USA Border Crossing Horror Stories [en]

[fr] Histoires d'horrreur en entrant aux USA. J'ai de moins en moins envie d'y remettre les pieds, j'avoue.

I’ve been listening to On The Media again, one of my favorite podcasts. You know, each time one of these US border crossing horror stories finds its way to me, what little desire I have to enter the US just melts away a bit more.

Here are a few I came across lately, and an old one that happened to a friend of mine.

Now off to less depressing things for what’s left of my week-end — like eating my delicious plum tart.

20.10.2013 update: adding more below as I stumble on them.

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Drive, Practical Wisdom, Money and Congress, Alone Together [en]

[fr] Quelques lectures, vidéos, podcasts.

A few random thoughts about stuff I’ve been reading. Or maybe, random pointers to stuff I’ve been reading. Or watching.

I had a chat the other day with a friend about needing to make time for “serious reading” (that I want to do!) and we both decided to try and fit in 30 minutes of reading during lunch break when we didn’t have meetings or appointments. I think this has motivated me to get back on the podcast-listening and talk-watching track too. Interestingly, I’m seeing collisions between the various things I’m reading/listening to/watching from various sources.

Anyway. Start with Drive, the book I’m reading. It’s about motivation. I’m around page 30 so far, and it’s talking about the intrinsic/extrinsic motivation stuff I’m so interested in since I bumped into it whilst reading The How of Happiness. Now read I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave, a rather chilling account of what happens on the other end when you order stuff online (physical stuff, that is stored in warehouses, and needs to get to you). No place for intrinsic motivation of any kind in there.

And here’s a TED talk by Barry Schwartz (the guy who wrote The Paradox of Choice) on using our practical wisdom. What’s that? Quoting from memory, it’s about wanting to do the right thing, and knowing where and how to bend the rules to do the right thing. Barry gives examples of how rule-ridden our culture (particularly American culture) has become.

And in the same vein, watch Larry Lessig explain how money corrupts congress, and how it can be stopped. Sobering.

This morning I decided to listen to an RSA talk (I subscribed to their podcast ages ago but haven’t yet really listened to anything). I picked one with a title that appealed to me: Alone Together, title of a book by Sherry Turkle. She talks about two things, mainly. Robots is the second. It’s a huge topic: how willing we are to enter into relationships with machines designed to imitate the behaviours of living/sentient/caring beings — and the consequences of that.

But that’s less interesting for me right now than her thoughts on always-on mobile connectedness: smartphone in hand, we always have the option of bailing out of our lives with each other. She gives the great example of the 15-year-old birthday party. When everyone wants to leave, it gets uncomfortable. They have to talk to each other. Say that they’re leaving. Now, they just “disappear” into Facebook and avoid having to confront that uncomfortable moment.

We have this capacity to leave where we are physically to go someplace else, which is easier. And avoid facing moments where maybe we need to learn something as a human being — growing moments.

Later in the discussion, she talks about our inflated expectations of responsiveness from one another. This is a topic that’s dear to my heart. I strongly believe that we should not cave in to being “always available” and “ever responsive”. Sherry says that before e-mail, when professors were asked if they would contribute to a publication, the average response time was 3 weeks. Now it’s 1.5 days. We’re not thinking anymore. We’re responding as fast as our fingers can type on our Blackberries. She suggests trying to answer an e-mail with “I’m thinking” to see the reaction. Maybe I’ll try. 🙂

Update 16h45: oh yes, forgot this one. More hours does not mean more productivity.

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Lift09: Turning Lake Leman into Silicon Valley? [en]

I participated in a Birds of a Feather session earlier, titled How can we make Lac Léman into an entrepreneurial hub? — I found it a little frustrating to start with, but it ended up really lively and interesting.

One issue that I’d like to insist upon is the cultural component of the problem. It’s easy to dismiss it as irrelevant, but I think it’s a mistake, because culture is the constraint within which we work. I’d like to share a few thoughts on the cultural differences between the US and Switzerland. I’m not a sociologist, so maybe they’re a bit naive, but I think they make sense and we should pay attention to them.

Not to say that all is impossible “because of culture”, but I do believe that there are cultural reasons this area is not “another Silicon Valley”. I don’t mean that it cannot become a good place for entrepreneurs. I hope it can, but if it can, it will be in a rather different way than the US, and taking into account the cultural differences between the two areas.

