June 26, 2005
The Cannes X-Plane Conference (June 2005)
OK so Steph Maurel decided it would be fun if a bunch of French and Italian (and any other European) customers all got together for a big X-Plane party in Cannes, France… phone calls were made and emails exchanged and myself, Randy (customer support) Kathy (his wife) Ben (algorithm consultant & scenery developer) and Lori (his girlfriend) were off to 6 hours of confinement in a 777 and arrival in Paris. This is June 20, and it was HOT in Paris… as well, Europeans have little use for air conditioning (none in the trains, none in the hotel, none in most stores and restaraunts), so our days in Paris were dominated by sweltering temperatures and little respite from the heat. We sweated through a sweltering Metro (subway) rides and crowded walks down the Champs Elysee… much of the city a bit dirty with litter, and quite hot and a crowded. It seems that summer has the most tourists as well as the highest temperatures, so if you don’t like crowds or heat, maybe summer is not the best time to go… Of course, I am making a tactical error by telling you this, because if I were to say: “COME TO PARIS IN THE SUMMER, IT IS GREAT!” and you set your travel schedule accordingly, then when I come again next time in the Spring or Fall, the city will be even more clear of tourists since you will all come in the summer, thus leaving even more of Paris for me!
So anyway after a day or two of heat we actually started to get used to being really hot and a bit sweaty most of the time, and really did not mind as much. Europeans believe that excessive air conditioning is bad for 3 reasons:
1: It is a really big use of energy (obviously true)
2: If it is hot outside, and cold inside, the big temperature difference between the two causes a small shock to your system whenever you go in or out of the house, lowering your resistance to catching a cold. I think this is true as well, as the sore feeling in the back of my throat whenever I have been going in and out of freezing buildings on hot days a lot attests.
3: It is sort of un-natural.. kind of an environmentally un-friendly waste that is not needed.
Of course, I agree with all 3 of those things but, when it’s 90 degrees and I am walking all around Paris in the heat and get back to my hotel, I really dont care about items 1->3… I just want AC! Anyway, that’s the Europen vs. American perspective there. American would rather race around in freezing AC environments in the summer, Europeans would rather relax and enjoy the heat with a nice cool drink at a street-side cafe. Even the first-class cars in the TGV (Train de Grande Vitesse, the 200 mph-hi-speed train of France) are only air-conditioned to about 75 degrees in the summer, as the small amount of sweat on my keyboard as I write this attests.
SO, even with the heat in Paris we DID have a great time.. the Eiffel tower is all lit up at night, very beautiful! Of course we have all seen hundreds of post-cards of La Tour Eiffel, and every one of them is identical, and not a single one of them gives the faintest, tiniest, teeniest little glimmer of the fact that the tower is BIG. It is HUGE. Walking up to it, the arches simply to the first level go high, high overhead, leaving a huge area underneat like 2 football fields covered in this vast latticework of metal. Certain people take the elevator up, but for Gods sake if you go take the stairs… it is much quicker (you can race up the stairs in less time than it takes to wait for the elevator) AND the stairs wind around through the structure of the building so you can really see the building, and there are cool historical placques at every landing giving some interesting tidbit of history on the tower. The view from the top was great, and as you looked down you could see the Siene river flowing gracefull by, with the “bateaux mouches” (boat-flys, or long, slow tourist boats) drifting slowly down the river as everyone on board enjoyed the wonderful view of the hundreds of ornate, intricate old stone buildings and magnificient, HUGE tower rising WAY up above them. This day was June 21 (the longest day of the year.. it did noit get fully dark until 10:45 pm) and huge celebrations were afoot, such that at 1 am, from the middle of the Eiffel tower, you could hear people spontaneously breaking into cheering on the huge lawns down below. The American idea is to see how much you can get done in a minimum amount of time with a maximum amount of technology, the European idea is to see how well you can live, enjoying nature and life… so while we Americans go crazy over the materialism and strict obligations that define Christmas, the French stay up late (ok, they always stay up late, but on this day they stay up REALLY late) drinking and celebrating the longest day of the year… because what we want most in life is simply more time to enjoy it!
