Monday, December 31, 2007

A look back at 2007...

It's a weird feeling sitting here in front of my notebook after basically not using the machine during the past few days. The last time I checked my e-mails was 2 or 3 days ago and overall I've probably spent less than an hour on the computer since Christmas. And you know what? It's been an extremely relaxing week! :-)

I spent most of my time sleeping, meeting friends, going to the movies (saw Gus van Sant's "Paranoid Park" yesterday and David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises" today, both well recommended) and reading (I finished Cormac McCarthy's "No County For Old Men" in less than 24h). All in all it's certainly been a very relaxing week and I guess the only one who's had an even more relaxing week is our cat, who spent most of the last 2 days lying next to me and sleeping all day long.

Anyway, tomorrow I'll be heading to Vienna to celebrate New Year's with some friends and once I sober up (which will probably take until Jan. 2nd;-) I'll get back into the swing of things and start being productive again. I've lots and lots of things on my to-do list, the most important items being: studying for university as I've got lots of exams coming up over the next few weeks, preparing my bachelor thesis, finally sorting through my TransSib photos and also uploading the ones which I took on the recent trip to the USA, getting OLPC-related stuff done, getting work done for EPIACENTER, etc. So I certainly won't be bored...

While hangin' around these past few days I also spent some time thinking about 2007 and as ever so often I was amazed at just how quickly it went by. I tried coming up with some core things I did this year but too much has happened to really be able to compile that into something short'n'sweet. So here's a slightly chaotic look back at 2007:

Travel: If there's one thing that certainly kept me busy this year than it was travelling. All in all I spent about 9 weeks outside of Austria, a pretty decent amount I dare say. Starting with the family trip to Barcelona in February, continuing with my standard CeBIT visit in March, to be followed by visiting one of my closest friends in Granada. In June I flew out to Taiwan to attend Computex, in mid-July I spent a weekend in Paris and at the end of August I took off on one of the finest journeys I've ever made, the one along the Transsiberian Railway from Beijing, through Mongolia to Moscow. And now the last-minute decision to head to Washington and Boston which made for a very nice end-of-the-year in terms of my travels. I'm not quite sure what 2008 will bring but at the moment I know that I'll certainly be at CeBIT again, plus I'm very likely to head back to South America (with a focus on Brazil and Argentina) come August. Plus I'm pretty sure some other opportunities will present themselves and knowing myself I'll probably jump on every one of them.

Concerts: While certainly not having been to as many concerts as my dear friend Patrick I did see a couple of very good shows. Off the top of my head I'd probably say that the recent Ennio Morricone concert in Vienna was amongst my favourite ones. The best one however was the Nine Inch Nails concert back in March, I've never seen that kind of jump-start energy as when Trent Reznor hit the stage on March, 29th. Again it remains to be seen what 2008 will bring, at the moment I'm trying to get tickets to the Korn show in February and the tickets for the Smashing Pumpkins concert in January have already been bought. The interesting decision will be which festival to attend, at the moment the first band-announcements for the ones close by haven't been too exciting so we might head to Southside in Germany this time 'round.

Movies: I haven't had a chance to count my movie-stubs (I collect those) for 2007 but I'm guessing I saw about >50 movies in the cinema this year. Most of them during my two favourite film-festivals around here: the Crossing Europe in Linz and the Viennale in Vienna. It's certainly been a very good year when it came to great movies!

OLPC: The single biggest theme that makes this year different to previous ones is my involvement in the One Laptop per Child project and more specifically OLPC Austria. I can't even begin to count all the great people I've meet within and thanks to OLPC Austria, the countless hours I've spent on that project, the many lessons I learned about myself, ICT, education, project-management, collaboration, etc. This is probably the single best thing that happened to me in 2007 and I'm thankful for being able to work on this project because it's really an amazing experience.

