Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

I originally meant to post a look back at 2008 (similar to what I did last year) before 2009 started but I’ve simply been too busy to finalize it so far…

So for now, all I can say is that 2008 has been an outstanding year for me and I’m really looking forward to 2009.

Happy New Year everyone! :-)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Personal productivity – Follow Ups

Over the past few years I’ve become increasingly interested in personal productivity. I can’t pinpoint it exactly but I guess it must have been at some point during my second year at university that I realized that even with very little sleep I only had so much time to get things done in-between getting up and hanging out at the bar in our student residence in the evenings…

Previously - during my last two years at schools – I started heavily relying on all sorts of lists, both on paper and my computer, to keep an overview of the things I had to do. Later I started using my mobile phone to write down all kinds of thoughts, ideas, to-do’s and other information while on the road.

I now have a pretty confusing (for outsiders) system of post-its (I count about 20 on my desk at this very moment), notes/tasks on my mobile phone (sync’ed to my computer) and e-mail tagging rules to to organize my to-do’s.

However lately I’ve been hitting a road block as I’m realizing that doing things is one thing, but following up and following through with something you’ve started doing is something entirely different.

For example for olpcnews we often get contacted by guest authors who want to submit an article. I read through the submission, write up some feedback and send it back to the author. My to-do list for the day then says read Ubuntu-for-XO submission.

Now the problem here is that I’ve only done part of what is really a multi-step task. And it’s all too easy to forget about the other steps in case I don’t get a reply from the original author which automatically triggers me to setup a new to-do task.

Dealing with this kind of scenario has become increasingly error-prone and time consuming. For some time I kept a second list on my desk with the names of people I had to follow up with on something. I also set myself reminders on my phone to follow up whether something has been done x days after I completed my initial task. Needless to say all of that only works so well and creates quite a lot of overhead…

One thing that would tremendously help me is an extension for  Thunderbird (my e-mail client of choice) which would allow me to set an automatic follow-up reminder before sending an e-mail. (Potentially even customizable depending on what kind of e-mail I send, e.g. replies to messages sent to editors [ AT] olpcnews [DOT] com come with a default 3-day reminder.)

The same kind of functionality should also be available for my mobile phone (which runs Symbian S60 3rd edition), allowing me to mark a task as done, setting up an automatic reminder and then pushing it off my regular tasks list and onto a separate follow-up list.

Unfortunately I haven’t seen any efforts heading into that direction so I guess for the moment being I’m stuck with my current system…

Blog: Personal Productivity – thoughts on follow-ups

Toying around with Windows Live Writer

Some of you might remember the issues I had when trying to install Windows Live Writer back in November 2007. Now I saw that a new version had been released so I’m giving this thing another shot.

This time ‘round installation worked smoothly and so I’ll be using Live Writer for the next couple of weeks to see how it goes.

The first impressions are certainly good: the UI is as clean as you get with Windows, the preview function is nice and quick, the tagging mechanism is quite quick too and while 37MB of memory usage seems quite a lot it’s still acceptable for this kind of tool. Plus in general I’m just excited to try out a stand-alone application instead of having to log into Blogger’s not-so-great backend…

Stay tuned for my thoughts on Live Writer and (hopefully) more blog posts in general over the coming days and weeks.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

OLPC launches Give 1 Get 1 2008

Apart from finally managing to meet up with some friends today for a good game of soccer I spent most of the day glued to the screen and trying to stay on top of the developments surrounding the return of OLPC's Give 1 Get 1 program. That means reading / writings tons of e-mails, checking the olpcnews forums, following keywords on, tuning into IRC, etc.

