Saturday, February 07, 2009

Getting Lost

I tend to stay in a lot of hotels as part of my work. My experiences may help you to significantly improve your experiences.

I'm a delayed airline passenger. That's my job. My job requires me to devise formulae to determine the flight with the highest probability of being delayed. I use a dart-board. After I find a candidate flight I get myself a ticket and take the flight.

More often than not the flight takes off and lands in the wrong place, usually due to chronic shortage of:

(i) direction, usually due to the passengers taking part in the online poll-vote on the best route not
                   being conversant in Geography or the native language.

(ii) ambition, usually due to the poll-vote held being held by passengers being not feeling they were
                    worthy of landing at their destination and opting for a less conspicuous destination usually
                    5 miles from take-off.

As you may know most airlines have been quick to follow up on the success of phone-in reality shows and empowered the passengers, or audience, to take part selecting a variety of things for their journey. They can vote on the flight path, the destination, food, in-flight entertainment and the amount of turbulence they should experience on the flight among other things.

Passengers are expected to phone in on monitored premium-rate, poor-quality lines and vote on a 34 page list of topic. Those passengers that fail to vote are usually forcibly requested to serve as flight attendants.

Once I have arrived where I have not expected to arrive my task is to find myself a hotel and a ticket for the next flight to approximately my destination with maximum helpful destructive interference from the helpful airline ground staff (the level of helplessness that the ground staff exhibit is determined by the on-line airline poll).

The ticket is the easiest part of the operation as the ground-staff simply run the random ticket generator that will generate a ticket to a location weighted by the destinations you have been to.

The hotel is more tricky since the selection algorithm used by the ground staff is based on the GDP of the city you are in as well as the density of hotels and the size of the airport. Contrary to popular belief, the time of your flight does not play a role in the selection of the hotel.

My last expedition resulted my being hoteled in a hotel that was over 300miles from the airport where my next random flight was taking off. But, as luck would have it, 5 minutes from where I actually wanted to go. Rules being rules, I still had to take a taxi, at my own expense, to travel the 300 miles from the hotel to the airport to take my random flight that eventually got me to my destination three days later. But, that's another story. It's worth remembering this point as you could forefit your entitlement to travel by that airline for 5 years if you circumvent the rules.

I arrived at the hotel just after 2am. Just after the hotel night-staff and switched to unhelpful mode. The night-hotelier requested the usual information and after the customary hour-long interrogation gave me the key to my room. The best time to get to a hotel is around 11pm when the night-staff have just started and are releshing the nights entertainment.

The hotelier tested my skill and ingenuity by not telling me the room that my electronic card key fit. He thought a check of the 800 rooms would keep me occuppied until the morning shift started. Being an old hand at the game I knew that my hotel would be in the basement close to the dry-cleaners and the lift.

I then had the standard 30minute exchange with the night-desk to get them to activate my electronc card key and finally entered the room at 4am.

The room smelt of old socks and indeed the floor was littered with them. I found out later that the hotel night-desk had a side-business in selling socks and stole guests socks selling the unwashed items back to  different guests at a premium. Since all the guests in this hotel were in-transit it was a good business.

The aroma made me drowsy and I fell asleep after 10 minutes after asking for the wake-up call approximately 30minutes later which guaranteed that the vindictive night-staff would add at least 2 hours to the time ensuring that I would be able to get a taxi to catch my 8pm flight.

I thwarted the hotel night-staff by not wearing socks and not carrying anything of cleaning value (i.e. toothpaste, shoe-polish, detergent, bleach - standard items carried by all passengers). It's a good idea to bear this in mind when traveling. I had also had the good sense to unhook the lobby curtains for use as a blanket in the spartan room (another trick worth remembering).

Checkout in the brutal morning usually required a complex negotiation of proving that I had not made any use of any of the services offered by the hotel at ridiculous prices. You have to keep your wits about you as these negotiations require knowledge of complex legal presedences dating back 10 years (best to brush up on international hotel-law before you travel). Remember not to take the breakfast or dinner as that's a standard trap where they can sting you for a 2 week all-exclusive holiday package to experience all the delights the hotel has to offer.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Origins of Cheese

I think that it's worth recapping on the origins of cheese to understand some of the modern cheese making processes.

[Apparently, prehistoric person was not a complete vegetarian. That took many years of badly prepared meat dishes and the discovery that raw vegetables that did not need to be massacred in boiling water before vegetarianism evolved as a palatable option (along with the abolition of boiled meat).]

Prehistoric person tried to make the maximum use of the animal they killed. In those days, the cow was a staple of their diet and they ate the meat. Used the skin for clothing and used the cows udders as a fashionable hat to protect them from prehistoric rain.

They soon discovered that the cow produced milk and that this was almost edible. To carry the milk as they moved around (for prehistorians were nomadic and moved from country to country in order to avoid prohibitive prehistoric land taxes) they invented the cows stomach which was a naturally non-porous and, provided they tied one end up, was a very useful bag.

As they moved  around the milk became agitated in the cows stomach and turned into what we now call cheese. They instantly realised the stomach was instrumental in the production of this new delicacy and set about finding more efficient means of making cheese.

As we now know, they discovered that force-feeding a donkey cows milk and then getting the most worthless member of the clan to tether the donkey with a string and then stampede it all over the place holding tightly to the donkey to make sure the precious cheese was not lost. They discovered that about one week of continuous stampeding was needed for a semi-hard cheese and two weeks for a hard cheese. They also found that if they  used old donkeys then more mature cheese was made and young donkeys produced much younger cheese. Once the cheese was made they simply cut the donkey's stomach open and removed the cheese.

This explains why in many organic cheese making houses you can see a large number of people tied to donkeys being dragged all over the place as the stampeding donkeys are making cheese. Clearly, in more modern plants cars are filled with milk and stampeded all over the place to produce much larger volumes of cheese.