University: I'm very happy with the progress I've made these past 12 months and if all goes well I'll finish my bachelor degree no later than autumn 2008. As mentioned above I'm currently in the brainstorming- and planning-stage for my bachelor thesis (surprise, surprise, it's something in the OLPC context) and that will definitely keep me busy during my semester-holidays in February. Looking back it's really quite amazing to see how much I've learned during this past year, both in terms of actual technical skills (especially thanks to two lectures about object-orientated programming and software engineering) and more general skills that I now find to be applicable in a variety of settings and projects. With regards to the future of my studies I'm not to happy with the stock Master programs offered at my university so I'll probably go for a custom-tailored one with a focus on ICT and its correlation with society. Plus even though I absolutely love living in Vienna it's definitely time to pack my bags and study abroad for at least half-a-year in the not-so-distant future. No clue about when, where or what but again I'm sure I'll figure it out along the way.

Blog: I have to say that I'm also quite happy that I managed to keep this blog alive after my TransSib journey and at the moment I'm up to around 80 posts with some of them remaining unfinished and sitting in the background. This highlights an issue that most bloggers are likely to encounter: Not having the time to update the blog as much as one would want to. It really does take a lot of discipline to keep posting and I hope to be able to do better in that regard in 2008.

Well, what's left for me to say at this point? All I can say that 2007 has been an outstanding year and just looking back at this mini-summary above I'm extremely happy with how it went. Now bring it on 2008!!! :-)

I wish all of you a Happy New Year and a great start into 2008 (at least once that hangover goes by)!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Long Way Home

What a week! What a day!!

I'm writing these lines sitting here at London Heathrow and since there's no free wifi-access it will be some time before I'll actually be able to post it. The thing is that I should have been home in Vienna 2 hours ago, unfortunately we got somewhat stuck here due to an enormous amount of canceled flights because of bad weather yesterday. Coming from Boston we arrived here in London at 5 a.m. only to find out that our flight to Vienna had been canceled. When we moved into the departure hall where we were supposed to go to the British Airways ticket office to get new boarding passes we realized that something bigger was going on since there was an enormous queue in front of the ticket office. At this point someone told us that all the flights to Vienna had been canceled and that we'd have to get in line and hope for the best.

[several hours and a few hundred kilometers later]

At the moment I'm sitting here on a train that's taking me from Vienna to Linz where my family will pick me up so we can have at least a small and late version for our regular christmas celebration. It's close to 10 p.m., but that time we've normally already finished setting up our living-room with the Christmas tree, singing, giving out the present and eating. In the past few years this was about the time when I went out to a friend's place, where we'd sneak out a bottle or two out of his dad's wine-cellar and then just chill with good music and enjoy the wine.

But let me go back in time and explain what happened in London earlier today. After we had been told that we should get in line it wasn't quite clear which queue we'd have to stand in as there were two of them. At this point Aaron and I decided to split up and he went with the first queue while I went for the second one. After some time I started talked to a group of people who were standing behind me, amongst them a girl from Bratislava who was supposed to fly to Vienna the previous day. She told me all about the chaos that must have been that day, with no real information by British Airways and just a general grand confusion. She ended up getting a voucher for a hotel and went there with other people she had meet in line, needless to say that they ended up drinking until the morning. Inspired by that story and her good humour (after 24h of waiting mind you!) I started to think of alternative solutions in case we wouldn't be able to get tickets to Vienna for that day. The first option would have been to just take a regular flight to Vienna with Austrian Airlines, but I really wasn't going to spend >€500 on that one. Alternative airports such as Munich, Salzburg, Graz and Linz were also mentioned. However I decided that there were really only two reasonable things to do: either rent car and drive to Vienna ourselves (we were 4~5 people who needed to get there) or just wait for British Airways to pay us a hotel in the evening and get hilariously wasted.

Luckily it turned out that Aaron had been in the right line and so we managed to get to an actual ticket counter after about 3 1/2 hours. (And having heard so many other stories of people being stuck in Heathrow for >24 hours I really considered myself to be lucky!) So I went back in line to say good-bye to my queue-friends, even though I felt really bad for not being able to do anything for them except to wish them a Merry Christmas.

Our rebooking called for us to go to Copenhagen, spend about 1 1/2 hours there before heading on to Vienna where we were set to arrive at 6:30 p.m. In Copenhagen we meet a linguistics student from Vienna who had just spent a week or two in Edinburgh and she promptly invited us to a drink to celebrate our situation. So I ended up sitting in a relatively empty airport with a glass of excellent (and totally overpriced) Scotch, toasting to Christmas, British Airways and whatnot. Could Christmas be any better?