Anyway, since I've done quite a bit of blogging about it over on I'm not going into details here. Except to say that despite what some media outlets are saying OLPC is a pretty great project making good progress, additionally I've met a large number of smart and awesome people via OLPC and that alone is highly motivating. And even if this sounds stupid ,I probably wouldn't know what to do with all my spare time if I didn't spend it on related efforts. ;-)

Most of this week will go towards OLPC as we're working on publishing lots of great content on olpcnews. Plus I'll be heading to Graz on Wednesday evening to hold a presentation for future CS teachers at the Technical University there on Thursday morning. Afterwards I'll be attending the USAB 2008 Symposium which I'm really looking forward to. I'll also have a small table there to present OLPC and especially some of the projects that OLPC Austria has been working on.

In related news I gave an interview to BBC Radio's Up All Night program last night and I was quite happy with it. (In case you're interested it's available as a stream here, the segment on OLPC starts at 01:11:40.) Last week I also had an interesting talk with Cyrus Farivar who was working on a story on Inveneo which I had visited when I was in San Francisco. You can find the excellent piece (with a short comment by yours truly) at The World/Technology - definitely my favorite tech-podcast these days!

Anyway, I badly need to grab some sleep now, I can barely keep me eyes open as I write these lines...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

I just got back from seeing Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and the documentary was everything I expected. And then some more.

As the title suggests it's a film about Hunter S. Thompson, the inventor of Gonzo journalism and the author of many articles and books, most famously Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas which was later turned into a movie with Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro. Having been originally fascinated by the movie I later decided to read the book and then subsequently also read Rum Island and Hell's Angels. It's hard to put it in words but there's something unique about how Thompson describes whatever story he's telling. And boy, the stories he tells! The great thing about them is that they are this perfect mixture of fact and fiction, combined by the genius that is Hunter S. Thompson. I really recommend reading at least one of his books, they're great reads and it's no surprise that I always ended up reading them while on the road myself.

With regard to the documentary it sheds light on Thompson's life, both through original footage and comments by people who accompanied him in his life-time. One of my favorite episodes, and a part of his life that I had never heard about, was his campaign for sheriff in Aspen, Colorado. The whole thing is just plain hilarious!

In the end the film also shows how Thompson got caught by his own fame and therefore turned into somewhat of a tragic figure himself. However both his suicide and funeral come off as being part of a larger plan and also the logic result of his previous life.

What remains is the realization that Hunter S. Thompson was a great and unique personality with a strong spirit and remarkable writing skills. Definitely the kind of person that the world could have more of...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ein Augenblick Freiheit / For A Moment Freedom

I just got home from what might just turn out to be the best movie at this year's Viennale film-festival: Ein Augenblick Freiheit (For A Moment Freedom).

The movie, which had previously been praised at other film-festivals, tells three stories of people fleeing from Iran, hoping to get to Europe, but who all get stuck in Ankara. In a very touching (more than one person in the audience mentioned that the story went under their skin) yet at times also amusing manner the viewer gets an insight into the backgrounds, struggles, hopes and difficulties of the various characters.

To say that after watching Ein Augenblick Freiheit you know what people who flee their country are going through would be an overstatement. But I dare say it's as close as you'll ever get by watching a movie. In that context a comment by one of the lead actors struck me as memorable as he said that "this experience made me realize what my parents were going through when we fleed Iran in my childhood because obviously I was too young to understand it at the time".

Speaking of the actors, their performances were simply breathtaking, I can't describe it in any other way. Kudos also to the director Arash T. Riahi who obviously did an amazing job during the 7 years it took to make this movie. His previous work Exile Family Movie (which I had the pleasure of seeing during my internship in Washington, DC) is also an amazing film.

In the end I'd definitely recommend you to watch this movie, it's definitely one of the best ones I've seen this year. There's one more showing at the Viennale, on Tuesday, 28.10.2008 11 a.m. at Künstlerhaus Kino, and the general launch is set for January 09, 2009.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

3 weeks without blogging...

I really can't believe that it's already been 3 weeks since I last blogged but time is really flying by quicker than ever before. Without looking at my Outlook calendar I can't even really begin to write down what I've been up to, it's simply been too crazy...