Let’s look at the heritage of Switzerland and the US.

Switzerland is over 900 years old as a nation, and the people living in these areas have been occupying them for a looong time. (There’s immigration, of course, proof typing these letters, but our culture has not been shaped by it in the distant past.) We are stable here. We don’t move. We are the decendants of farmers and mercenaries, and people who decided to “go alone” (Schwytz, Uri, Unterwald in 1291) besides the big political powers of the time. Face it, we’re a bit better than our neighbours and we don’t really need anybody.

The USA, on the other hand, is a young nation, founded by adventurers or pilgrims who set off to cross the bloody Atlantic to settle on a new continent peopled by savages (that’s how they must have seen things at the time). Many would die. It was risky. It was the land for innovators, for those who were not afraid of new things, who would try to do things differently. Dream a dream and make it come true.

These are (part of) our cultural backgrounds. Now, you can go against the grain, there are exceptions, but to some extent, we are prisoners of our culture, or at least, we must work within it.

I think that this historical and cultural heritage can help explain why the US is often branded as “entrepreneur-friendly” (what is new is better, and innovators and risk-takers are the kings) whereas in Switzerland, we are seen as more risk-averse. As we say in French, we tend to want to chop off the heads that stand out from the crowd. Don’t draw attention to yourself. I think the Swiss are less naturally inclined towards self-promotion, for example.

Now, these are cultural trends. An atmosphere. It doesn’t mean you won’t find risk-averse Americans, or extraordinary Swiss entrepreneurs. But I think these cultural traits end up being reflected in our institutions.

For example, during the session, Lucie mentioned how many administrative hurdles an entrepreneur needed to go through here to even get *close* to receiving money.

Another thing that came up which rings very true to me is that in Switzerland, we are really very comfortable. And as employees, particularly. Things like a mere two-week notice (what seems current in the US) would be unthinkable here (you get a month when you start, and it goes up to two and even three months after a few years of employment for the same company). We have incredibly good unemployment benefits (over a year at 80% of your last salary).

Now, I would not dare suggest we give up the security we have here in Switzerland. No way! But we have to take this into account when analysing the situation. If we want to improve things for entrepreneurs here, we need to identify the problem and offer solutions to it. And those solutions need to take into account things that we cannot change, like cultural settings.

So, what can we do?

It was pointed out during the session that there are lots of local initiatives to encourage entrepreneurs, but they tend to be stuck in silos. An index of all the “happenings” here would be a good start. It was also suggested to bring Venture to Suisse Romande on the years it’s not happening in Suisse Allemande.

Discussion participants wrote ideas down on a big sheet of paper at the end of the session, and Vittorio said he’s make something available from the discussion page on the Lift conference website. Keep an eye on there. Things are going to happen.

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Healthcare in San Francisco Experiences [en]

[fr] Expériences nettement plus positive avec le système de soins ici à San Francisco.

After my [trip to Walgreens in Austin, TX](, I honestly hoped I wouldn’t have to deal with anything healthcare-related in the US, ever again. Oh well, I was wrong.

A few days ago I started having a sore throat, and went down to the Walgreens on First and Mission (I’m in San Francisco) to ask about some antiseptic spray or something. I had braced myself for another less-than-pleasant experience, and was positively surprised when a nice and smiling pharmacist listened to me, discussed options, gave me advice, and made me feel like she was happy to do her job. Quite a change from the grumpy guy in Austin, who maybe needed a job change!

A day or two later, I realised that one of my toe nails was starting to become way too painful (said toe nail was traumatized on the judo mats some 10+ years ago, and has been bothering me at times since then — but this was starting to be really problematic). I tried heading for the pedicure first, who politely turned me away after a few prods at it and a few yells on my part: it was already infected, and I needed to see a doctor. Oh, heck.

There was a Walgreens nearby, on 4th and Townsend, so I dropped by to ask about doctors. Where/how/what? A very nice and friendly pharmacist (wow, two of them in the same city!) told me to head for the clinic behind the AT&T ballpark (24 Willie Mays Plaza) to see a Dr. Zee (or Zak — short for Zacharewicz, and easier to pronounce). I found the clinic quite easily (between the ballpark and the canal), checked in as best I could (forms are clearly not designed for patients visiting from abroad), and waited — quite a bit, but hey, I was a walk-in.

