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Air France is good Mon, Jun 30, 2008
That being said, my experience on Air France was quite nice.  Like any good American, I'm skeptical of all things French.  But Air France seems to have its act together.  I'm not sure if it was because it was an overseas flight or if that's just how all their flights are, but here's what they did right: 
  1. Gourmet meals in economy class.  The few times I've flown first class, I'm always amazed at the difference in meal quality.  It's like being treated like a king while the peasants all eat their moldy bread and water.  Air France served a nice big meal in economy class, equal to a first class meal.  Quite a surprise.
  2. Meals on short flights.  My connecting flight from Paris to Hannover was about an hour and a half long, but we still got a little meal.  Remember when they used to do that in the U.S.?  I don't.
  3. Free booze.  I'm not a big drinker, and I only had one beer on the flight.  But it's the principle.  Getting something for free is so rare, especially from an airline.  And even if Air France simply factored that into the price of the ticket, it worked for me.  I'm easily tricked.
  4. Headphones, earplugs, and a sleeping mask, for free.  Brilliant, seeing that it was an overnight flight.
  5. Seatback entertainment system.  I've seen this on other airlines, and it's such a great idea.  Instead of waiting for that 4-inch screen to noisily slide down from the ceiling, you can watch whatever you want on the back of the seat in front of you.  Movies, TV, a camera on the nose of the plane.  There were even games, which helped fill some of those 7 or 8 hours in the air.
So in conclusion, air travel in the U.S. is so bad, I'd consider going with Air France in the future (if it was only an option!).  That's saying a lot. #travel

Why airline travel sucks Mon, Jun 30, 2008
Anyone who has ever traveled via commercial airline knows it falls quite short of "good" (except Wendy's mom, who had a great time on her first flight a few weeks ago).  Here's my take on why: 
  1. Everyone is treated like a criminal.  I appreciate security, but come on:  Metal detectors, explosives detectors, death threats if we carry someone else's bag?  Honestly, why do we have to take our shoes off?  Because of that shoe bomber guy?  If your security screening process can't detect explosives in a person's shoe while they're wearing it, you've got a bigger problem than shoe bombs.
  2. Nickle and diming.  I've already come to the conclusion that paying $5 for a meal on a plane actually isn't a bad deal, but regardless, it should just be included in the ticket price.  Same with the $5 headphones, the $5 beers, and the newly-established checked-baggage fee.  We're already paying hundreds if not thousands of dollars for the stupid ticket, why not include all those stupid little fees? *
  3. Everyone is treated like an inconvenience.  Sometimes it seems like airport employees and flight attendants are saying, "Hey listen, we're already gonna fly this plane from here to there, so I guess you could bum a ride with us.  Just stay out of the way and don't expect anything other than a miniature can of soda.  We're doing you a favor."
* I actually have a feeling there's a different reason for this.  I'm sure at least one smart person works for at least one airline, and that person suggested rolling all those fees into the price of the ticket.  But I bet a few other smart people (consultants) told the airline industry that people are much less likely to take a meal if it costs $5 than if it's free.  Hence, cost and logistics savings.  Similarly, people are way less likely to check a bag if they're charged for it, no matter how minimal the cost, simply because they're so used to not paying for it.  Less checked baggage means less lost baggage, which means higher customer service reviews (i.e. boost your customer service by providing less of it).  An airline losing your luggage is the worst thing that can possibly happen.  An airline not even having the chance to lose your luggage is way better. #travel

Germany trip recap (3) Mon, Jun 30, 2008
Where was I last week?  Germany.  Yes, the country.  In Europe.  With the beer.  And the soccer team.  Yes, that one. 

"But Dave, didn't you just go on vacation to the Grand Canyon or something?"  Yes, I did.  That was excellent.  But you see, Wendy's employer suddenly wanted her to travel to Germany to visit some equipment manufacturers.  And seeing that I have no real plans to travel outside the U.S. anytime soon, I decided this would be my opportunity to do so relatively cheaply.  Hotels were paid for, a rental car was paid for, so all I had to do was buy a plane ticket.  That one plane ticket cost more than our entire 8-day vacation in the southwest -- meals, lodging, and rental car included (our airfare was free -- yay frequent flier programs!).  But despite the cost, it was deemed a worthwhile endeavor, so we went.  Here's what we did: 

Day 1 - Flew through Paris to Hannover, Germany (Wendy flew through Munich).  Walked around Hannover, which, unbeknownst to us, was having its summer solstice celebration (music, food, happiness). 