Obviously when I initially came back to Vienna after being gone for the better part of 6 months (except for those short weekend visits) I spent *a lot of* time meeting my friends around here and going out to all the bars, cafés and restaurants where I hadn't been in such a long time. We also had a reunion with many of my intern colleagues from the embassy which was a lot of fun!

What else? Ah yes, I spent 1 1/2 days down in Graz, a city in the south of Austria, meeting people from various universities and talking about the current state of OLPC, related projects they had started, plans for the future, etc. On top of that I got to see two friends which I hadn't seen in more than a year and, guess what, obviously another great night out was had by all.

The past two weeks here in Vienna have been quite busy with lots of time spent on preparing and organizing my university term which started on October 1st. Additionally I've been working on or at least discussing a couple of different plans for projects which all have somewhat of a long-term impact on the months and years ahead of me. I can't really go into details here but will rather talk about them in individual posts when and if things start moving... However I can say that I'm certainly spending quite a lot of time thinking about the future these days.

Looking at the next few weeks it looks like I'll be insanely busy, with university related matters and lots of coding taking up most of my time. Also the awesome Viennale film-festival (which I also mentioned last year) is taking place in the second half of October and compared to 2007 I almost doubled the number of movies I'm going to see to 16. I'll also have three cool concerts (Calexio/Lampchop, Mogwai and Welle Erdball) to go to in October and November. Plus I'm very much looking forward to extended visits from A. H. (of Canadian border cutie fame) and Patrick over the coming weeks.

Anyway, I'm certainly having an outstanding time and only wish that sometimes I had an extra moment (or two) to breathe inbetween all the madness;-)

I also hope to get back to a more regular post-schedule, in the mean time you can follow me on twitter/random_musings, I've also embedded my 5 most recent messages on the right-hand side of the blog...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Into The Wild - Review

On Saturday evening I finally managed to see Into The Wild which has been sitting on top of my "to-be-watched"-list for quite some time. I originally wanted to see it at the beginning of the year when it hit the Austrian cinemas but due to all the madness back then I didn't manage to go. Now it's been sitting around waiting for me to watch it for the better part of the past 6 months...

Anyway, I have to say this is probably one of the most beautiful motion pictures (yes, I'm actually using that expression!) I've seen in quite some time. Some of the images are simply stunning, the soundtrack is a class of its own, the acting is top-notch and the story, well, it's so captivating that you know only life itself could have written it. Which, since it is based on a true story, it did.

The journey of Christopher McCandless is definitely something that many people dream about at least once in their life. To really get away from it all, to be on the road, meeting new people, free from the rules and limitations imposed upon us by regular life, living by your own schedule and desires, etc. I guess it's not hard to see that yours truly thinks (or rather dreams?) about doing something similar every now and then himself...

I really can't say much more about this movie except that it is an inspiring piece, definitely well recommended!

Gomorra - Review

As mentioned before I saw the movie Gomorra tonight and while I liked it quite a lot I still left the cinema somewhat underwhelmed. I initially couldn't pinpoint exactly why but for some reason I had expected more.

Maybe because the book by Roberto Saviano that the movie is based on was hyped  a bit in the recent past. Also I had read a very interesting articles about Naples and the influence of the Camorra on life there in the excellent German magazine Geo the other week. So in terms of the actual situation nothing was really new to me even though the portrayal of the various characters influenced by the Camorra and their urban-slum environment was really well done.

But then I found the perfect comment about this movie and this one sentence really manages to hit the nail on the head:

With everything into consideration, film is too well choreographed that it becomes as intimidating as the organization that it exposes.

I really got nothing to add to that!