A friendly nurse/assistant (?) showed me in, asked me a few questions about what brought me here (I got to tell her the sad story of my poor toe nail) took my blood pressure, and left me to wait a few minutes for Dr. Zee.

Dr. Zee was as nice as I’d been told. She listened to my story, prodded my toe nail a little, thought a bit, and gave me instructions for warm soapy foot-baths, keeping me toe out of the dirty San Francisco street-dust, and a prescription. A really lovely doctor that I heartily recommend if you’re in SF and in need of one.

I left, $90 poorer but feeling almost warm and fuzzy about healthcare in San Francisco, and decided to drop in at the Walgreens which had sent me to pick up my prescription. That’s where I learned that I had to wait 15-20 minutes to get my medication (some antibiotic cream) instead of just being able to hand in the prescription slip and walk out with my meds (as I expected, based on my — limited and Swiss — previous experience). I decided to drop in later that evening as I was going out.

Fast-forward a few hours. I’m back at Walgreens to pick up my prescription. I’m told they can’t give it to me, because the doctor did not specify on the prescription if it was *cream* or *ointment*. They’d tried to call the doctor’s office but it was already closed, so I had to wait until tomorrow. I said I really didn’t care if it was cream or ointment, they could give me either. They said they couldn’t, that the doctor needed to confirm if it was the cream or ointment. I insisted, arguing that the difference in between cream and ointment really wasn’t important in this case, that all I cared about was to be able to start the treatment for my toe as soon as possible. The pharmacist (who was a different one from the one who recommended Dr. Zee to me) kept on like a broken record, telling me they couldn’t make the decision or give me one or the other. I insisted more, saying that no insurance would bother them about this because I was from abroad and would be paying myself, that I wasn’t going to sue them, etc. No success: the doctor had to decide, **by law** they were forbidden from giving me the medicine without her confirmation.

I stomped out, feeling powerless and furious, then stomped back in to ask for my prescription. If was going to have to wait until tomorrow for my prescription, I would go to a pharmacy closer to where I was staying, like the one on 1st.

So, this morning, after 11 hours of sleep (!), I went down to the Walgreens on 1st to get my prescription. I also needed some other medication for my cough and eye. The pharmacist (honestly not sure if she was the same one as the other day) was lovely. She actually took the trouble to explain me how the medication I’d been recommended for my eye in Austin worked (basically, does nothing else than shrink the blood vessels, so that it’s less red). Checked that there was no discharge, and said “OK, so it’s not conjunctivitis then” (a contrast with “I can’t tell you, you have to see a doctor” or some other stupid by-the-book answer). Discussed the other drug I needed with me too. Nice and helpful.

And when my prescription arrived (less than 5 minutes later — and I don’t know if they called the doctor’s office, but they didn’t bring it up) she mentioned that it was quite expensive: $70. I told her I was probably going to back out then, because it was just for an ingrown toe nail which had already started to get better with the soapy water baths. She agreed with me that the cream was maybe a bit overkill given that, and that I’d probably be OK with over-the-counter antibiotic cream. *Over-the-counter antibiotic cream?!* Yes, that have that here.

So, overall, a much more pleasant experience of healthcare services here in San Franciso (despite one episode of “we follow rules, here” broken-recorditis).

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A Trip to Walgreens [en]

[fr] Une petite visite à la pharmacie aux Etats-Unis.

This is just too good a story to not write about it while I wait for somebody around here in Austin to come up with dinner plans.

Around noon, I noticed my left eye was bloodshot. Nothing terrifying. Over the afternoon, it started feeling a bit dry and painful, so I asked the hotel clerk if there was a pharmacy nearby. (Cutting a long story short, I figured out that this was the best course of action given the situation.)

A $20 taxi fare and a bottle of Visine later ($3.99), I have just been through the most surreal pharmacy experience in my whole life. I mean, I’d heard jokes, but I’d never seen it in person.

First, the pharmacist. For those of you who do not know the US, pharmacies are not privately owned (as far as I can see), as they are in Switzerland for example, but are part of a chain: Walgreens, CVS… There is a little booth where you can go to speak to the pharmacist and get advice — in that, it seems to match the kind of services I’m used to in a pharmacy. It stops there.

He finally puts down the phone and comes over to me.

