27 April 2009

Time Lag

For those of you who check the twitter updates, you'll know we've actually been in Morocco quite awhile now. The "new" posts are simply older material that I managed to finish up now. I've got no idea when I'll find the time to tell you all about our adventures here (and they have been plentiful and good) So don't be too confused and if you want the quick lowdown just check my twitter log which provides quick and up-to-date bytes and where and when we actually are.

22 April 2009

Stuck in CDG on the way to Morocco

Rather irritated at the moment. Today we were supposed to leave Paris Charles De Gaulle airport for Tangiers just before 1PM. We even checked the flight before we got to the airport. Got here on time and checked our baggage with Royal Air Morocco downstairs (which incidentally is the only place one can change flights - after you've gone through customs you are stuck - you can't leave and you can't change). Everything goes smoothly (although the service is rather slow) and we get our boarding pass which lists boarding as being at 11:50PM. But the thing is when we get upstairs a couple of minutes later we are told that the flight isn't leaving until 4:30PM. They can't change us, can't let us go back downstairs, can't let us make a call to Morocco (to notify the guide who was supposed to meet us), and won't even give us gratis internet. They did provide some orange juice. Pretty sucky way to waste a day of vacation.

When I complained to one of the airline fellows he told me that 'the airline's job is to take you from point A to point B, the rest isn't our responsibility'. It's interesting and mildly telling that this was his view.
My view (which I expressed to him at the time, little good it did me) is that actually the airline's job is to get me from point A to point B at a particular time (which has been agreed upon by both parties well in advance).

Air Morocco is heading onto my list of $h!tty airlines, along with such esteemed company as Air Italia and the long defunct Tower Airlines. The only saving grace is that the part of CDG in which we've gotten to lose our afternoon has reasonably comfortable lounging chaises and it gives me time to catch up on writing blog posts and other work.

[Time passes]
So we are now much of the way to Morocco. The plane started boarding at the time they had previously claimed we would leave (4:30PM). It's not a bad plane, but they forgot our vegetarian meals, so I didn't have much to eat. They didn't have any hot water, so no tea, and there doesn't appear to be soap in the bathrooms. Definitely a $h!t airline.

One thing that really got me - and I can't claim this Air Morocco is the first airline I've gotten this from - is that when we asked for our meal, they looked at our tickets, told us there was no special meal marking, and then implied it was because we had failed to "confirm" our special meal at check-in. Now as I've just said, other airlines have given us the exact same line - despite our having a printout from the airline confirming that we are booked for such-and-such flight w/ vegetarian meal (or kosher meal or whatever we happened to order). I just don't get airline logic. If I request a special meal when I book my ticket and the airline confirms that choice in writing on a receipt, what possible justification is there for that meal not to be present? I mean, (a) I've checked in, (b) I've previously requested the special meal and (c) the airline has confirmed receipt of that choice. Thus in my world (a) AND (b) imply that the airline ought to put a special meal on the plan since I'm on the plane and (c) implies the airline is aware of the above conclusion. Yet, still apparently it is somehow my responsibility (despite no airline every having informed me of this obligation beforehand) to "confirm" my meal choice. I give up. Although I did get soap when I managed to find a stewardess to ask. But all the bathrooms were occupied by that point. Fu&*ing airlines.

21 April 2009

Großmugl / Schillingers

One of the first things we usually do when we travel to a new town in check happycow.net
Happycow lists vegetarian restaurants worldwide w/ reviews and other info - and they do it fairly throughly. This usually determines where I'll be eating out in a given city as I only eat at either kosher or vegetarian places.

My dietary restrictions (strictly vegetarian, mildly kosher) often prevents me from sampling local cuisine, although I do my best to try what I can since I love trying new things and experiencing the places I visit as throughly as possible (and I'd argue eating is one of the most fundamental modes of experience). So when I visit a place like Austria where most of the traditional non-dessert, non-beverage cuisine is throughly meat, I tend to be a bit sad.

