The Flight to Germany

Today is the day I fly out to a conference in Frankfurt, Germany. I am co-presenting at the DITA Europe 2006 conference there, along with a colleague from work. He left yesterday, but I stayed behind an extra evening so that I could take the girls trick-or-treating for Halloween. Both of them look forward to the event and it didn’t seem right not to have one of their parents around for the big day (Erika was working on a film and couldn’t make it). I will probably for it later in terms of jet-lag once I arrive, but it was well worth it.

The almost 8-hour long flight is aboard an Air Canada Airbus A320. I savour the relative luxury of being in business class for the flight there and back, and for the first time in ages I have appreciable leg-room and elbow-room. Champagne was served while we were still on the ground, and the food was definitely much better than average, but I most enjoyed the luxury of space.

While I had loaded up my video iPod with a number of TV shows and movies, I needn’t have bothered, as this plane is equipped with a personal display touch-screen, and I have whiled away the time playing chess and watching “The Prairie Home Companion” starring Garrison Keillor and directed by the Robert Altman (while relatively low-key compared to previous films like Nashville or M*A*S*H*, it still very much shows his influences, and the solid ensemble cast makes it a fun thing to watch, though still it is ultimately not one of his best. Never knew before that Lilly Tomlin couldn’t sing; now I know).

I picked up a copy of Dava SobelsThe Planets before heading out. I end up getting to the beginning of the chapter on Mars by the end of the flight. I very much enjoyed her biography on Galileo as seen through the letters of his daughter the nun, and considered picking this up when I first saw in hardcover. It was an immediate purchase when I saw the softcover version. She is a long-time science writer and has a certain verve for description and evoking vivid memories from her childhood that impinged upon her interest in the planets, though I find the occasional Christian religious reference (straying beyond the obvious ancient Roman personifications for the planets) jarring and cloying. I know the book is aimed at the general reader, but there are numerous times I keep thinking about other related things that she spends a bare paragraph on, or other interesting tangents which may only be hinted at.

After the first in-flight movie ends (some non-descript thing starring Keanu Reeves and a familiar-looking female co-star who end up emoting endlessly in and around a country house built by a bay; I didn’t don my headphones for it but I suspect that this film’s silence wouldn’t have been improved by dialog), the lights were dimmed and most people ended up putting back their seats and drifting off to sleep. I ended up having a look at the print-out of my portion of the presentation, cribbing notes to the pages, and was amused to look around me to see three others working on their own PowerPoint presentations, either by the glow of their notebook screens or on paper, like the fellow beside me. Thanks to the presentation text size I can make out that one young lady to the left and forward from me is presenting on a radiological test machine (medical? industrial?) of some sort, the fellow beside me is doing something relating to mining engineering, and a professorial-looking sort of man is working earnestly on something to do with improvements in electrical engineering processes (according to one slide, there have been significant changes since 1987, apparently).

Later, after watching the conclusion of the film, I try to fall asleep. Despite the relative comfort of the seats – they recline to a near-vertical angle, plus a motorized footrest – and the sleeping blindfold I brought, I just cannot fall asleep. I toss and turn for about an hour before giving up and returning to my book. The lights slowly come back on, creating a false dawn, and breakfast is served soon afterwards. The plane arrives slightly ahead of schedule at Frankfurt airport and I debark.

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