– How can I help? *(in a “let’s get it done with” tone of voice — friendliness optional, obviously, and I ain’t getting none of it)*
– Well, my eye is red, and it hurts, and it might just be too much travel, too much A/C, not enough sleep, but it could be conjunctivitis…
– If you have conjunctivitis, then you have to see a doctor. Otherwise, you can *shmbl glmp znfgh — inaudible*
– Well, I don’t *know* if I have conjunctivitis.
– …
– Er, so, how do I know if I have to go see a doctor? How long do I wait before going to see the doctor if it doesn’t get better?
– I can’t tell you that. *(or something in that direction)*
– I mean… assuming it’s not conjunctivitis, and I use those drops, in how many days should it be over?
– Can’t say — it depends on the person. *(at this point, I feel like saying *I’m not going to sue you, you know, just looking for some kind of indication…”)*
– …
– Is there any discharge?
– No… just feels dry and painful
– OK, so it’s probably not conjunctivitis. If you have conjunctivitis, there is a discharge… so you should be ok with *shgmphh fgb*, over-the-counter.
– OK, thanks — can you repeat the name again?
– Visine A.C.
– Where do I find it?
– Aisle 8D.

I thank him and potter off to aisle 8D, not far away. There is a sign that says eye and ear stuff. The aisle is full of feminine hygiene products and sports elastic bands. I have no clue what Visine A.C. looks like, and it doesn’t seem to jump out at me.

I head back to the counter and ask for help. It is provided rather gracefully.

The shop assistant leads me down the *neighbouring* aisle (I could have searched for a long time in the wrong one) and shows me the drops. I spot another bottle just next to it, Visine L.R. Being a curious bunny, I wonder what the difference between the two products is. This is where it gets really bad.

– So, what’s the difference between those two?
– Well… let me see. They don’t have the same active ingredients. See… this one has a different active ingredient, and astringent.
– Er, OK, but what’s the difference?
– They have different active ingredients… This is the one the pharmacist recommends for you.
– I mean, what’s the difference in effect… what does the difference in active ingredients change?
– Well, this one will be more effective.
– But… how? what is the difference going to be?
– I can’t make any recommendation, but this one is what the pharmacist recommended, so it’ll be more effective for what you told the pharmacist you had…

Before I have a chance to confront his robotic, scripted, lawsuit-proof behaviour (which probably wouldn’t have done much good), the pharmacist comes walking by, and he passes on the problem (me) to him.

The pharmacist looks at the two bottles while I repeat my request for information.

– They don’t have the same active ingredients. This is the one I recommended. Actually, here, this is what you need.

He hands me the Visine L.R.

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Cory Doctorow: Europe's Copyright Wars – Do We Have to Repeat the American Mistake? (Web 2.0 Expo, Berlin) [en]

*My live notes of Cory’s talk. Might be a bit messy because I have trouble wrapping my head around some of these issues, and Cory does indeed talk rather fast. Plus, as you probably know by now, I’m in a frightening state of exhaustion.*

Europe and America: harmonization escalation.

Web 2.0 Expo Berlin 26

It’s easy to laugh at US copyright policies from Europe.

Inducing infringing of media copyright: should be held liable. If your technology *might* be used to infringe copyright… arghl… you’ll be held liable.

So if you develop your technology with the idea of infringing copyright, you will be held liable (thought crime!) for any subsequent copyright infringement.

With this kind of stuff, the VCR would never have seen the light, because one of the main ideas behind it was “time-shifting” and “librarying” (watch something later, or collect your favorite shows). The court ruled that time-shifting was legal, but never ruled on librarying.


Guy who gave a talk explaining how Adobe’s DRM was evil, arrested at the end of the talk by the FBI for talking about the wrong type of maths.

DMCA takedown notice. No need for proof. Routinely abused to silence critics, etc.

Viacom abuse, searching YouTube for keywords, thousands of DMCA takedown notices, for things as innocuous as people talking at a part who happened to have the names of their characters, etc.

Viacom says that by allowing private videos, Google and YouTube are inducing infringement.

Lawsuits against music fans in the USA. Suing fans does not convince them to go back to the record store! Hard to believe that the record companies’ best response to file-sharing is suing enough college students hoping the rest get the message.

