Friday, July 28

According to Websidestory statistics, fully 86.06% of people on the Internet use Internet Explorer. And that'll be the excuse I'll use for the fact that our Thinkquest site doesn't work fully in Netscape Navigator.

While I was unpacking my clothes from the Prague tour (another instalment is coming soon, don't worry), it finally struck me that I'm actually getting older now. No more school, no more orchestra, no more lazing around worrying about universities. Fine, it might sound schmaltzy, but as I peeled away the neatly folded clothes (I'm a fastidious packer - clothes have to be folded, or not taken at all) I started thinking - wow, it's as if I'm removing my life.

A lot of people in the upper sixth (the last year of secondary education in the UK) became a little emotional after our last ever concert, and our last ever rehearsal (which, incidentally, was pretty damned amazing but more of that later). I was a little nonplussed at the time, probably because I hadn't completely realised what it meant, but now I can see that all the constant and reassuring things in my life - orchestra every Friday night, games every Wednesday afternoon - they're just disappearing.

Someone commented on the harshness of the education system - for 18 years, you stay in pretty much the same place, you build up a group of friends and routines, you work hard at relationships, and then you simply get yanked away from them all, forever. This ties in quite neatly with another point I read on an email that said that education should be literally a lifelong process - if children saw adults regularly going to lessons every week or studying, education would seem less of a chore and more of a thing that should be embraced. And of course, if adults continue their education then not only would the world be a Better Place but they'd probably realise what a sorry state we're in at the moment.

I received an Express Mail Package about the TED conference I'm speaking at in February, asking for various contact information, a bio, a photograph, AV requirements and so on (as well as their superbly generous offer of free travel and accommodation... mmm... five star hotel... drool...). Of course, I then realised with dismay that I still have no solid idea of what I'm going to talk about and if I mess this up, I will truly be screwing myself over. You see, there's only one track to the TED11 conference, which means that every single person there will be listening to me speak of 15 minutes.

I noted with interest that Noah Wyle (ER guy) is going to be speaking, as will the founder of the Long Now foundation (guys who are making a 10,000+ clock). Should be an interesting conference. I wonder if anyone is looking forward to the talk by 'Adrian Hon: Member Mars Society - writes & speaks on space-related issues.'

I've also got a free guest pass for all the evening events of the conference (not, alas, for the conference, possibly because it costs $3000 to register) so if you live in the California area and would like to meet guys such as Noah Wyle and the other various speakers listed here (along with the attendees, of course), drop me a line. Not that I'm in any position at the moment to make any guarantees.

Quotes from the TED letter (a form letter, not just sent to me but to all the speakers):


1. Be vulnerable
2. Tell a story
3. Say something you have not said before
4. Tell about failure as well as success
5. Talk about new patterns
6. Describe what you would like to do next
7. Do not read or memorize a speech
8. Dress down rather than up.

I'm likely to be the youngest speaker there by far, and the most inexperienced. I've got no professional knowledge and I'm not a leader of my field at anything - I don't even have a field. But I've got a lot of ideas, and if people will listen then I'll tell them an interesting story about youth. I won't talk about Mars, at least, not a lot, and I won't talk about space.

9:15 PM | permalink | discuss

Thursday, July 27

First, a bit of introduction. The reason for my going to Prague (in the Czech Republic) was that the orchestra I belong to, Wirral Schools' Orchestras, was having a week-long tour there. WSO is a relatively competent orchestra composed of teenagers from around 14 to 18 of roughly Grade 6 standard - obviously there are people who are better and worse. About 54 students went, 10 of them were boys and maybe 8 or 9 adults went along to supervise us.

Day One

I arrived at Birkenhead Sixth Form College, the venue where we normally practice and the meeting point for the tour coach at 8 AM. A quick inspection of the double-decker coach was in order - while it was of a particularly unappetising brown colour (for which it would be known as the 'manky brown coach') there were tables downstairs and plans were hatched for marathon poker session.

Our first taste of true orchestral tour life was given when we were loading up approximately 300 bottles of soft drinks onto the coach. Orchestra tours can be split into four stages - travelling, playing, drinking and carrying. No sleeping, no eating, for reasons which will become evident later.