"Waltz with Bashir" trailer

Just got home from the cinema where I saw Gomorra (more on that movie in an upcoming post) but before the film started I saw the amazing Waltz with Bashir trailer. I've embedded it below:

I'll definitely have to see that one once it hits the cinemas in mid-November...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Seeking a routine

On my way to work today I thought about how much routine I've had in my life for the majority of the past 6 months. In fact I haven't had such a regular routine since I finished my year of compulsory social service back in 2004. The reason why I'm emphasizing regular here is simple: I might call drinking beer and hanging out with friends in front of our student residence (spring 2005 was awesome!) or working until dawn and subsequently sleeping until 11:30 a.m. a routine but I fear the majority of society would disagree with me there. Not that it's been that bad in the past 2 1/2 years. However I still rather seldomely managed to go to bed before 3 a.m. and in my eternal quest to approximate my sleep to 6 hours / night I often don't get up until 10 a.m. or so.

But in the past half year I've pretty much followed the routine of a 9-to-5 office worker and always had to get up by 7 a.m. Now I can tell you that when getting up at that time I'm hardly more than a vegetable for the majority of the morning. However it's still quite good to have a regular routine and it feels great to go to lunch having been at least somewhat productive already.

So now the goal is to find a reasonable compromise which gets me through the upcoming university semester starting at the beginning of October. My current thinking is to try and get up around 8:30 which sounds more or less doable. With the goal of ideally sleeping 6 hours and knowing that I cope quite well with 4 1/2 hours of sleep that gives me enough time in the evenings and nights to get things done. With my old routine I consistently seemed to be most productive in the late afternoons and between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m. If I could add 2~3 hours of actual and productive work in the mornings then I'd be very happy indeed.

Of course there's always a (big?) difference between theory and practice but I certainly hope to achieve my goals. I just set myself a reminder on my mobile phone to re-visit this topic 2 months down the road, it will be interesting to see where how things go until then.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Dobri projekti: One laptop per child

Earlier today I got word that Slovenian Studio 12 had posted a video about One Laptop per Child on their Web site. The great 20-min video also contains some comments by yours truly recorded when I was in Ljubljana for the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly back in March. Also included: extensive explanations by the one any only Bernie Innocenti with whom I had the pleasure of hanging out over the weekend. It was also nice to see the video include many of the photos that Mike Lee took during the 1st ever DC photo jam back in June.

Having just watched the video made me (again!) realize how quickly the 5 1/2 months since then have gone by and how much has happened in the meantime. It's really been an excellent year for me and I'm looking forward to the remaining third of it, especially since come next Tuesday I'll be back in Vienna, for good.

P.S. Yes, I deserve to be beaten for that stupid iPhone power-consumption comparison, I don't know from where I got and why I swallowed that oh-so-wrong information. But hey, it's not like I made that comparison about x-hundred times when I was at CeBIT, right? ;-)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

FUDCon Brno 2008

I'm sitting here in the car on the way home from the Fedora User and Developer Conference (FUDCon for short) in Brno, Czech Republic. Daniel from OLPC Austria and me attended the event from Friday until today and I have to say it was well worth the 2x 5 hours ride to/from Brno.

The main reason for going to FUDCon was to meet up with the core Sugar developers (Sugar being the software platform originally developed for One Laptop per Child) and have a OLPC / Sugar / Sugar Labs (the latter being the new non-profit organization created to improve and spread the Sugar platform) presence at the event.

We arrived quite late on Friday evening but we did make it in time for some great Czech food and beer at a small restaurant near the Faculty of Informatics at Masaryk University where the event was held. We didn't waste any time and quickly moved into a very good discussion on the recent past and current status of OLPC, Sugar and Sugar Labs. Apart from recounting the madness that was the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Session in Ljubljana back in March we also generated a couple of good ideas for things to be improved or done in the foreseeable future. While we initially had the intention to call it a day when the waitress closed the restaurant some of us decided to take a peek at nightlife in Brno. We ended up in this somewhat generic disco/pub/bar but the beer and discussions were good and it was nice way to chill out after what had been quite a long day for me.