Europe is by no means inculpable. DMCA started as a proposal shown to Al Gore who said it was bad, then presented to Europe where it got positive response and became the EUCD and back to the US as DMCA. *steph-note: maybe the difference in perception, if the laws are similar, has to do with the suing culture?*

IPRD 2 : probably the worst. Copyright infringement, historically, has to be dealt with in court. This criminalizes copyright infringement. And turns over dealing with it to the public police. *steph-note: I’m afraid I don’t understand all this, a bit over my head.*

e.g. Sweden, whole server farm taken down by the police (servers in police van), including legitimate sites of legitimate business, just disappeared into the van.

The sophisticated “cyber criminals”, this kind of thing doesn’t stop them. It just can be the end of it, however, for innocent people who aren’t very tech-savvy. Police cordoning off area for 6 months, 70% of businesses hosted there failed within those six months.

DVD CPCM: Europe-wide thing, all devices reading DVDs required to be compliant. CPCM can individually shut down certain classes of users, based on content producers’ decisions, even if you have the legal right e.g. to show something in school, you wouldn’t be allowed to break the CPCM.

Disturbing CPCM flags: DVD flagged so it can only be used by one household. (What is and what is not a household? huge problem. They have a very “conservative” concept of what a household is, which doesn’t include children and parents scattered through continents, old dads entering retiring homes, kids with divorced parents…)

Restricted playback systems. Goodbye interoperability. We didn’t need permission from Vauxhall to plug in your Nokia phone, or permission from Microsoft for Keynote to open ppts, or film company for playing their DVD on a Toshiba player…

All this is turning interoperability into a crime! You need keys to interoperate, and you’re not allowed to reverse-engineer keys.

*steph-note: quite scary, all this.*

Some of your sound systems won’t play certain types of audio, etc.

US smart enough to stay away from things like the Database Directive. In Europe, a collection of facts in a DB is protected for 50 years! Economist’s opinion on this: the DB directive is **not** good for Europe. They also asked the incumbents if the directive if it was good or bad, and of course they said yes. So the commission concluded: “opinions are divided! some people say it’s good, others say it’s bad! let’s leave things how they are!”

What can we do? Get involved in the [EFF]( *steph-note: or [ORG](*

Problem now: hearings for copyright stuff attract copyright holders, not technologists, geeks, economists.

Keith Richards isn’t going to go hungry if he doesn’t get another 40 years of copyright protection for his recordings.

First time in copyright history that the government turned its back on a proposal, and said “no, copyright extension is not a good thing”.

What Cory thinks the BBC should be doing. Streaming with DRM. Excuse: “we don’t have a choice, the right holders dictate the terms.” Why does a corporation funded by the public, for the public, come and tell the public that it has to adapt to the right holders demands, and not the opposite? Here, the BBC is not acting in public interest, but there is a history of the BBC doing so.

At one point, rights holders wanted use-by-use payment for the radio. e.g. each time the DJ want to play something, he has to call and ask permission. They turned that down. Found another solution, other music. Finally rights holders backed out and asked the radios to license their music (instead of the stupid conditions they were putting previously).

So Cory’s advice: look the rights holders in the eye, and go off to find other content, artists, etc which will agree to their terms, and give *them* a place they have been denied until now.

Problem: nobody is offering collective licensing schemes to the internet. Nobody is offering ISPs a blanket license for music or television shows.

It is not good for society that average people are criminalized for accessing culture.

The EFF is about copyright reform, not copyright abolitionism — not is Cory.

ThePirateBay weren’t abolitionists in Cory’s opinion, at the start.

Useful for copyright reformers that there are copyright abolitionists, because allows to say “if you don’t negotiate with us, you might end up having to deal with them”.

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BarCamp Lausanne: Privacy (Julien Freudiger) [fr]

[en] Privacy... a tricky issue, as ever.

“Nothing to hide.” Est-ce que ça justifie de ne pas se préoccuper de privacy?

[Julien]( fait une thèse sur le sujet. *steph-note: j’espère qu’il ouvre un blog pour documenter sa recherche!*

BarCamp Lausanne 33


– CCTV (on peut reconnaître quelqu’un à sa démarche => porter des schlaps) => et peu efficace côté incidence sur le crime
– Wiretapping (CALEA) conversations téléphoniques + tous les ISP doivent laisser des portes ouvertes. Mais Skype, pas, car Skype est européen. Donc pour le moment, OK.
– Banques (SWIFT): transactions internationales… les USA arrivent à contrôler les sommes d’argent transférées dans et hors des USA, alors que c’est interdit dans les autres pays.
– Avions: doivent donner numéro de carte de crédit, peuvent fouiller nos affaires…

Ça semble un peu dramatique… ça fait beaucoup d’information! La NSA a un des systèmes informatiques les plus puissants au monde… caché quelque part.