So when I read about Gasthouse Schillinger, I was really excited. Schillingers is traditional Austrian guesthouse/pub/restaurant located about an hour outside of Vienna. It first opened for business in 1793 (so order of magnitude its as old as the US) and has been continuously owned/run by a man named Karl Schillinger ever since. Something like 7 Karl Schillingers have run this place and the current incarnation decided 10 years ago to make the place vegan. Yup, vegan. They serve all the traditional Austrian meat dishes, just they don't happen to be meat. The existence of a 200+ year old authentic Austrian guesthouse where I could get as close to eating true Austrian cuisine as any vegetarian is going to blew my mind a little.

So with the kindness of Zsofie and Gabor (Linda's cousin and her husband) who lent us their car and GPS, Linda and I took a road trip there on Sunday evening. Before I continue I should also thank Perry & Stephanie Vais without whose instruction in the art of driving a manual vehicle some weeks before and willingness to rent a manual vehicle (respectively) - I wouldn't have known how to drive - and my mother's willingness to mail me the replacement license (which arrived shortly before my 29th birthday) - without which I wouldn't have had a legal license.

Anyway returning to the story, we drove out to Großmugl where Schillingers is located and really enjoyed the sunny afternoon in the most beautiful countryside. The trip was mostly uneventful until we came within about 5 minutes of our destination, at which point a huge mound rose out of the gently rolling countryside. The huge mound was topped by a huge (but much smaller cross) and a group of Austrians we later learned were having a picnic! The appearance of this thing answered one question that had been on my mind while opening another. You see on the Schillinger website in the directions page, a large mound with a cross on top was displayed, and not much else. I had no idea what to make of this, until of course I saw the mound. After seeing the mound, it was clear why this previously cryptic picture had been displayed. Of course, the new questions was "what the heck is it?".

As much as I wanted to stop, evening was coming and we were running late for our reservation. So we went to the restaurant, found they weren't too crowded, and Linda graciously agreed to return for a visit to the mound.

We got there, walked around, and then climbed up (rather steep and a good 50 feet up). At the top we met a collection of Austrians about our age having a picnic. They explained what the mound was - a 3000 year old pagan burial heap, the largest of it's kind in central Europe (its even got its own webpage) apparently at was probably closer to 60 feet high when it was made. This not only answered my question, but also explains the town's name - which translates to English as "Big Hill". We chatted with them a bit - really friendly folks. Looked around, savored the sunset on the countryside, took some pictures and then headed/slid down. Really neat and really unexpected! The only part that miffed me a little was the cruxifix. It seems a bunch of folks stuck it up there a couple of years ago. The locals seem to have a penchant for crosses - the locals crucify a Jesus figurine and stick the 2 meter (6 foot) business right at the roadside wherever someone dies in a traffic accident - the first one we passed gave me a bit of a scare. Anyway, so they took this historic, ancient, and oddly beautiful pagan burial place and went and stuck a 3 meter (9 foot) high cross at the top, like it was some kind of bizarre wedding cake needing decoration. Now I'm not a pagan (and I'll admit I've got no love for crucifixes or other instruments of torture), but I do respect the dead and it honestly seemed a bit wrong to put that crucifix up there - the mound builders went to what was evidently alot of trouble to bury their dead according to their belief system and then 3000 years later some folks decide to desecrate (from what I'm guessing the mound builders point of view would be) their gravesite with paraphenalia from a religion that wouldn't even be born for a millenium.

Returning to my main narrative: we waved goodbye to our Austrian friends (they had been tickled to hear what brought us to Großmugl) and drove back to town for dinner. The ambiance of the place was great. Drinking and smoking (which I don't love, but will admit creates a certain mood) Austrian (apparently locals) filled the place. Next to us was a group of guys with a large dog that occasionally started to bark at people. The benches were wood, the floor was wood, the place just seemed like it had been there forever and would continue to do so for as long as it pleased. But the waitresses foamed soy milk for the drinks and everything was vegetarian (most was vegan). We ended up ordering Amdudler (the Austrian national softdrink), two traditional soups, and a huge tasting plate. It looked awesome and I loved it. Linda loved the ambience, experience, and concept. Food-wise, well for her it just wasn't the real thing, but she didn't eat badly. I was a little sad we didn't both savor the experience (at least the gustatory part) equally, but as well as we work together there's always going to be some culinary gap between a relatively unrestricted carnivore and a vegetarian - but I don't think that's a bad thing :-)

After finishing up most of the meal, I couldn't resist ordering another dish to go - Deer ragout, bread dumplings, and pear and beery sauce! We shared an excellent berry tea while we waited. Then we drove home in the moonless (or what seemed like it), countryside darkness. Fun!

