Bordeaux city

Report about my "tourist" time in Bordeaux. I'll be making later posts about the technical material from my talk and the conference as a whole. This post is just about tourist information, and is probably only of interest to my immediate family and friends, who probably all shuddered when they heard that I was going to Bordeaux, city of fine wines, fine dining, and hot sunny weather.

Anyway, Bordeaux. I generally took no pictures (to conserve my power-cable-less mobile phone alarm clock, but when we stumbled upon a Botanical Gardens, I figured that I really had to take a few -- not that the plants were particularly interesting, but because I seem to have developed a habit of posting photo sets from gardens around the world.)


Met with John Mandereau (who I'd met on Thurs) and Valentin Villenave, whose name is pronounced "Val-en-ton". Not that anybody from the UK can justifiably complain about spelling vs. pronounciation of names.

We had lunch at the conference caferia: chicken (I didn't take), rice, brocolli, mixed salad thing, and some raspberry pudding-thing. The mixed salad thing and raspberry pudding-thing were fancier than I'd expect from an English university cafeteria; the rice and brocolli were about the same.

In the afternoon, I gave my talk. More details about that later.

After the talk, we went to the casino (un supermaché, remember, not a den of dubious mathematical ability) for some drinks. That sounds way classier than "we went to the grocery store to get some bottles of warm coke, because they were out of cold coke". We then went downtown, and I saw some of the major sights (and sites) of the city -- the cathedral, the grand theatre, and the longest pedestrian-only road in France or Europe or something like that.

Of course, we also did something else. What do three guys in their late 20s / early 30s do when they're on vacation in a foreign city, far away from anybody who might recognize them...? Yep, that's right -- we went clothes shopping!

I had previously gone to two Primark stores (seems like the UK version of Zellars, Walmart, etc) and been unable to find men's shorts without hawaiian patterns on them. And I didn't look at the weather forcast for Bordeaux until a day before I left... if I'd realized that it would be 35 C, I'd have made more of a priority for finding shorts, and maybe even sandals. But I hadn't, so I didn't.

We found a mall and then checked out three different clothing stores, and I tried on four pairs of shorts, before I found something semi-decent. They were 25 € , which seemed like a complete rip-off (for reference, my pants... err, "trousers"... were £6, and my t-shirts were £2 each, and the exchange rate is less than 1.2 € per £1). But I was too miserable in my long pants (err, trousers) to quibble.

To complete our de-male-ification, John bought a pair of shoes as well. So in our first few hours of vacation in Bordeaux, we did everything girly apart from ogling hot guys. If girls do that? I certainly know that I was ogling hot girls... and in the entire time I was there, I only saw 2 or 3 girls under the age of 40 who weren't "hot" by Glasgow standards. French girls are really, really hot.

We then went to a pizzeria for dinner. Apparently ham and pineapple is an "exotique" pizza. The discussion rapidly became an examination of modern community political parties. Dinner was followed by "a political film", although we thought it was clumsily done. I don't mind films with a Message (with a capital 'M'), but only as long as the Message is delivered well. This one wasn't. It felt like the film was preaching to the choir, and tried to throw in a few questionable things to make the whole thing "edgy". Oh, but I discovered that French cinemas have really comfortable chairs. Padded red velvet things... way better than Canadian cinemas.

The film was supposed to be followed by a "discussion", but we left as soon as it was over. We then spent an hour walking around in a circle (not in the mathematical "an infinite series of points which are equidistant from one central point", but in an "we returned to the starting point") looking for a bar. At that point, John declared himself in charge, and found a bar which was 30 seconds away from our starting/ending point (which was a tram station).

Oh yeah, the main transport (at least for us) were trams. These travel at something like 20 km/h... faster than I could run, but nowhere near the speed of subway trains.


Went to "grande public" version of the conference: a few large tents by the river, filled with booths. Nothing that I hadn't seen at the main "technical" conference. But there we met up with Nicolas Sceaux, scheme programmer extrodinaire.

Ate a on a cafe terrace; we all had le plat du jour. The first course was a seafood pastry; the main course was pork, vegetables, and rice; the dessert was chocolat mousse; the meal also included some after-dinner coffee. But this description completely misses the elegance of the presentation, the style of cooking (no clue), the spices used (dunno), the types of vegetables (don't even know that), the reason why the rice was yellow (herbs?), etc. Basically: it was a real French meal at a real French cafe in a real French trendy district of a real French city.