=> Privacy Enhancing Technologies

– Internet Anonymity: Tor
– Data Confidentiality: PGP (bien, mais trop complexe)

*steph-note: sympa, ce MacBook Pro sur lequel je tape… clavier très agréable… et pas si lourd!*

Ces services fournissant l’anonymat sont aussi des sortes d’aimants attirant beaucoup de traffic “sale”, ou potentiellement illégaux. (e.g. gens qui utilisent Tor pour faire du P2P…)

Deux systèmes qui marchent bien mais que personne n’utilise.

Travail de doctorat de Julien: trouver des motivations économiques pour que les gens utilisent de tels services. Lack of concern. Lots of info on social networks. “Nothing to hide.”

Privacy vs. Security: si on renonce à notre privacy, on donne plus d’informations pour aider le gouvernement à nous garder en sécurity. Comme: la torture est interdite, mais si on demande aux gens s’ils tortureraient une personne pour en sauver 1000, bien sûr que oui.

BarCamp Lausanne 34

Terrorisme: aux USA, en fait, on “torture” des millions pour préserver quelques miliers. Les USA disent qu’ils ont gagné la guerre froide car ils avaient la liberté… Mais maintenant? le contraire…

Le fameux “nothing to hide” argument: *steph-note: guilty.* On perd la conscience d’être regardés/observés, sur Internet. La privacy n’est pas important que lorsqu’on a des secrets. C’est pas pour les secrets, ou les choses qu’on a à cacher. Ce n’est qu’un aspect de la privacy. “Web of things.”

Lorsqu’on perd des petites quantités de privacy, pour (on espère) gagner en security. Métaphone: Orwell; Kafka. Kafka a imaginé une société qui en sait plus sur nous que nous-même. Elle sait prévoir ce qu’on va faire — perte du sens de contrôle sur notre propre vie. Une petite série d’actes mineurs qui s’aditionnent. Sur internet, si on dit une chose une fois, c’est dit pour de bon. Très difficile de retirer de l’information.

La privacy c’est quelque chose de pluriel.


– collection
– processing
– dissemination

Risque potentiel. Possibilité aussi que toutes ces données à notres sujet soient mal interprétées.

Valeur sociale de la privacy. Nécessaire à la construction de l’identité. Chacun a un espace de liberté dont la société bénéficie. Protéger la privacy = devoir social.

“Torturing Our Privacy”

BarCamp Lausanne 35

Où sont les abus?

WiFi: AP data sniffing. Pas très difficile de déterminer qui utilise un réseau (e.g. via l’accès à son serveur mail). Beaucoup de choses sont en clair. (Rajouter le s à http:// quand on est dans gmail…)
Social community phishing (“can I be your friend?”)
L’an dernier, il y a eu plus d’argent gagné par le cybercrime que le traffic de drogue.
Location tracking.

Compliqué: c’est utile pour moi comme utilisatrice, cette ouverture. Donc je n’ai pas envie d’y renoncer… mais quand même, comment protéger ma vie privée contre les abus, tout en l’ouvrant pour ma communauté.

Passer les captcha pour les spammeurs: ils les intègrent dans les sites pornos, donc les visiteurs les tapent pour voir l’image suivante, mais en fait sont en train de valider un spam quelque part.


BarCamp Lausanne 36

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Time to Leave San Francisco [en]

[fr] Il est bientôt temps pour moi de quitter San Francisco! Départ dimanche en fin d'après-midi, et arrivée lundi dans la journée en Suisse.

There we are. Five weeks have flown by, and it’s time to start packing my possessions to leave [San Francisco]( I stopped at a clearance place this morning for some last-minute shopping — oh my god! dresses (fancy, cocktail or party) for $29, skirts for $12… I’m afraid I went a bit overboard. I’ll have to do some serious cupboard-emptying when I get home.

