal-at-best experience of using the iPad’s pop-up virtual keyboard. And I really wish that the iPad supported the use of an external mouse. The inability to command-tab toggle between concurrently running programs on the iPad is unfortunate. At least I can concurrently run multiple programs (specifically third-party ones), however; although I haven’t yet updated the iPad to iOS v4.2, it’s jailbroken and I’ve therefore got Backgrounder and Circuitous installed on it. I also miss not being able to select more than one paragraph’s worth of text for copy-and-paste-between-iPad-app purposes, although Dropbox makes it fairly straightforward to shuttle entire files from the iPad to the laptop (when the latter’s online, that is). And iOS’s built-in text entry auto-correct facilities are occasionally appreciated but mostly drive me batty with their insistence on replacing what I type with an incorrect substitute. All in all, although the iPad is more usable than I would have imagined upfront (how’s that saying by Plato go, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’?), and its battery life is outstanding, a full-featured ultra-lite mobile computer remains my overwhelming travel tech-companion preference.
Followup: The hotel’s back online, after I took up the manager’s invitation to visit the equipment stack downstairs and power-cycled both the router and the broadband modem for him. But my laptop is still DOA online-wise here. So I strolled down the street after dinner and sob story-talked two hostels’ front desk clerks into sharing the credentials of their establishments’ wireless networks with me. ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’, indeed…