I expected to feel completely awkward and out of place, but it was actually ok.

We were waiting for a friend to finish meeting with his grandparents, so we went to a bookstore so that I could look at French bande dessinée (graphic novels) -- I knew that they had a tradition of such things, and I was curious as to whether there was any simularity to Japanese manga. (there wasn't)

We then gave up on the friend and tried to drive to the beach, but encountered some insane traffic jams and turned back. While we were returning to town, the friend phone up, so we met for pre-dinner drinks at another outdoor cafe. More politics was discussed.

The evening meal was crépes, which were fantastic. These are thin pancakes, folded to make a vaguely envelope-shaped thing, with some kind of filling inside -- ham and cheese, salmon, vegetarian paté, etc. I had the vegetarian one for the main course, and a caramel crépe for dessert. It was incredibly good.


We saw John off to the train station, then Valentin and I went to the botanical gardens. That was followed by boxed sandwiches from a supermarket, eaten in the park next to the gardens. Academic politics was discussed.

After lunch, we rented some bikes, which was a fantastic idea. Bordeaux (and, according to Valentin, most major French cities) have rental bikes along the side of the road. You use a credit card (or maybe debit card?) to put down a deposit, then rent the bike for 1 or 2 Euro an hour. We zoomed along the riverside, then went up to the lake. After we arrived at the lake beach, I remembered that French beaches were (in)famous for certain things. We didn't stay long, though, and went back to the city.

Saw some tower/arch thing (famous gate to the city, lookout point, or something), saw some archeological dig of Christian graves from the 1st to 7th centuries (fun fact: the French word for "Christianity" is "Chretien", which is the name of one of the Canadian prime ministers... every time the tour guide said that word, I thought about politics), saw a church that was every bit as fancy as a cathedral (albeit not as large).

We wandered around for an hour looking for a good place for dinner that wasn't too expensive without finding anything (my friend: "it's Bordeaux! They don't know about `not expensive'" -- although since he was from Paris, I'm not certain that he actually knows about living cheaply). Inspired by a desire to be horrible, we ended up having dinner at a Subway.

It wasn't great. They didn't have the selection of bread that UK Subways have, they didn't have as many sauces (although I did discover that southwest sauce is pretty good on an Italian BMT), and the lettuce looked a bit suspect (the store was quite warm). However, it did provide nourishment, and it wasn't expensive. Also, it's certain to horrify anybody who reads this blog post. :)


We went to see a mall, since they were all closed on Sunday. I was curious about daily life, and I'd already seen the streets and transport.

It was pretty much the same as malls in Canada, the UK, and Singapore. Maybe slightly more perfume stores and chocolate/sweet stores than in the other countries, but I wouldn't immediately say that it was a statistically significant difference. We went to a large department store as well... it had much more bande designée than I was expecting, but other than that it was pretty much like such stores in Canada and Singapore. (I haven't been to such a store in the UK)

Got a city bus to the airport; that was fine. Bordeaux Airport doesn't have quick check-in machines... at every other airport I've been to, if you only have hand baggage, you can use a computer to check in and get your boarding pass. But over here, I had to line up with all the people putting baggage in the cargo bay. Ick. :(

I did sudoku puzzles for all the flight.

Back in London Gatwick, I kept on getting thrown by people speaking English. I mean, I'd gotten used to rehearsing a sentence a few times and having difficulty understanding what people were saying... but now suddenly, I speak the native language!

There was yet another switch coming in the departure lounge at Gatwick airpot -- the serving staff at the restaurant I stopped at (to get a burger; this wasn't a fancy French restaurant) spoke French between themselves, so I found myself ordering and asking for the bill in French. So much for the "back in Britain" bit!

I really regret not doing any language preparation... even something as basic as listening to half a dozen podcasts would have done a lot to re-tune my mind for the language and remind myself of some vocabulary. Oh well; next time!