Seriously though, at this point I had somehow stopped caring about my journey and just tried to make the best of whatever was happening. So I guess that mindset also helped once we actually got to Vienna only to find out that our suitcases hadn't managed to keep up with us. I had been expecting for that to potentially happen and even though I was a bit pissed there was really nothing I could do except for leaving the relevant information at the lost&found and hoping for them to turn up soon.

Anyway, now that I'll shortly be arriving in Linz it's time to turn this machine off, make the best of my evening and maybe post this entry before I head to bed...

Merry Christmas to all of you and I hope you were able to spend it in a better way than I did! ;-)

P.S. I'll be posting more (incl. some photos) about my trip in general over the coming days.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Posting from HQ

I know I haven't posted in quite a while but life has simply been too busy these past 2 weeks... However I do intend to get back to regular posting over the coming days as I'll be documenting my 6-day trip to the United States which started earlier today and took me straight from Vienna to the HQ here in Washington, DC. Thanks to the kind invitation by the one and only Wayan Vota (could there be a better welcome than a cold beer and a 2h discussion about OLPC, I don't think so) Aaron and me will be attending the first meeting of the OLPC Learning Club DC which takes place tomorrow, December 18 at 7 PM in "Mayorga Cafe & Lounge" (3301 14th. St. NW - Google Map). Come join us for an evening dedicated to OLPC, I'm sure it's going to be a blast! :-)

Early on Wednesday we're going to move on to Boston for a couple of meetings with the fine OLPC folks. Then we fly back home on Sunday evening. That should definitely make for a busy and great week!

I actually wanted to leave you with an impression of the Christmas decoration by one of Wayan's neighbours but I'm just to tired to even take out my camera. So good night everyone!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Amnesty International - Waiting For The Guards

I've been meaning to post this for more than two weeks but somehow I never found the time to do it. Anyway, Amnesty International recently launched a new campaign called "unsubscribe". As part of the campaign AI also commissioned 3 films to demonstrate the enhanced interrogation techniques used by the CIA in the “War on Terror”. "Waiting For The Guards" is the first of these films and it's a truly shocking, especially since they really taped a performance actor being put into a "Stress Position" for 6 hours. As AI puts it:
There is no acting on the part of the “prisoner” – his pain and anguish is for real.
Is doesn't make any sense to really describe this, the film itself is just extremely powerful:

Head over to and spread the word!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Shoogle - Things The World Doesn't Need

Watch this and please tell me that you find this useful, because I think this is one of the most useless things I've seen in a long time!

Consider this the most fun I'm having because I'm feeling a bit sick today...

What a week!

Oh my God, I can't believe it's Saturday already, at times it's really scary to realize just how quickly time flies by at the moment... I've had a fairly packed week and this is just a quick overview of what I did, more than anything else it's intended for myself as I really do have a hard time keeping track of what I'm doing! :-D

On Monday evening I went to see Marilyn Manson live in concert. While his days as a "shock-rocker" (whatever that may mean) are probably over he did put on a really good show and it was a very entertaining concert. While the Austrian newspaper "Der Standard" gave it a really bad critique (which they always do with concerts that I like;-) I must say that the combination of classics (Mobscene, Sweet Dreams, The Beautiful People, etc.) and new songs worked really well and it was a joy to watch him on stage! The only disappointing thing about the concert was the support band, Turbonegro, which really sucked, a lot! After the concert Patrick, his g/f (they had come from Upper Austria) and I went out to grab a quiet beer and smoke a cigar. Two weeks from now Patrick is again coming to Vienna because we're going to an Ennio Morricone concert which I'm really looking forward to!

Most of my Tuesday was spent listening to different lectures and presentations. Most notably Sir Tony Hoare - the guy who invented Hoare logic and the quicksort algorithm - held a guest-lecture about "Fine-Grain Concurrency". The whole thing started off with some technical problems, it took 20 minutes and three laptops in order to get his presention to show up on the beamer (kinda appaling for a technical university, don't you think?). The lecture itself was okay-ish, while the contents was quite interesting he started out with too much basic information which meant that there wasn't enough time to cover the more interesting aspects of his ideas regarding concurrency. I did however like his way of convaying thoughts and concepts in a very graphical manner and many of our professors could certainly learn a thing or two about holding lectures from him.

