Friday, July 01, 2005

I was a client and a regular user of Citibank's credit card service for over ten years. Good track record of making payments on time, no outstanding black marks, I don't think. Very occassionally I would miss a payment and they would slap me with a $20 fee, but that hasn't happened for years. Nothing major, at least not in my book.

Periodically, they would send me a new credit card, as credit card companies do. I fondly recall, when I moved to Prague, that when I tried to change my address, it initally showed up on the envelope as "Czechoslovak, IA." Try to get your head around that one.

About a year ago, the new credit card stopped arriving for no apparent reason. They were sending them, but they weren't arriving. No change on my part. No explanation. I would ask them to send it again each time, and they would say, "We sent it, but it came back -- can we double check the address?" I figured they'd outsourced the foreign shipments to some provider who couldn't get his head around my funny looking address.

After a while I sort of gave up, and let it slip for many months because I had better things to do. Finally, I called them a couple months ago to try to sort the things out. The account had been dormant for so long that I had to re-apply.

They turned me down, probably because I had no employer or visible means of support. When they did their "credit check," they probably didn't both to check whether I'd ever been a client before. Infuriating.

Thank you for reading. I feel marginally better about it now.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

CME plans to attract new investors to Czech Republic.

Wait a sec. Weren't these the guys... with that one guy ... the one with the make-up.... who told us to think twice....

Golly, I wonder what changed in such a few short years. I wonder wonder wonder.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Wow. So it turns out the Romans didn't invade Britain in A.D. 43 after all. This seems like a pretty big discovery.

History teaches us that Emperor Claudius conquered Britain in A.D. 43, a re-hash of Julius Caesar's first invasion nearly 100 years earlier. Caesar's initial campaign was successful, but the occupation was short-lived, as he had to run back to Gaul to take care of a rebellion there. After Claudius came, the Romans stayed for centuries.

Churchill called Claudius a "clownish scholar" with little drive for military conquest, but his advisors apparently convinced him that Britain, despite being outside the known world, would actually be a nice thing to have. So 40,000 reluctant Roman troops landed in Kent and fought the native Britons, who "took refuse in the swamps and the forests, hoping to wear out the invaders." The natives' lord, Caractacus, fought on for a while, taking refuge in Wales. The Roman general Ostorius finally defeated him, and he was captured and marched all the way to Rome, where he begged of the Emperor, "Preserve my life, and I shall remain to the latest ages a monument of your clemency." It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

So the story goes.

Now they're telling us this entire tale was imperial spin? The Romans were already there when the troops came. It wasn't a conquest at all. The ancient Britons, it turns out, were "delighted when the 'invaders' overthrew a series of brutal tribal kings guilty of terrorising southern England."
Help me. I'm drowning in a sea of macroeconomic sludge. I'm helping a friend write a 60+ page country report filled with macro jargon. Am I really supposed to know whether private consumption, annual household expenditure and consumer spending are merely different words for the same thing? I remember at some point in the past I at least wanted to be able to say I knew this stuff inside and out. Now I'm thinking life's probably a bit too short.

Anyway, to help you while away the time, I've composed a list of interesting links to various spots on the world now covered by Google's amazing satellite mapping service.

(I just checked out the political projection for The World for the first time -- I mean the map with drawn borders, not the satellite shot -- and I'm curious to know what the green bits in the U.S. and Canada signify. Please don't tell me they're forests.)

Unlike with locations in the U.S., Google's not smart enough to know addresses or place names. So you have to have some vague idea of where you're going and scoot around a bit until you find it. I gave up before locating Berlin, for instance. Here are some selected shots, and since the amount of details varies greatly, I'll rank them in terms of awesomeness on a scale of 1 to 10.

- The Calabrian town of Gioiosa Jonica: 2
- The Strait of Messina: 4 *
- Barcelona: 6
- Gibraltar: 6
- Prince Edward Island, Canada: 3 (It's mostly low-resolution, but my dad says he can see the old MacMillan family farm and cemetary.)
- Isle of Mull, Scotland: 1 (Very low resolution, for now at least.)
- Pyramids, Cairo: 10
- A bunch of ships docked in Istanbul: 5 (Sadly, Sultanahmet is still in the blurry zone.)
- Zizkov TV tower, Prague: 8
- My apartment:: 7

* I know one of you was curious about the planned bridge across the Strait of Messina. It will indeed be the world's longest suspension bridge based on the distance between the towers. Here is the project's website. Construction is supposed to start next year and it'll be done in 2012. This means you'll be able to drive from the Arctic Circle to a point south of the northern tip of Africa without ever leaving the roadway.

Gurgle, gurgle.... (That's me drowning in sludge.)