Wednesday, February 14, 2001

Time Shock

Well, I tried to wander around before the lectures yesterday, but the falling snow put the kibosh on that idea. If I'm similarly stymied this morning, at least I have the bus tour this afternoon.

I did wander out later during the morning coffee break -- partially to look around and partially to get away from all the smoke. The smoke in my room has lessened somewhat, which means that much of it was probably due to the previous inhabitant. But the section of the hotel with the conference contains a lot of people, and thus a lot of smokers. It always shocks me to see someone lighting up at a random place indoors. I want to say, "Hey you can't do that," but of course they can; it's only my American sensibility (and that's even a sensibility limited to parts of the country).

Speaking of the part of the hotel with the conference, an adjacent room featured a metal detector and a bunch of cops hanging around outside. The next time I walked past it, I put my glasses on and saw a sign with the Korean flag, another flag and the words "Welcome Reception." Then it was off to the Flags of the World web site to identify the other flag as the Mongolian flag. I did a news search, and sure enough, President Bagabandi of Mongolia was due to visit Cheju. Cool.

Last Friday, George warned me about the effect of the time difference. He said he had stayed up on the entire flight to Kuala Lumpur last year, and then he had gone to sleep right afer arriving -- the standard suggestion for dealing with jetlag. He said everything was fine until about 8 PM the next day, when he was overcome with sleep, only to wake right up at all hours of the night.

I, by contrast, napped some on the flight over. But I sayed up most of Korean "Monday" and went to bed around 10 PM. I woke up at about 6:30 and felt pretty good. I went down and had an overpriced breakfast at the "Cozy Cafe", checked my e-mail and went to the morning talks. I was feeling pretty good; maybe I was better able to handle this time difference than George. Wrong. After lunch, I was dead. During an endless series of 25 minute talks, my modus operandi was: listen to the first 5 minutes of the talk, decide the speaker didn't have anything interesting to say that couldn't be gleaned from the proceedings, nap for 20 minutes, wake up, clap, repeat. I went to my room and took a nap before the reception, wandered around there for a while, checked my e-mail (yeah, I'm obsessive) and went back to sleep.

I did, however, beat George in the sleeping through the night department. There are some areas you just shouldn't try to compete with me -- probable primality testing and sleeping are the two that come to mind. I made it through the next day (Wednesday) pretty well, though I decided to get to bed by about 9...for some reason sleeping 9-6, which corresponds to sleeping 7 AM to 4 PM Eastern Time, seemed like a good compromise. Well, at least it gets me up and using the computers before everyone else.

Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Smells Like Greensboro

I'm trying not to be jaded. Really. I recognize how lucky I amm to be able to jet around the world. In the past twelve months, I've been to Belgium, England, California (3 times), Minnesota (twice), Arizona (twice), Michigan (twice) and Illinois. But here I am in Korea and the biggest culture shock I'm having is from how much everyone smokes. My hotel room reeks just as much as ones I've had in Greensboro, North Carolina and in Winnipeg.

Landing in Seoul went smoothly. Immigration and customs, I'm sure, will be more of a hassle in the US on the way back. I looked around for a while and found the shuttle bus to the domestic terminal. It's funny how my experience traveling was more important than the language/culture barrier when figuring out where to go.

Everything went so smoothly, in fact, that I managed to get on an earlier flight to Cheju. For whatever reason, I was in economy class on this leg. No matter; it was only an hour to Cheju, an island off the southern coast of Korea. Once there, I pretty easily found the No. 600 bus to Chungun, the resort area where my hotel is located. Looking out the window, I could see the streets of Cheju City...lots of neon, Korean characters everywhere, but other than that not clearly so much different than English cities. After a bumpy hour crossing the island, I arrived at the Cheju Shilla hotel.

It had taken me until I got to Korea to find my hotel in my guidebook, so I had had some trepidation about the quality. I needn't have worried. When I finally did find it, it was labeled "super-deluxe". Pictures of world leaders who stayed here -- Clinton, Gorbachev (in his pre-Pizza Hut, Soviet leader days) -- adorned the walls. Actually, you could say that it was more of a culture shock staying in a fancy-schmancy hotel than the fact I was in Korea.

After checking into my room, I headed for a conference tutorial session that was already in progress (it hadn't been on the initial program, so I hadn't planned to arrive in time for it). After a few minutes on braid groups, I was feeling pretty groggy, as well as concerned that my house might be in ashes half a world away. So I ducked out and headed for the hotel's Internet center. The price was 5000 won for 30 minutes of service. That seemed like a fair price to check on the continued existence of my home, but there didn't seem to be anyone to pay. Oh, well, an ever fairer price! The alarm appeared to be eminently false, so I dashed off a few quick, "look, I'm in Korea" e-mails and headed off to bed.