Afterwards we went to a 2h presentation about the E.U.'s data retention directive which was organized by quintessenz (an organization that mainly deals with privacy and related issues in the digital-age). The presentation was held by a judge from Salzburg and it was one of the best talks I've ever heard about such a complex issue. He really managed to present the current state of things, the directive itself, its impact on society and the whole topic of privacy in an information society in a very understandable way. It definitely shed light on many things I previously hadn't known, offered a new perspective of the issue at hand and also reminded everyone of some simple truths that you tend to forget while arguing about such topics. However I have to admit that after the 2h talk I was happy to go home, 6h of intense listening to all kinds of lectures and presentations is quite tirying, no matter how interesting it is.

On Wednesday I finally managed to meet one of my best friends for lunch. Given that everyone around here has been incredibly busy this term it often takes a week or two of planning ahead in order to arrange for something simple such as lunch, coffee or beer. So I was very much looking forward to seeing her again and we went for some outstanding all-you-can-eat Asian buffet. It definitely reminded me of how much I like Asian food and that I definitely need to head back to the lunch-buffet they have on the 44th (or was it 45th?) floor of the Mitsokoshi tower in Taipei, Taiwan. Sitting there, talking, we again also noticed just how time flies by: Has it really been 6 months since I visited her in Granada, Spain (where she spent her Erasmus year)? Has it really been a week since we had spoken on the phone and arranged everything? Are there really only 4 1/2 weeks left in 2007?

In the evening we had a short OLPC Austria meeting before we headed to an event to which we had been inivited. The mixture of flatscreen-TVs on the walls, good looking marketing girls and free food and drinks certainly brought back many memories of CeBIT and Computex. A good time was had by all, especially thanks to the outstanding Mojitos served there! ;-)

Thursday started off with something I normally don't do: getting into a black suit and putting on a tie... The reason why I did that was to go to Cercle deluxe an exclusive inivitation-only event focused on luxury products and services that takes place in two luxury hotels right here in Vienna, Austria from November, 29 to December, 2. I went there to see special editions of the HFX mini HTPC systems by mCubed and Maik Berendt (mCubed's CEO) was also the one who had arranged for me to get one of those rare press-credentials. You can read more details and see a photo-essay over in my news-article on but here's one photo to show you what I'm talking about:

Anyone who knows me can guess that I enjoyed myself in such a luxurios environment!

On Friday university kept me busy and in the afternoon I took a train down to Klagenfurt, in the south of Austria, to go to a small house-warming party by my flatmate's girlfriend. The 4h train-ride was very relaxing, we had a couple of beers and I had some time to finally read through some online-articles which I found earlier in the week. The evening itself was also very nice and we had great time even though there were only 4 of us. At some point we decided to use YouTube to look for (really) crappy songs and music-videos from our childhood and a great time was had by all.

And as the current flat is only a temporary one there's going to be another (bigger) party come March! ;-)

Satuday was probably the most relaxing day I've had in quite some time. After an excellent breakfast (at 2:30 p.m.) Richard and me went to the train-station to go back to Vienna while Michi (my flatmate) spends another day with his g/f and family. The ride back home was equally relaxing and I even managed to read The Economist's well-written special report about Austria. It's always extremely interesting to read an outsider's perspective and I think most of the Economist's observations were spot-on. Definitely well worth reading!

Since I got home I spent most of my time reading and watching episode 2 through 7 of the previously mentioned "Aliens In America". Talk about a quiet day!

Of course that's only a quick overview and I'm sure I'm forgetting some things. (Hence this blog-entry, otherwise I'd be forgetting everything!) Luckily most of my university-related tasks were due at the beginning of the week so that gave me some time to breathe and get other things (mostly OLPC reated) done.

Anyway, seeing that it's close to 4 a.m. I'm going to call it a day and get to bed soon. Tomorrow shall keep me quite busy as I need to prepare quite a lot of stuff for university and we also have an OLPC Austria meeting in the afternoon. And then it's off into another crazy week... :-)