And now for the two questions you've all been waiting for. Was I scared of people thinking that I was an American and wimped out by carring a Canadian flag around with me? Yes; it took me less than 6 hours. I had a luggage tag with a big Canadian flag; I removed that from my suitcase and attached it to my handbag.

And the second question: do I have the most incredible tan lines that I've ever had in my life? Yes. The difference between my lower arms and upper arms (much less my stomach) is unbelievable. I didn't deliberately seek out the sun, of course... but apparently if you're walking around in a sunny city all day, you still get sunburned. Huh.

(I'm happy to report that my £1 sunglasses and £2 sun-hat did an excellent job of protecting my eyes and face.)

Posted at 2010-07-12 22:18 | Permanent link | Comments

A Canadian in Bordeaux

I'm now in Bordeaux for Rencontres Mondiales du Logiciel Libre, or the Libre Software Meeting. Before I left, I was frantically finishing other tasks before this trip, so this is the least prepared trip I've ever made. A few shocks ensured.

First, I should clarify that I generally over-plan, so "the least prepared trip" doesn't necessarily say a lot. I mean, before I moved to Singapore, I used google maps to find the nearest pizza hut, McDonalds, and Burger King to my accommodation. I knew that I wouldn't want to think about where to eat on my first day there.

Anyway, I got up at 7:01, packed, and left my residence at 7:21. I'd decided to try taking the 747 "air bus" instead of a taxi, so I was at the bus stop at 7:35 for a bus that arrived at 7:50. Arrived at the airport at 8:24, done with security at 9:02, and my flight left at 10:00. I forgot to power off the wireless on my laptop, so I left the laptop turned off for the flight to London.

London Gatwick international terminal is a dump. I couldn't see any power sockets available other than the ones for the "internet station". I was also disappointed by the lack of cheap hamburgers -- the only place that seemed to sell them was a sit-down restaurant. I ended up having a pair of sandwiches from a box. This becomes relevant later on.

Flight to Bordeaux was mostly uneventful -- I happened to look down just as we reached the France coast, which was neat scenery. Oh, and halfway through the flight, there was an announcement of the local time in Bordeaux -- apparently France is one hour ahead! WTM, they're directly south of the UK. Why would the time zone be different?! WTM*2, the fact that I didn't know this already is a bad sign. The next surprise came as I was walking through the airport towards the taxis -- everybody was speaking French!

Ok, I need to explain that part. Yes, I knew that people in France spoke French. But (for no reason) I was kind-of expecting it to be like Montreal... yeah, it's a French city, but you still hear tons of English. In contrast, I really stressed out about Singapore (even though English is one of the official languages, I knew that most people were primarily Chinese-speaking), but that was way better than I feared. By contrast, I hadn't thought about the France trip at all, and this part didn't live up to my unexpectations.

I also realized that this was the first time that I'd been in a country in which I didn't speak any official language(s). (yes, I visited France and Italy in a high school trip... but we had a tour guide and teachers for that. Besides, I was 17, so that doesn't count for anything)

I haven't really tried to speak French in the intermediate 14 years, and it went worse than I imagined -- in almost all cases, I resorted to speaking English, which made me a rather lame tourist-person, rather than an up-and-coming global academic. :(

It doesn't help that I keep on thinking of Japanese words for things but can't remember the French ones. That's completely reasonable, given the amount of time I've spent learning and listening to Japanese over the past few years... but not as all helpful when trying to communicate in this part of the world. :|

Part of the problem is that people seemed to assume that I'd be speaking French. Growing up in Vancouver, you find that people speak English fluently and/or have an obvious cultural background which indicates that English might not be their native language. Sure, I'm terrible at recognizing the difference between Chinese and Korean people... but when you see somebody of Asian background, you know that they might not speak English as a first language. However, whenever you see any Caucasian in Vancouver, you can safely assume that they speak English fluently. I found the same thing in Singapore... even if they were actually German or whatnot, they spoke English fluently.

To make matters even more confusing, I seem to (visually) fit in more with people here than I do in Glasgow. Maybe it's just because I haven't found a large group of computer geeks in Glasgow yet, but I really don't look Scottish. I find it quite believable that I look "French enough" that people here are unpleasantly surprised when I can't say simple sentences in French and ask if they can speak English. (as least I ask that in French)

Being the cause of language difficulties is a rather humbling experience.