Sugar Labs gang

Saturday's program was dedicated to a BarCamp where we hosted a 50min session in the morning. I started off with a 15~20 min presentation on the "who, what and why of Sugar" which was basically a broad overview of some key features in Sugar, the core challenges that the project is facing, some thoughts on education and the current state of things with regard to OLPC and Sugar. The second part of the session was held by the Sugar developer team and focused on the more technical aspects of the project and especially areas where the Fedora community can contribute. At the end we had quite an engaging Q&A session with the majority of the comments and discussions centered around storing and retrieving data. Instead of the traditional files and folders system Sugar (on the surface) employs something called the Journal which basically acts as a diary (with support for searching, tagging and filtering) of everything you do on your machine. It was interesting to hear people's thoughts on this approach and I think we're definitely going to have many more discussions on this topic in the weeks and months ahead.

The afternoon was spent sweating away in a very steamy lecture-room where we first we heard a presentation about what seems to be quite a cool translation platform called Transifex. Later we turned our attention on getting some work and, in my case, mostly e-mailing done. The evening was dedicated to the FUDCon social event which meant mediocre food, great beer and outstanding discussions all while surrounded by people wearing white FUDCon Brno 2008 t-shirts. We really got an awful lot of work done both before and after dinner and thanks to having an XO at hand we could record all of our thoughts, strategies and ideas which we would have undoubtedly forgotten otherwise. We then went for a nice walk towards the city center which was followed by the long walk home since our hotel was a couple of kilometers away from Brno's center. We almost lost our two Italian developers along the way because while they might be able to code for 3 days straight walking for a bit apparently kills their spirit or something.

getting things done

Since everyone had gotten a good night's sleep (7h, I hadn't come close to that during the rest of the week) we were all quite relaxed and energetic today. While the Sugar team got together for a discussion of the roadmap and feature-set for the Sugar 0.84 release I toyed around with the RoadMap activity, caught up with most of my e-mails and sketched out some ideas and to-dos for the weeks ahead. In the late afternoon we had a good discussion were we wrapped-up many of the thoughts that we had collected on the day before.

All in all a very productive and enjoyable weekend and while it's going to be a while I'm already looking forward to the next meeting with these fine folks. As always with OLPC-related experiences it's a great pleasure to be able to spend your time with people who are that smart and inspiring.

Some random observations:

  • I assume almost 2/3 of all the laptops I saw at FUDCon were Lenovo ThinkPads. There were also a number of eee PC owners at the event and in general there's definitely a strong trend towards machines which are smaller than 15.4".
  • The organization at FUDCon was nothing short of stellar and kudos to Red Hat and everyone who was involved in the process. That's exactly what a community event should be like and I know of many organizations which could learn a thing or two from Red Hat / Fedora in that respect!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Talk about wasting time

Damn, I hate it when I waste time. Especially when I waste time I really should have spent doing something else as I'm running out of time anyway.

Why this rant? Well, I just spent the past 4 hours preparing (or rather trying to prepare) my OLPC XO for FUDCon Brno 2008 where I'm heading tomorrow to meet up some of the OLPC / SugarLabs folks. As part of the ongoing efforts of closer collaborations between the OLPC / Sugar and Fedora community I wanted to setup an SD card with Fedora 9 as explained by the fabolous dsd from OLPC. Additionally I wanted to prepare another SD card with Xubuntu to showcase that other, non-Fedora operating systems, can also run well on the XO.

Now, two evenings into this project I'm literally close to tears. I've made every possible mistake and run into every imaginable issue along the way and have gotten nowhere. Network issues, corrupted downloads, not realizing that my card-readers aren't SDHC compatible,... you name it, I've seen it all.

So I've finally decided to let it go and spend the rest of the evening on something useful (e.g. finishing my possible presentation at FUDCon on Saturday) before grabbing some badly needed sleep. Tomorrow shall be a better day, and if it ain't then at least I'll be able to distract myself from my sorrows with good Czech beer, Czech food and great company! :-)


Look Ma, even my XO hates me!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Social Ice Cream Media

I'm still not sure whether I just saw a video about ice cream (/me wants some) or social media... Regardless, I'd certainly suggest you watch this video, it's very well done!