OK, so after our wonderful tour of the amazing tower, it was onto the TGV to Cannes… it does not really FEEL like 200 mph on the train, because it is so smooth and quiet, but just like you can just BARELY hear the scream of the engine of a 777 while in the plane, you can just BARELY hear the scream of the electric motors and bearings and wheel/track contact inside the TGV… everything seems placid and smooth, but if you stop for a second and listen you suddenly notice that a lot of movig parts right underneath you are spinning MADLY, screaming and whining at the ludicrous load and rpm. The French countryside is FLYING by out the window, and whenever you come near a highway, the cars going in your direction are just falling back behind comically, as if they were parked. Now, while this 200 mph is quite a bit of speed, things get REALLY interesting when pass ANOTHER TGV going in the opposite direction! TGV’s are very long, sleek, and heavy… they take a long time to pass by coming out of the station, and it a good workout to run down the length of one in the station when it is parked, but if you are in one going 200, and the other is coming at you on the neighboring track (opposite direction) at 200, there is just a SHOVE-THUMPETY-THUMP and it is over. It takes about 2 or 3 seconds for about 1/6 mile-long of train to pass. You are just gazing serenely out the huge window watching the countryside flow by and all of a sudden the car leans to the side one inch from the pressure field from the other train, your window is filled with a blue blurr of the other train moving by you about 4 feet away at about 400 mph relative speed, there is a THUMPETY THUMP of the interacting airflow-fields between the two trains, your car rocks back one inch to it’s original position, and then it is over like it never happened. Wow. It is the type of thing that makes you very glad that it is impossible to move train-tracks.
So we arrived in Cannes which is a cool city… you have the architecture of the hundreds-of-years-old buildings, all with ornate stone and creeping vines and flowers all over them, with the modern shops and cafes on the first level of every building… really very nice. The real eye-opener though is MONICO. WOW! A tiny principality, Monaco has hundreds of wonderful little stone houses, all pink and orange, built into the lush green hills and rocky red cliffs towering over the edge of the Ocean. The houses all have amazing views of the green and red mountains rising up on one side, and the blue sea on the other, the bays filled with countless multi-million dollar yachts and sleek sailboats, all sleek and white with black sunglassed windows and trim. The men all dress in neat white buisiness suits with light lime green or light baby blue or gentle purple shirts to look good while minimizing the abosrption of heat, and the Women wear neat black, even in the day. Half the cars are Ferraris or Jaguars, nobody ever honks a car horn, and every driver stops his car to let people cross the street as they wander from one chic store or cafe to another. When you are sitting in a cafe having ham-and-egg Crepes and a bunch of kids come by on a school field trip one out of five sings “Bon Appetit! Bon appetit!” as they run by! The rulers of Monaco have little postcards in the sjops showing them perfectly and respectfully dressed in their neat white blazers and black dresses. Of course, they shut down the roads to race around the streets in screaming little F-1 cars once a year, which is bound to be a good time if you like racing. There is a little peninsula that extends from the mainland on tall sheer vertical red cliffs, and the entire island is covered with ornate shops running down narrow cobblestone streets and a giant, immaculate gardin to tour. The gardin has little fountains and fish-ponds and stone statues scattered here and there under the shade of the leafy trees. It really is paradise if you don’t mind a temperature of around 85 if you come in the summer.
OK so after a day in Monaco we headed back to Cannes for a few days of presentations on X-Plane at the local airport and late nights of eating and drinking at restaraunts on the beach, followed by leisurely late-night strolls through the harbors to look at all the yachts or the city to look at all the incredible buildings.