It's somewhat easy to forget where I am when I'm in the hotel, especially during the talks. Fortunately, one look out the window reminds me. To the north is the snow-capped peak of an extinct volcano. To the south is the sea with a fleet of what appear to be fishing boats anchored just off shore. I'm up pretty early -- it's already Wednesday here -- and the sun is about to rise, so I'm going to try to get in a couple of hours of wandering around by the beach before the first talk.

Monday, February 12, 2001

Classes of Service

Because of the length of the flight to Korea, my employer sprung for a business class ticket for me. This expenditure seemed fairly extravagant.

This judgement did not pervent me from resolving to enjoy the hell out of the experience. With almost 48 hours in transit and less than 90 on the ground in Cheju (yeah, I'm a nut), flying was going to be a significant portion of this trip.

Perhaps due to the lack of business class on the Dulles to San Francisco leg, I ended up in first class. Woo hoo. Of course, I had gotten about 3 hours of sleep the night before, so I was not awake to enjoy most of the flight. Still, I slept in a really comfy chair instead of the cramped chair I would otherwise be subject to. And the meal service was comparable to being in a restaurant instead of...I don't know; the guest of a bad cook who doesn't like you. As I was warned by a colleage who has more experience with United, they offered teh meal service in order of number of frequent flier miles, which meant when they got to me, I was pretty hungry, and they were out of the fruit.

I arrived in San Francisco and hustled to Gate 102 for my flight to Seoul. I turned on my cell phone only to receive a message from the alarm company saying that a fire alarm had gone off at my house. Oh, crap. I called them back, and all they could tell me was that they had called the fire department and hadn't heard back. Nice. I asked them to check into things and call me back. I made a few frantic calls to get someone out to the house to look into things. ADT then called back to let me know that the fire department hadn't seen any signs of a fire, and had thus not broken into the house. I felt a little better, but ultimately I had to get on the plane without knowing the fate of my worldly goods.

The San Francisco to Seoul segment had me in business class. I'm not quite sure if international business class is inferior to domestic first class. The flight attendants may be a tad less obsequious. The chair, on the other hand, is quite amazing. (Go ahead, click on that link to see it.) It comes with 7 pages of instructions. The most notable feature is the leg rest, which comes out of the chair in La-Z-Boy-like fashion. There's also an individual video screen, which I had permanently tuned to the map channel. As I was writing a draft of this entry, we crossed the International Date Line and entered Russian airspace. (Is this such a great idea?)

I was somewhat bothered to be in the front row -- it's the dreaded lack of a seat in front of you for storage purposes -- until I discovered the seat next to me was empty. Wow. A place to pile all my junk!

So after a bit of napping, I resolved to stay wawake and try to adjust myself to Korean time. Let's see, if it's 10:45 AM there, that means it's...8:45 PM yesterday back home. Weird.

Saturday, February 10, 2001

Computations on Catalan's Conjecture

I'm giving a talk next month at the AMS 2001 Spring Southeastern Section Meeting. It's now posted on the schedule. If you click through and can read PDF files, you can see the abstract. Note that the bound should be 3x108.

Friday, February 09, 2001

San Diego

Hi. I'm just back from San Diego, where Blogger didn't work, so I'm bringing this to you all at once.

When I got into my hotel room (after hitting Rubio's at the airport to supplement the barely digestible airplane food), the thermostat was set at 50o. You might think they were trying to conserve energy by having the heat set that low when nobody was in the room. But, no...the air conditioning was set that low. It was freezing! (Though try as it might, the air conditioner only managed to get things down to around 55o.) No wonder they're having power problems.

On Monday night, we went to a Moroccan restaurant. I've been to restaurants corresponding to many countries, but never Morocco. We sat in low chairs along a low table. Before the first course, they brought out a cistern and poured water over our hands to clean them. This was necessary since the first few courses involved neither utensils nor individual portions (OK, they served the soup in individual bowls.) The "salad" consisted of baba ganoush and other such things that we scooped up between bread and thumb. Then we had the appetizer, which was a chicken-filled pastry (sprinkled with powdered sugar!), a main course of lamb and chicken, followed by a dessert of baklava and some mint tea. As a colleague remarked, it was more interesting as theater than food.

Tuesday night, we went out for Japanese food. I had the mixed sushi. The wasabe helped clear my sinuses, and I somehow accidentally ordered sake. I don't think I've had sake before; it wasn't bad. And though I'm no sushi expert, I enjoyed it.