So we finally finish the loading of the trailer on the coach and pile on - it turns out that the tour adults have already taken the lower deck, so it's a mad scramble for the back few seats. The group I'm with immediately nabs a couple, but not before the remaining three have been reserved. Soon enough, belligerent and accusing tones fill the upper deck with such sarcastic remarks as 'Well, I didn't see any reserved signs on these seats, did you?'

Eventually the verbal war settled down into a frosty silence between the two groups, only to flare up again as our group was commenting on the correct pronounciation of the word 'gazebo' during a showing of 'Shakespeare in Love'.

'A Bug's Life' gets shown. My idea - typical Disney movie, typical plot. Nothing amazing. Probably more impressive on a cinema screen than a tiny TV about 15 foot away though. 7 out of 10.

Lots and lots of travelling. 'Damn kids' at the front of the upper deck refuse to shut up during the wee hours of the night and the girls towards the back of the deck wriggle about in a vain attempt to find a comfortable sleeping position. Luckily, as you may know from my other trip reports, I have absolutely no problem getting to sleep in any place, any time, so I didn't need to take along any of this amateurish stuff like pillows or travelling pillows.

I wake up at some time around 4 AM (by which time we're in Germany, I think) and find that not only am I completely parched but the entire water content of my body appears to have spread itself out against the windows which have misted up. Stumbling over a prone body trying to go to sleep in the aisle, I managed to buy a bottle of water from the bottom deck (my 3 bottles of Ribena having already been consumed by that point, along with the ridiculously strong smelling chicken sandwiches I'd had).

Strangely, as we cross over the border of the Czech Republic and venture into the domain known as 'Eastern Europe' there are no marauding hordes of barbarians, neither are there any shell-holes dotting the muddy tracks nor farmers in straw hats lolling around. Instead there are adverts for WAP phones and a new Tesco hypermarket.

(Brief digression: WAP in the Czech Republic? I was as surprised as you were. Exactly what the hell they'd use it for it beyond me, considering that the average wage in the country is only 200 a month. Evidently some marketing executives with Nokia got a little excited over the possibilities of taking over the entire Eastern European mobile market - not that it only consists of approximately 5 men and a dog - and commissioned a whole load of billboard adverts.)

We arrive at Prague at the reasonable hour of 1 PM, and then promptly lose the time we gained by getting stuck under a bridge. Let me explain this a little better.

A few weeks before the tour, I remarked to the conductor that it was great that we'd be taking along a double-decker coach, to which he agreed but he said that last time a tour went to Prague their double-decker got stuck under a bridge. The conversation was immediately forgotten until the fateful moment when our coach happily rolled under a bridge and the driver slammed on the brakes when he realised we had about 1cm clearance and the road was going up. We promptly took a hard right into a side-street, where we found an even lower bridge barring our away. So at this point we were taking up over half the road, we couldn't go forward and we couldn't go backwards. The only way out was the way we came in, and we'd have to do that by reversing all the way. Across a main road.

Of course, that'd be perfectly easy if it weren't for the fact that we had a fully-loaded trailer attached to the coach and you simply can't reverse a coach in a straight line if you have a trailer attached. After much hand-wringing and useless suggestion making from the adults and teenagers respectively, five strong volunteers were asked to unload the trailer. Now, I can attest to the fact that the boys on the coach did try to get up but their way was barred by the girls, so after the trailer was unloaded, it was demanded to know why the boys hadn't helped. Sheesh. Eventually, the trailer got detached and pushed/pulled up the road, the coach backed up and shut down approximately 10% of the traffic in Prague and a train driver stopped on the bridge to light up a cigarette and watch the entire saga unfold in stony-faced delight.

Finally, we get to the Hotel where we, in true British fashion, spend about 5 minutes performing a U-turn on a busy main road with trams and park through a traffic light. To be continued...

8:50 PM | permalink | discuss

As you might have guessed, I've just got back from Prague. At this very moment I'm in the process of girding my metaphorical writing loins to full strength for one last assault on the Thinkquest site by writing a long account of the Prague journey. Be back in an hour...

7:57 PM | permalink | discuss


2:57 PM | permalink | discuss