My favourite place

I can't even begin to tell you how much I missed being at what's probably my favourite place in the world: the MuseumsQuartier Wien. If I had the time I'd could easily spend a whole day there and wouldn't be bored for a second. Just watching the people is enough to keep you busy for the day. But of course you can also go there to hang out, read, sleep, learn (don't laugh!), meet people, enjoy food and drinks at places such as the Kantine, listen to the music by live Djs on weekends and try to beat the record at the Carrera toy racing-tracks.

All of these activities are made all that much more confortable by what's undoubtably the single coolest piece of outdoor furniture ever invented: the Enzis (see the red things on the photo below, that's it). Since I found out that you can buy them in three different sizes it's bee a secret dream of mine to at some point live in a place where I can put an Enzi in a garden or on a terrace.

view of the MQ

So if you're ever in Vienna and it's a sunny day you should definitely stop by in the MuseumsQuartier, it truly is urban life at its best!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Not too excited about Google Chrome

It's all over the news right now and apparently the official announcement will be made at a press event at Google HQ today at 11 a.m. PDT.:

Google will release a new open-source browser based on a combination of Apple WebKit and Mozilla Firefox and held together with some custom code by Google.

Looking at the currently available information and the single screenshot from CNet above I have to say it's hard to get too excited. (Admittedly the idea to (pre-)announce a browser via a comic book is pretty sweet!)

Unless Chrome uses signficantly less memory and/or renders pages and all those Web 2.0 sites signficantly faster than Firefox I don't see too many incentives to switch. Additionally it will be hard for Chrome to compete with the plethora of Firefox extensions, unless they somehow manage to maintain compatibility that is.

Now something that I’d be excited about is a project to crossbreed Thunderbird and Gmail. Both approaches offer some pretty damn cool features but combined they could really give all other e-mail solutions (even the Outlook / Exchange combination) a run for its money.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Dear Santa...

I know it is quite early to put in requests for Christmas presents but this morning I came across three very cool products and I would appreciate if you could get me at least one of them on Christmas day.

(1) Sony ODO wind-up camera
How can't I fall in love with this device? It's definitely one of the coolest things I've seen in quite some time. Plus I'd just love to pull that thing out when out in bars or partying somewhere else. You think an iPhone 3G gets you attention, wait until you pull out the ODO, recharge it on the bar-counter (avoiding all the beer and shot glasses that will undoubtably be there) and snap a photo of that gorgeous waitress!

(2) BlackBerry Bold
Even though I was lucky to recover my stolen mobile phone (thank you WMATA!) which I had reported missing back in June I can't help but drool over the BlackBerry Bold. In my opinion this is the most desirable mobile phone at the moment (take that Apple!) even though I'm admittedly also intrigued by the upcoming BlackBerry Storm (the phone formerly known as Thunder). In case you can't get a Bold I'd also be willing accept a Nokia E71.

(3) Eee PC 901 GO with built-in 3G
I've been following the whole UMPC / MID / NetBook story since day 1 (see, and for all the news you're ever going to need) and we're finally getting to a point where I can seriously consider products from those device categories. While I love my OLPC XO sometimes I wouldn't mind something a little beefier in terms of the processing speed. Currently there are four products that I'm seriously considering:

Asus eee PC 901: Love the size and battery life, not sure about the keyboard though. Having 3G included would be a big plus!
Asus eee PC 1000H: Battery life and keyboard sound great but might be a tad too big so I'll have to look at one in person before I could commit to it.
Dell Inspiron 910: Need to wait for the first reviews but that one could be a good choice too.
MSI Wind: Available today, good keyboard but the relatively short battery life could be a deal-breaker.

Getting a subsidized device in combination with a 3G contract would be quite appealing to me so I'm keeping my fingers crossed for T-Mobile to also bring this offer to Austria. On the other hand I'm still not 100% sure I want to get such a netbook and will definitely wait to see which products the u:book program (high quality notebooks selected by university and sold to students at very attractive prices) has on offer this time 'round.