On the last day of our little conference we all went for little flights out over the ocean to see the harbors and hills and cliffs and yachts and islands from the air… half of us took our little tours in helicopters, half in airplanes. Being in the helicopter group, myself and 4 others (including the pilot, Phillipe) poured into a Eurocopter EC-120, a really sleek single-jet-engine machine packing a 600-horsepower turbine and seats for 5. The thing has a little 20-blade (or so) fenestron tail rotor that is a little enclosed ducted fan that makes a “BUZZZZ” sound as it spins. Phillipe lifted us up and hovered for a few moments, dropped the nose and powered forward and up for our tour. What an incredible view! The red cliffs and tree-covered mountains came right up to the blue surf, the waves crashing against the cliffs, the long sleek white luxury yachts glided smoothly beneath us, leaving foamy white trails in the their wakes, the long TGVs snaked gracefully along their tracks through the mountain passes along the sea, basically matching our speed even though they were slowed way down for the curving, in-city portion of their trip. The sea was littered in boats of all sizes and descriptions between the mainland the little islands, some big and anchored, some just little jet-skis racing madly around in circles, some big white yachts angling pourposefully to their destination. I had the left-front seat of the helo, but of course I could never ask Philippe to let me fly when there were 3 more people in the back who were counting on a properly-trained helo pilot to get them home safely, but you know I was just DYING to take the controls! SO, after we all landed from our little tour, the next step was obvious! Take a flight lesson! EC-120’s aren’t exactly cheap to take flight lessons in, but how often do you get a chance to fly a turbine helicopter in conditions like this? Basically never. So with a “you only live once” attitude, I pulled out my credit card and signed us up for an hour-lesson to be taken at once. Randy and I walked with Philippe back to the breifing room to plan our flight. Phillipe did not speak a whole lot of Engish, and I only speak some French, so I was very careful to move slowly and clearly… the cockpit of a helicopter at low altitude is not a good place to have a mis-communication! One of the marks of a good pilot is that he is NOT so cocky as to think a pre-flight plan is un-needed, so we really took our time in the breifing room making sure we knew before we ever approached the helicopter what we would do and what terminology we would use to decide who would be flying the helicopter! In America it is “I have the airplane” or “You have the airplane” to allocate command, and in French is is “Iee have zee command” and “You push zee paddles” and “You take zee cyclic and zee collecteef”. When I told Philippe my helicopter experience (3 flights) he decided this would be an intro flight only, and he would simply let me take the controls to manuever the craft gently in flight. As soon as I told Philppe that simply wagging the controls around was not really enough challenge , and could he give me headings and speeds and altitudes, and how would we properly navigate the airspace in the Cannes area without me being familiar with the local airspace, he replied: “Ah, we air French here, and we are not so concerned about zee exact rules… we want you to have plaisure when you are here, and you having plaisure iz what gives plaisure to us… simply keep your eyeees outside zee helico and fly, and do not to worry about speeds and altitudes and such things. Simply fly and stabeelize zee helico.”. Well! That moves Phillipe to position #1 on my cool-guy list, and is one of my FAVORITE things about my frequent travels to Europe… the wonderful countryside, great food, great European friends, fast luxurious trains and ancient incredible durable architecture integrated with modern style and “chic”… all of those things are great, but what I really love is the different ATTITUDES and “joie de vivre” that seems uniquely European.
So off to the sleek blue bird, a bit of a briefing on avoiding a hot-start of the engine, and I hit the starter. The turbine gave off it’s characteristic climbing whine with initally ZERO motion of the rotor. There is no rigid connection between the engine and the rotor: Only air moving through fans conducts torque to the rotor. Thus, you could actualy start and run the engine while someone simply held the rotor motionless. Once the engine N1 started coming up past a certain point, the airflow through the system got high enough to put some torque on the rotor though, and it gradually began to spin up.. soon to around 400 rpm and off we went with Phillipe initally in command. Takinng off from Cannes airport you are over the harbor while still in the traffic pattern, so it takes only about 20 seconds from take-off to start seeing the incredible scenery. Philippe quickly handed my the controls, and I was at once curving up along the cliffs, over the sea, at 500 feet, bobbling and oscillating along over the luxury yachts and wonderful scenery as the turbine smoothly whined and the rotors flapped and whopped along through the air. Steep turns were especially fun because as you increased collective to hold altitudes in the turn you could really hear and feel the SLAP-SLAP-SLAP of the blades as they grappled for more and more air. The turbine engine would smoothly whine a little more or a little less as the power changed, and the tail rotor would buzz away with little audible cue, but the main rotor is always talking to you! It constantly says “whowhopwhopwhop” as it runs around, giving a constant little vertical hops and oscillations, and WHAP WHAP WHAP as you pull more collective. The rotor is clearly dealing with dozens of different forces all in varying degrees of opposition, hurtling across the sky like a big heavy mechanized boomerang, while the big clear plexiglass fuselage hangs underneath, always lagging a few seconds behind the gyroscopically stabilized rotor. The bird is still easy to fly though if you have practiced a lot on X-Plane, so I was easily able to hold altitude and heading and speed, once Phillipe was convinced that I really could do it and still have fun. Really, there is just nothing else like tooling along over that kind of incredible view in a big mechanical Bumble-Bee, surrounded in plexiglass, watching all the other ground-and sea-based vehicles all Atooling aroud in their elements as well in the incredible natural beauty of this coast. There is absolutely no other place like it! After enjoying the view and the flying challenge of flying up along the coast, we did some stops and starts and hovering and steep turns and then headed back to the airport. With the engine still runninng, I jumped into the back and Randy jumped into the gront and off we went for a second lesson with Randy at the controls! For his lesson we did some auto-rotations and landed in some little grass clearing in the forest. Finally returning for that last bizarre helicopter approach (drop down like a rock, raise the nose WAY up to decelerate, and stop in the middle of the air) Philippe hovered us back to the parking space and shut down… exactly 1.0 hours of flight time! I did not need such precision, but Philippe was very careful to fly for the exact time planned so as not to go even one little bit over my planned budget! Philippe is so nice I almost feel guilty for possibly committing whatever rudenesses I might accidentally be doing!