Wednesday morning, I agreed to meet someone to go inline skating. We selected a must-skate location and followed the directions to Mission Bay. When we got there, the wind was blowing the sand across the parking lot, and it was tempting to turn back. We decided to press on, but my skating partner had forgotten the key to his skate bag. Well, I had the good feeling of wanting to skate without the exertion of having done so. The next morning when we met to skate, there was ice on the car, and that was enough to make me throw in the towel. What happened to sunny Southern California?

The flight back was fairly annoying. It was delayed out of San Diego because of "weather" in Chicago. Apparently, rain is quite a problem for them. Sigh. They couldn't tell me exactly when we would leave, and they couldn't tell me whether I'd be able to make my connection in Chicago. When I got to Chicago, it was half-an-hour after my connection was supposed to leave. "Fortunately" my second flight was delayed by two hours, which stretched to 3 hours, and I finally got to BWI at 3 in the morning. Sigh. Hopefully Sunday's flight to Korea will go better...

Sunday, February 04, 2001

Ski x3

OK, I've really caught the skiing bug now. With two weeks of travels coming up, I wasn't going to be able to hit the slopes again any time soon. So I took Friday off work and headed to Ski Roundtop. There were a number of good things about this trip -- we almost had the slopes to ourselves, there was a variety of beginner slopes and...well, those were the two main things. On the down side, the reason that we had the slopes to ourselves was because the conditions were so bad...

Yes, I've advanced as a skiier to the point where I get to start complaining about the conditions. Slush during the day, which turned to ice after the sun went down. I felt like I wasn't getting any better as a skiier, but if I looked at it, my technique was getting better -- I just wasn't able to control myself as well on the ice.

One of the more amusing moments during the day was when my skiing companion and I got to the bottom of the lift and started talking. She completely forgot where we were and was quite startled when the chair came along a few seconds later! As someone who is easily distracted myself, I can't poke too much fun. But a little.

I also wasn't too thrilled with the layout of Roundtop. We had to do a lot of trudging around at the bottom of the slopes to get to where we needed to be. There was no ski check (that I saw). And the instruction was OK, but not so hot. I think I'd rate the 3 locations I've been to as Liberty, then Whitetail, then Roundtop. Don't get me wrong -- I'd go back to any of them again. But I don't think I'd take vacation time to do so again unless the conditions were better. And now I can cope with not skiing for the next couple of weeks. Back to San Diego!

Thursday, February 01, 2001

Skiing, again

I had a theory. Since the Super Bowl would be on the following Sunday, not many people would be on the slopes. We could go skiing during the day, and I could tape the game. Avoiding any contamination, I would head home and watch the game on tape.

How did the theory work out? Pretty well, I think. I'm not really clear on how crowded ski resorts generally are, but Ski Liberty didn't seem too bad. Especially by the evening, when even the guys whose job it was to make sure people took turns getting in line had slipped away. But that was OK, since the line was short enough that there weren't enough people to have to take turns.

I started out the day by taking my second lesson. I was in level 2, which was for those of us who were "not very confident turning". Since level 1 was for first-time skiiers, I figured I had to be set for level 2. So we took the lift to the top of the mountain, where the instructors had us demonstrate our turning to separate us by ability level. Hello! I thought we had already established that we weren't good at turning. But I established it some more, so I ended up in the worst 3 instead of the better 6.

Which was fine. 'Cause I got more individual instruction. Oh, yeah, and I really was worse than most of the people. I realized that my previous lesson had taught how to turn but not when, why or how much to turn. And then the 3 people in the class could all ride up on the same quad lift chair with our instructor and chat. Oh, yeah, and then the other 2 in the class weren't as good as me, so I felt good by comparison.

But I learned how to turn enough that my instructor pronounced me ready for a level 3 lesson next time. So it was time to head for Sneaky Pete (here's a guide to the trails.) After a few runs down that, the hardest part was getting off the lift, and it was on to Dipsy Doodle.

I don't know about you, but I don't think a trail called Dipsy Doodle should have a 90o turn on the steepest part of the trail. I basically stumbled down that, but it was cool doing one run from the top of the mountain. I'd like another lesson under my belt before trying that part again, though. But at the bottom, and on another Sneaky Pete run, I was just flying down the mountain, zipping around. It was a heck of a lot of fun. The "First Class Area" bunny slopes were pretty darn easy by that point, but it was fun to go back and do them without having to slow down as much as I did at the beginning of the day.

Oh, and the Super Bowl? I'm glad I was able to fast forward through all the parts between plays. I hid my eyes from the TV playing at the resort, and was surprised by the outcome...well, as surprised as everyone who had seen the Ravens dominate the whole thing.