An Afternoon in San Francisco 1

If you want to say goodbye (or hi!) to me before I leave (assuming you’re not going to be at [WordCamp]( tomorrow please come and join us for some [Chaat from 7pm to 10pm]( (or maybe earlier if we decide to move to [Taylor’s Refresher where the WordCamp people will be]( — I know it’s a bit of a clash). We should be about a dozen people or so — a human-sized gathering.

Thanks to everybody who contributed to make my stay here pleasant. I really had a nice time. I regret not having the time to see everybody or do everything — life tends to be like that for me. I guess it means I’ll have to come again.

I have to say, though, that I’m looking forward to seeing [Bagha]( again — and my beloved [Lausanne](

**Update:** I guess [nobody will be surprised by this](, but [we will use Stowe’s “bank” system]( to settle the bill. Please bring some cash as it makes things more practical.

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Notes From San Francisco [en]

So, roughly half-way through my five-week trip to San Francisco, what’s going on? I haven’t been blogging much lately, that’s for sure.

For once, I took some photographs from the plane. Unfortunately my camera batteries ran out just as we were coming down on San Francisco, and my spare ones were in the luggage compartment above my head. Oh, well.

Flying to San Francisco 31

I got some first-level questioning at immigration coming in. No, not the sort where they take you to a separate room, become much less friendly, and have boxes of rubber gloves on the counter. This is how it went:

– …And what is the duration of your stay?
– Five weeks.
– …And what do you do in… over in Switzerland?
– I’m a freelance… internet consultant. *OMG that sounds bad.* …I’m actually here to work on a book project. *Yeah I know I should never volunteer information.*
– What’s the book about?
– Er… teenagers and the internet.
– And…?
– Er… Well, the situation with teenagers and the internet, and what we’re doing about it in Switzerland.
– And what are you doing about it?
– Well, not enough!
– And? Come on, tell me more about it.
– Er… OK. *OMGOMG* Well, see, teenagers are really comfortable with computers and the internet, and so they’re chatting, blogging, etc. — they’re digital natives, see? — and parents, well, they’re clueless or terrified about the internet, and they don’t always understand what’s going on in their kids lives online, so basically, we have teenagers who are spending a lot of time online and sometimes getting into trouble and parents don’t know or don’t care about what they’re doing there, so we have this… chasm between generations and…
– Thank you. You can go.

The pick-up from the airport was wonderfully orchestrated and much appreciated. Being driven into town by somebody friendly rather than having to use unfamiliar public transportation really makes a difference. Thanks to all those involved (yes, it took that many people!)

Waiting on the Sidewalk

Then, through some freak breakdown of all modern forms of communication (partially documented on Twitter), I ended up waiting outside on the sidewalk for almost an hour while my kind host Tara waited for me inside her appartment. We worked it out finally, and I was introduced to my (nice and spacious) room before going to hang out at [Citizen Space]( A nice dinner out with Chris, Tara and Jimmy to end the day, and I happily collapsed in my bed at a respectable local hour. You will have taken note that I did not collapse at 4pm feeling like a zombie, thanks to having taken [melatonin]( on the plane. (It [doesn’t seem to work that well for Suw](, but it works perfectly on me, and I’m never traveling between continents without it again.)

The four next days went by in [a blur of Supernova madness]( too many people, too many sessions, food with ups and downs, parties with [cupcakes]( and others at the top of [skyscapers]( I took [lots of photographs]( and even [a video sequence that got some attention](

Supernova First Day 33

During the next week, I started settling down. Met and hung out with old friends, made new ones, unpacked my suitcases, went walking around in town, saw [Dykes on Bikes](, the [Gay Pride Parade](, and the [iPhone launch](, photographed [skyscrapers in the night](, ordered a new camera, got my MacBook (partly) repaired, and even [dropped in at Google to take notes of Suw’s talk there](

All this, actually, is documented in [my Twitter stream]( — maybe I should add a whole lot of links? — be sure to keep an eye on it if you’re interested in a more day-by-day account of what I’m doing here.

Overall, things have been good. A small bout of homesickness a few days ago, but I’m feeling better now. I need to start focusing on the things I want to get done (blogging, writing, book, writing, fixing things for clients…) — holiday over now!

Downtown San Francisco By Night 9

I’ve been thinking about my “work career” a little, too. I’m very happy doing what I’m doing, but I’m not going to be doing “Blog 101” for ever — I can feel my interests shifting somewhat already. I’ve been interested in the “social tools at large” department for a long time, but unfortunately it seems to translated to “blogging” in most of the work I do, so I’d like to expand my horizons in that direction a little. I’ve had a couple of talks with people in startups recently, and I realize it’s a kind of environment I wouldn’t mind working in — at least part-time. We’ll see what happens.