Day 2 - Picked up Wendy's co-worker from the airport, then drove to Berlin.  Walked around the city.  Took a guided bike tour, which was really cool. 

Day 3 - Walked around Berlin some more, then drove to Bad Salzuflen, which is where one of the equipment manufacturers is located. 

Day 4 - The women went to work while I walked around the town of Bad Salzuflen. 

Day 5 - Drove to Lübeck.  The women went to work while I biked around town.  Watched the Germany-Turkey Euro 2008 semifinal soccer game, which Germany won (celebratory chaos ensued). 

Day 6 - Walked around Lübeck some more.  Drove to Hannover and walked around a little. 

Day 7 - Flew through Paris on the way back to Newark (Wendy flew through Copenhagen this time). 

The following several posts will likely be about Germany, travel, or some other related topic.  Enjoy.  Or not. 

Pictures: more »

Modern group work (1) Fri, Jun 20, 2008
Group work in high school and college used to consist of me doing all the work* while the rest of the group sat around with their fingers up their noses.  This past week, I've had the privilege of taking mandatory training for work, which largely consisted of group work.  But since there was literally zero motivation for trying hard let alone passing the class at all, I was finally able to comfortably assume the role of finger-in-nose group work slacker.  It was the best experience of my life. 

* Except that one time I was in a group with Allison, the valedictorian of my college's 2004 graduating class.  She was the hardest-working human being I've ever encountered. #education

One sentence or less Thu, Jun 19, 2008
I personally believe every topic should be explainable in one sentence or less.  For example,
Mechanical Engineering - The study and application of position, velocity, and acceleration to determine the forces and moments acting on an object.

Christianity - The religion that emphasizes personal salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as a means of accessing and drawing closer to the God of heaven and earth.

Rocket Science - The study of objects in flight assisted by an active propelling force.
See?  Simple.  Whenever I need to ask a long talker to explain something, I usually specify to do it in one sentence or less.  If they can't, they're not trying hard enough.  If they don't, I don't listen. #language

Flying over water Thu, Jun 19, 2008
I have a fear of flying over bodies of water because if the plane crashed, I would need to find something to float on so I could paddle back to shore.  But after thinking about it for two seconds, I realized that a plane has about an equal chance of surviving a crash on water as on land, i.e. the plane would disintegrate on impact.  And despite what TV shows like Lost have taught us about plane crashes, most of them end in the death of everyone on board. 

So that should make me feel better about flying over bodies of water.  Yeah. #travel

You're married? Tue, Jun 17, 2008
Did you ever know a person for a while before finding out they were married or had kids?  And then when you found out, you were like "You're married?  To a woman?" or "You procreated?  And they didn't come out as aliens or anything?"  I seem to know a disproportionately large number of these people. #sociology

Negative sideburns Tue, Jun 17, 2008
I don't trust people who shave their sideburns so high that they actually become negative in length.  They make me uncomfortable for no particular reason.  I'm not saying everyone should have long bushy sideburns, but at least make their length zero instead of negative. #lifestyle

Working outside Tue, Jun 17, 2008
After spending a few hours on Saturday mowing, chopping, and generally destroying things, two things came to mind:  (1) If I worked outside all day every day, I would be incredibly strong and in shape, (2) but I would be unimaginably sore and tired.  I only ever work outside for about 4 hours at a time.  After that, I can't even lift my arms.  I think I'm like a sprinter; I go all out, then I totally fall apart. #lifestyle

Two things on engineers (2) Mon, Jun 16, 2008
I'm an engineer.  Two common misconceptions come up when people hear this. 
  1. "You must like trains."  Wrong.  People mistakenly group engineers with trains because train conductors are often called engineers.  That's because they operate engines, which, oddly enough, is almost completely unrelated to engineering.  Sure, engines are designed by engineers, and the entire railroad industry was essentially created by engineers.  But just because I have a degree in engineering doesn't mean I understand or am interested in how trains work.
  2. "You must like cars."  Wrong.  I hate cars.  I believe what my dad always said:  "A car is the worst investment you'll ever make."  But aside from the financial aspect, there's the mechanic aspect.  I'm a mechanical engineer, so people assume mechanical → mechanic → cars → you like cars.  Again, mechanical engineering has almost nothing to do with cars aside from the fact that the automotive industry was created by engineers.  But just because I have a degree in mechanical engineering doesn't mean I can fix your transmission.
In conclusion, train conductor and car mechanic a mechanical engineering degree do not make. #science

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