Anyway, I managed to sort out my room and internet access (not at the same place, but I don't mind walking a few minutes to send emails), then looked around for dinner. I ended up going to a casino.

What?! Sweet little Graham has been corrupted into drinking and gambling by those degenerate French...!? well, no. Apparently there's a supermarket chain here called "Casino". I bought a 6-pack of bottled water, a diet coke, and two boxes of sandwiches. Yes, my first meal in Bordeaux -- famed for fine wines, fine dining, etc. -- was a boxed sandwich and a semi-chilled diet coke. (the other sandwich is for later this evening)

I'm not being totally lame here... at least, I don't think I am. I'm exhausted by travelling (I am not a good traveller), short on sleep, and still need to finish half the slides for my talk on Friday. A quiet dinner, an hour or two of editing, and an early sleep is just what I need so that I can enjoy the rest of the conference.

Let's see, what else... oh yeah, my room! It really reminds me of Shaunigahn (sp) Lake. Now, that means nothing to everyone but my family and 1 or 2 readers, so I'll elaborate: my family is highly involved in the West Coast Amateur Musician Society summer music camp, which used to be on Vancouver Island at a boarding school next to Shaunigahn Lake. So... not the best quality, but certainly good enough for a couple of days. Oh, except that instead of having open showers (like summer camp 15 years ago), these ones have separate stalls. The atmosphere is also much more like that music camp than an academic conference... which makes sense, since this isn't an academic conference. :)

The final touch: despite the language, Bordeaux actually feels more like Canada than Glasgow does. There's space here! I mean, buildings are separate -- light filters through the spaces between buildings. And buildings are different -- it's not all the same brick or sandstone imitation brick. The dodgy-looking businesses are in awful off-yellow buildings. The fancy places look fancy. The malls look like parking lots, with something glassy and shiny off in the distance.

Ok, probably if I went to Bordeaux city center, I'd see the same type of architecture as in Glasgow city center. But I've seen small towns and the outskirts of big cities in the UK, and this place is much more Canadian than those places.

PS: I brought my cell phone charger so that I wouldn't have to worry about running out of power and could take pictures without concern... but on the first plane trip, I realized that, although I had a set of "worldwide plug adaptors", those adaptors were for North American plugs. My laptop is just fine, but not the cell phone. Sorry! (but really, you didn't want to see blurry cell phone pictures in the first place)

Posted at 2010-07-07 19:48 | Permanent link | Comments

Test of flash keypresses

I've written a quick test of key presses and mouse clicks in flash -- does your computer lose any?

We were doing some final (?) testing of my tempo-detection flash game on my mother's computer, but discovered that the computer was failing to detect some key presses. After a bit more testing, I decided it was unlikely that it was a hardware problem. So either my Mom's version of flash can lose some keypresses, or there's something wrong with my program.

I made a simple test that just prints out info for each key press or mouse click. It's mainly so that we can test it on my mother's computer, but I'm including it here in case anybody else feels like being nice and wouldn't mind testing it a bit. :)

The object: tap a key a set number of times. Check if the computer has detected the right number. You could do this by picking a number like 20 and just start tapping... or you could pick a rhythm-saying (like "shave and a haircut, two bits" -- that's 7 taps) and repeating that a few times.

If you discover that the computer's count of the taps doesn't match what you think you did, I'd really like to hear about this. It's possible that something's just wonky on my mom's computer, and that I don't need to scrap this whole research project. However, it's also possible that a typical flash installation doesn't reliably detect key presses. This would cause great problems for me, of course, but knowing about the problem would be better than not knowing about it.

If you discover some missing key presses, please try it with the mouse -- if the mouse is more reliable than the keyboard, I can still go ahead with this (albeit with a few changes).

PS: I'm not finding any blog or forum posts complaining about the reliability of key events in flash, so it might be something weird in my game after all. The real test is to find out if this simple test works on a computer that couldn't handle the actual game, of course.

Later edit: Apparently the keys are reliable when I compile my project for flash 10 instead of flash 9. Maybe the additional optimizations in 10 help? Anyway, things seem to be working now.

Posted at 2010-07-05 15:06 | Permanent link | Comments

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