10 April 2009

Technical: Mac OS X Permissions Issues - ACL

Today I've spent much of the day cleaning up my computer (which had started stalling and doing other sorts of strange things indicating that it was unhappy). I sorted through all the files that had accumulated in random places during the made rush of first work and then traveling which left me with little time (and more importantly little emotional energy) for the process of sorting them. Then I attempted to back everything up.

This went well up until the time I attempted to made an image of my Documents folder. This is the place where I keep all of the important non-media (e.g., non-picture, song, or movie) files. I keep this in a separate hard-drive partition so I don't have to recopy it everytime I want to swap the OS in and out. However, it is important to keep at least one, preferably more backup copies of this very important directory kept elsewhere.

But here I ran into a problem. When using the Mac OS X Disk Utility program to make an image of the directory (from folder), I kept receiving errors along the line of "unable to create Documents: permission denied". Now this was quite irritating, so I went and checked the permissions on the directory. Permissions are essentially just a bunch of data about your file stored along with your file (metadata) that tell you what different groups of users are allowed or prohibited from doing with your files. User groups include: you, everyone, and custom groups of users that are more than yourself but less than everyone. Actions include things like reading, writing, and executing the contents of a file.

Being fairly familiar with permissions from over a decade of *nix experience, I expected to solve this quite easily but reseting everything to some reasonable default (e.g., chmod -R 770 Documents - which means me and other special folks can do everything and people who aren't us can't do anything) but strangely this didn't work. So I had to search.

What I found was that Mac OS X uses an extended permissions system called ACL, which in theory is probably really nice, but in practice seems to be mostly a pain-in-the-ass.

To explain: regular permissions look something like the below.
The first character lets you know of the file is special, e.g. d (a directory), l (a link), or - (normal).
The next 3 sets of three characters lets you know if the file is readable r, writeable w, and executable e, respectively. The first set is for the owner, the second for the group and the last for everyone (else).
drwx------ 4 reich staff 136 Apr 10 02:34 Desktop
The stuff on the line following this lets you know who the owner of the file is, the group of the file, it's name and other identifying info.
Here is a slightly more complicated entry for a symbolic link
lrwxr-xr-x 1 root staff 27 May 11 2008 Documents -> /Volumes/storage/Documents/

Not too complicated (although perhaps a bit daunting for the beginner), but in systems using ACL some entires might have a + symbol after the 10 character permissions string. This indicates that the file has extended ACL permissions as well. To actually see these permissions one types
ls -el
(technically only the e is need to see the ACL stuff, but I like to use l as well to get a more complete picture)
Here's an example of what you might see:
drwxr-xr-x@ 6 reich staff 204 Oct 7 2008 Movies
0: group:everyone deny delete
also you might notice that instead of the 11th character being a + it is a @.
This indicates that not only does this file use ACL, but its using some type of extended attributes thing.
My suspicion is that the
@ symbol doesn't necessarily imply the + symbol, but that when both apply the @ wins but I'm too lazy to find out right now.

Anyway it turns out for reasons I haven't bothered to discover that Mac OS X sometimes decides to do weird things to the file permissions - giving them special ACL-based restrictions - that cause the type of errors I experienced. So the quick solution is to kill all of these irritating ACL metadata (no guarantees that it won't cause your computer to explode, but I've not had any negative reactions from doing this)
Each ACL permission that is attached to your file will have a number indicating which rule it is.
All my problem have come from rules that look like
0: group:everyone deny delete

so you want to delete rules with these numbers (in this case rule 0)
chmod -R -a# 0 username

and after that things should be much more hunky dory.
Good luck!