There are quite a few web sites and business processes that could be better — part of an the overall theme here is that we are at the beginning of what the Internet has in store for us. This short story is about the flip side, the positive side — the time in Europe this month reminded me of the many things there that are "the way things should be".
The simple one is the way elevators work — at least at every hotel I have been to in Europe. If you press "1" you go to the first floor. If you press "0" you go to the ground floor. If you press "-1" you go to the basement. This is so logical. In America it seems that the labeling of the buttons is random — sometimes the ground floor is "1", sometimes it is "G", and sometimes it is "L". Sometimes the "G" takes you to the basement or the "L" takes you to the eighth floor (like the Marriott Marquis in New York City.
There has been much written about European trains (see the European Train Enthusiast site) and for good reason. The trains are clean, quiet, fast and have good food and beverages. I have found European flights to be punctual, but the trains — you can set your watch by them.
A more unexpected but pleasant thing happened while in a taxi in Zaragoza with Mike Sigal on the way to Dan Bricklin‘s public lecture (Dan is a friend of mine and inventor of the spreadsheet). I was trying to make a mobile phone call from Zaragoza to Oslo on the P910a. For some reason it would not work. I could call the U.S. or other numbers in Spain, but not to Norway. It was probably something to do with the agreement (or lack of agreement) between AT&T Wireless and the local Spanish mobile operator. Mike loaned me his mobile phone — he had purchased a SIM card from a local telco. I had my phone in my lap while I was using Mike’s phone, when all of a sudden we were at the destination and we jumped out of the taxi and, you guessed it, I left my phone on the seat. It was not until ten minutes or so later, while sitting in the auditorium listening to Dan’s lecture, that I realized the phone was not on my belt holder. I had a sunken feeling — what would I do in Oslo, and then later in the trip in San Francisco. All of it is backed up on the ThinkPad but there are thousands of contacts, calendar, tasks, documents, messages, etc. that I would not want to have in someone else’s hands. As I sat there thinking about what I would do next, a gentleman tapped me on the shoulder and handed me the P910. The taxi driver had driven back to the building and took the phone inside to the receptionist. Not sure this would have happened in many cities of the world. If only I had a way to contact the driver to thank him.
The next day I boarded the Iberia Airline flight from Madrid to Berlin, en route to Oslo. As usual in Europe, the flight was all set to go on time but something arose with air traffic control which delayed the takeoff by forty minutes. The connecting flight from Berlin to Oslo was scheduled to leave 40 minutes after arrival of the flight from Berlin — in other words, I would have no way of making the connection. After we reached altitude I asked one of the flight attendants if she thought it was possible to make the connection. The last time I asked a U.S. flight attendant that question, I was told there was no way of knowing and that she could not bother the crew with the question and a bit of an "attitude" that I shouldn’t have asked the question. The Iberia flight attendant said she would talk to the Captain! Five minutes later the Captain of the plane was at my seat with a smile. He said they were forty minutes late but that he was adding some speed and the winds were favorable. Being a pilot myself, the approach seemed faster than normal. The plane landed at 12:05 and we got to the gate at 12:10. I had fifteen minutes to get through security again and run a dozen or so gates. Fortunately, Berlin is not a large airport and I made the connection. Unfortunately, I can not say the same for my luggage, which arrived at the Refsnes Gods Hotel on the Oslofjord near Moss, Norway 24 hours later.
All in all, Europe is a really great place. My only career regret is that I have never worked and lived there, although I have been fortunate to have made visits.