I’m also realizing that there is more potential than I first thought around [the two main things I care about these days]( teenagers online and internet language issues. Hence, the book, and also a talk on the subject of languages on the internet which I’ll be giving at Google this coming Tuesday.

Also in the “work” department, two other things have been on my mind. First, the idea of opening up a coworking space in or around Lausanne ([Ollie is having the same kind of thought]( — we’re talking). Second, trying to find a solution so that I don’t have to do maintenance on my clients’ WordPress installations once all is rolling, or spend hours swimming in HTML, CSS and WordPress theme PHP template tags. Not that I don’t know how to do it or don’t enjoy it once in a while, but it’s really not the kind of work I want to spend my time doing. So, I’ve been starting to ask around for names of people who might do this kind of thing (for a reasonable fee), and even thinking of recruiting some students in Lausanne that I could coach/train so that they can do most of the work, and call me up only for major problems. So, see, I’ve been thinking.

Some people have been asking me if I was planning to move here. Indeed, 5 weeks in the city looks suspiciously like a scouting operation. Actually, traveling has an interesting side-effect for me: I tend to come back home thinking “gee, Lausanne is *such* a great place to live! I’m never moving!” Sure, I have some underlying personal issues which contribute to making me overly attached to my hometown, and I know that someday I might end up living elsewhere. But really, for the moment, I don’t think I’d want that.

And even though I’m told San Francisco is very “European” compared to the rest of the US (which I have yet to see) I can’t help seeing how “horribly American” it is. Don’t get me wrong, I really like this city and am enjoying my time here. I know that what I say can give wrong impressions (for example, people — especially Indians — read [the story of my year living in India]( and think that I hated the country; it’s not true, I really loved it, and can’t wait to go back). But I walk around San Francisco and see all the signs with rules and regulations and “stupid” warnings (like, God, the pineapple chunks I buy at Whole Foods haven’t been pasteurized and may contain harmful germs! or, don’t use the hairdryer in the bath tub!), the AT&T Park and other manifestations of what to me is “consumerism gone mad”, I hear about health care and [“you’re expected to sue” horror stories](, visa lotteries for non-renewal, the education system…

So, yes, I’m focusing on the negative. And Switzerland, even though it’s a wonderful country ;-), has its negatives too. Like many natives all over the world, I’ve developed a selective blindness to what is “wrong” in the land I come from, considering much of it “normal” as I have been brought up with it. I know that. But too much of what I see here makes my skin crawl. I’m really enjoying spending some weeks here, I love my friends, the food and the sunshine, but I don’t think I’d be happy living here.

Misty Skyscrapers in Downtown San Francisco 10

Well, this was one of these longer-than-expected posts, and it’s occupied most of my morning. My tasks for this afternoon are (in this order):

– one WordPress install for a client
– spending a little more time trying to see if there is hope for the aggravating Google Groups problem I bumped into, and if not, setting up a Yahoo! Group instead
– writing a post for []( or working on my book — whichever I most feel like.

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Je suis à San Francisco [fr]

[en] I'm in San Francisco until July 22nd. Just now, I've been "recruited" to film some of Supernova2007 (which means I'll be there, behind a camera), so I haven't really had time to settle down (I was at Supernova Open Space yesterday).

Juste un petit mot rapide pour vous dire que j’ai fait bon voyage jusqu’à San Francisco (avec très peu de “jetlag” grâce à la mélatonine). J’y serai jusqu’au 22 juillet. Il fait chaud la journée mais froid la nuit, et j’ai été “recrutée” pour faire camérawoman lors de la conférence Supernova2007. Donc, journée un peu occupée, mais entrée gratuite à la conférence.

Waiting on the Sidewalk

J’ai commencé à mettre [des photos sur Flickr]( — vous pourrez donc suivre mes péripéties depuis là si vous le désirez.

Avec un peu de chance le rythme de vie devrait s’être calmé d’ici la fin de la semaine (quoique… il y a tout le temps quelque chose qui se passe, ici, c’est effrayant) et je tiens vraiment à profiter de ce séjour pour écrire, bloguer, me reposer…

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