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A Week in Provence

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Peter Mayle spent a year in a farmhouse between Menerbes and Bonnieux, wrote about it, became famous, and inflated the real estate market for kilometers around.

Having just finished a week near Cavaillon, I figure I should be able to get at least a column out of the deal. Random thoughts that might have at least some remote bearing on IT:

Traveling with nothing but an iPad

In many respects, an iPad makes an excellent traveling companion. It’s compact, does triple duty as both a Kindle reader and iPod along with providing e-mail, calendar, and browser, greatly cutting down on the device count.

Not quite so much as might be imagined, though: If you do any serious writing (serious being defined as more than 200 words at one sitting) an external keyboard is the only alternative to high blood pressure. Still, the combination packs well … well enough to have made the difference between carry-on only and checked luggage.

So far as utility is concerned, though …

The lack of Flash support comes into play often enough to be seriously annoying. More annoying: Both Safari and another iPad browser I have installed (Mercury) are incompatible with InfoWorld’s content management system (Drupal) and only partially compatible with WordPress, which is what I use to manage the KJR’s archives.

Workaround: InfoWorld’s editors were kind enough to let me file Advice Line via e-mail, and LogMeIn has a nice iPad client that let me remote-control my laptop to post last week’s KJR.

Of course, the move from a dual-monitor setup to a single 10″ screen means the remote-control experience provides a wonderful opportunity to exercise one’s patience.

(Hint: My definition of “paradise” is “a place I’ll never have to be patient ever again.”)

Conclusion: Except when my bags are too full to allow it, I’ll travel with laptop and iPad from now on.

Bridge-building Revisited

In two past columns I took Tom Clancy to task for the unforgivable sin of vicarious smugness … namely, his extolling American superiority over the Romans with respect to bridge-building (“The sum of all projects,” KJR, 8/14/2000 and ” Of risk, bridges and business,” KJR, 8/6/2007). This trip provided a wonderful opportunity to visit one of the Roman variety … the 2,014-year-old Pont Julien, near Bonnieux.

Pont Julien, 2,014 years later

It’s a friendly little three-arch, two-lane bridge, noteworthy on these accounts:

1. It’s still in use (although for pedestrians and bicycles only: thankfully, horses aren’t allowed, making pedestrian use much safer; cars are also forbidden).

2. The stone blocks were cut so precisely that no mortar was needed. One consequence: So far as I could tell, Pont Julien has needed little or no maintenance over the millennia, other than for the road surface. (Strained IT parallel: systems built with sufficient engineering precision that no custom interfaces were needed to integrate them. Even more strained parallel: Except for the user interface.)


Okay, I feel better now. About that last point: It has a serious IT parallel, which isn’t restricted to IT: If you ever hear anyone in IT try to puff up IT’s importance by disparaging any other department, nail their sorry posterior to a tree. Or, if you have a more gentle, mentoring approach to leadership, kindly suggest that belittling someone else, far from saying something positive about their own accomplishments, in fact calls them into question.

Getting along with the French

My French is limited to two years of high-school study (I passed but didn’t distinguish myself), three months of practice in Gabon at a French research station during my electric fish days, and a Rosetta Stone refresher (level 1) before leaving for this trip.

It was more than enough to get by due to a curious phenomenon: Most of the French speak passable English. They’ll use it, once they know you’re courteous enough to try to speak to them in their own language. In my case, the horror of my mangled elocution provided an additional, powerful incentive.

Semi-strained IT parallel: When speaking with non-technical colleagues, remember that for the most part they’re just as technical as we are, only it’s a different technical. IT employees who work with, for example, marketing should make an effort to learn marketing lingo. When they do they’ll be richly rewarded: Their marketing counterparts will return the favor.

Even better, they might start inviting you to their parties, which are much, much more entertaining than ours.

Comments (7)

  • Correct, Roman bridges, one concrete building, the Parthenon, numerous amphitheatres, over 200, and at least one artificial harbor have survived 2000 years virtually intact. Our best dams won’t last that long. The BLM has just started using concrete similar to Roman concrete in their dams, so that might change, but for now, very little American technology will survive as long as Roman technology has. The stuff left on the Moon and space probes leaving the solar system will come close, but they almost don’t count because they are not subject to erosion and weathering. It’s all rather humbling what people could do stone, metal chisels, steel swords, spears, sheer muscle and tenacity. A lot of those structures were built by the legions as well, not slaves. We will be quite lucky if people remember America after 2,000 years.

  • In marveling at Roman construction, consider this: if you wander into a Civil Engineering class today, what you hear is the language of calulus: moment arms, load vectors and the like. But the Romans built bridges, aqueducts and buildings that have stood for thousands of years using a numbering system that doesn’t even support addition — Quick: what’s XLV + XXVII? How long did it take you to come up with LXXII? I bet you’re glad you’re not a Roman Civil Engineer!

  • Those bridges are impressive. Then travel the Rhine, and marvel at the ruins of all those castles. They were certainly overbuilt for their actual, if not intended, lifespans.

    I’m going with “it depends.” Remember all those systems with the two digit years that were still running at the turn of the millenium?

    I suspect the Golden Gate won’t last as long as this bridge. I am certain we could build something that would, with minimal maintenance. I’m pretty sure we couldn’t afford it. If we ever get to self-flying cars, we won’t need it.

    At the rate we’re going, the Golden Gate will outlast the Republic.

  • Better in terms of what? There are a lot of possible dimensions to measure. Which are important?


  • While I’m getting the idea you are enjoying your trip across the pond (except for missing paradise) you have IMO, done a better than avg. (even for you) weekly. Maybe you need to be less polite, more often. I certainly laughed harder than usual about your points.

    Well done, sir.

  • I am not an IT person, though I work directly with IT as a super user/client. I find much in your columns applicable to my work. As for ‘nailing that posterior to a tree’ – unfortunately, I have had to do just that to an IT PM, and even then the person continued to disrespect me and my profession. Thank you for acknowledging those of us who are valuable partners, though we are not IT wizards.

  • Speaking of the Romans, I assume you are already aware of this set of factoids:

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