After that it was off to a rousing final dinner going late into the night with much conversation, as European dinners often do… in America at a restaraunt it is “What time is your reservation, SIR?” and a bill rushed to your table as soon as you are done to clear you out and make way for the next paying customers, but in Europe this idea is completely ridiculous! There is much less of a CLASS seperation there (in America it is always “rulers and drones”, where people working for minimum wage are often amazingly incompetent outside their narrow field of duties, and customers incredibly rude and demanding) but in Europe, the everyone is much closer together in income and (seemingly to me) intelligence and social standing, so going into a restaraunt for dinner is more like walking into your own dining room with your own family! Everyone seems on equal footing, and every seating might as well be at a restaraunt run by your own family, where you just happen to be in town and want to stop by and see everyone over dinner! Asking for the bill before having appetizers, dinner, desert, a nice delay, and coffee is considered quite shocking and ridiculous, and staying for an extra hour or two while talking and joking and drinking is expected. Why run out earlier? You are here with all your friends and have the rest of the night, yes? Also, many people in the USA have this idiot idea that they are supposed to get their lazy ass kissed a lot if they are to give a good tip… mercifully this insanity is absent here: In France, chefs and staff comprise a wonderful and critical part of the culture, are paid commensurately (I think) and there is no tipping expected… service is comprised in the bill. THANK GOD FOR THIS… it allows everyone to relax and have a good time without having to worry “How much should I tip to be friendly without over-paying” or “How much does this idiot want his ass kissed to give me a good tip?” Finally, everyone can relax and be themselves… paradise!
Anyway, I have carried on far too long on that topic… so the next day it was back to wander aroud the train station in Cannes for an hour or so and onto the barely-air-conditioned TGV for the ride back home, where I am writing this right now as the French countryside whips by the window at Ludicrous Speed, the cars fall backwards behind me, and there is an occasional WHUMPETY-WHUMP as another TGV passes just outside my window at about 400 relative. Viva La Fance!
OK now here are a bunch of pics:
The hustle and bustle of Paris in the afternoon:
A walk in Cannes after dinner:
The harbor of Cannes:
At the conference:
Lunch is formidable at the conference:
A late-night dinner in Cannes: Ben Supnik (scenery design and general algorythms) gives a toast while Kathy entertains Stephane Maurel, author of the Goodway flight-planner:
Sergio, the X-Plane artist:
Another late-night dinner… Sergio and be on the left, with me on the forward right:
Those TGV’s are pretty big!
Me, Kathy, Randy Witt (customer service and sales):
Big Americans… small cars!
Time to go Flying!
Over the harbor of Cannes: (notice I am in the left seat… this was my seat during the short tour… the actual flight lesson was given with me in theright seat)
The view from the helo, with the TGV running along thru the mountains:
James Bond’s yacht is in there somewhere…
Walking in Cannes:
At the train station, time to go home! (dang it!)
Now, uploading this file from my house, I must say it is very nivce to be back in America with my cars, house, AND AIR-CONDITIONING!