Update: Please forget what I said above, if you really want to make me happy then bring me one of those just announced Samsung X360s!

Full disclaimer: I actually believe in the Christkind.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Morning disappointments

There's few things in life which are as disappointing as grabbing breakfast on the way to work only to to arrive there and find out that things aren't quite as you ordered them. Where are my pickles? And the mayonnaise is missing too? Oh come on, and the bread is also a different kind then what I ordered? Damn.

Talk about a bad start into a day!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Projects keeping me busy

As previously mentioned I'm having quite a busy week, almost too busy one might argue. is certainly take a fair amount of my time as there's a lot happening in OLPCland these days. Luckily we are getting many high quality guest contributions at the moment which makes things quite a bit easier for us. There's no way we could talk about all the ongoing developments, issues and deployments ourselves. Even as it is today I've got a couple of article ideas and no clue when to actually sit down and write them (I hope to get one done on the train-ride to Vienna on Friday). But I really enjoy reading other people's thoughts and opinions so it's all good fun.

The next big item on this week's to-do list is the OLPC BookSprint which takes place in Austin, Texas and is supported by various remote contributors. The goal of the Sprint is to produce a high-quality manual for the XO and Sugar. I'm currently working on the chapter about the newly introduced Sugar Control Panel and hope to get a rough draft finished by tonight. As always with documentation project things are taking a little longer than expected, especially when you have to dig around for information on what certain features actually do. But then again, I really like working on tech-documentation and also enjoy using the FLOSS Manuals solution, only wishing I had known about it when we started working on the OLPC Activity Handbook.

I'm also helping organize the OLPC and Sugar presence at FUDCon Brno 2008, a big gathering of the Fedora Linux community, which takes place in Brno (Czech Republic) from Friday, September 5 to Sunday, September 7. We still have a fair share of work ahead of us in the 9 days before the event starts but I'm sure we're going to have a blast and it will be great to finally meet some of the core Sugar developers and to see other colleagues and friends again.

On top of all that I'm also working on two smaller independent side-projects which I hope to be able to talk about here soon. Both of them are close to my heart and things I've been wanting to do for quite some time. It's great that I finally got together with the right people to really start things up but as ever so often it will require many sleepless nights to get things off the ground and turn ideas into something tangible.

The good thing about all those projects is that a majority of the grunt work should be completed within the next 4 weeks, just in time for university to start and take over the majority of my waking hours.

Anyway, back to work...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

24 hours simply isn't enough

It's been a good and productive day for me here but looking at my to-do list I still feel like crying. Of the ten or so items I only managed to cross off three, that's quite a disappointment. Admittedly I had to deal with some unexpected stuff too but overall I still wish I could have gotten more things done.

Not that the rest of the week is going to be any better, it's just that time of the year where 24 hours / day aren't enough. Even my weekend - which I'll be spending in Vienna - is pretty much booked out with meetings, discussing important plans for the weeks and months ahead, seeing friends and going out. This time 'round I'm actually going as far as planning ahead how I'll spend the ~1 1/2 hour train-rides to and from Vienna. Quite insane, right?

Anyway, instead of ranting I better go and grab some sleep so I'm at least in good shape for tackling this week's challenges.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Christmas shopping

I don't know but somehow I feel that being sick and spending most of my days in bed (I honestly haven't slept that much since I was a little child) makes me quite cranky. Just reading the newspaper in the morning I come across at least 3 or 4 stories that I could easily rant about for half an hour.

But on my way to actually blogging about one of them I came across something that's really worth ranting about. Thinking about it some more I actually decided to elevate the rant to things that make me sick (ttmms) status.

So what's this story all about? The fact that the first christmas-related items are starting to appear in shops in eastern parts of Austria according to this story on ORF ON.

Seriously, Christmas items in August? I remember how shocked I was a couple of years ago when I walked into a supermarket on the day of my birthday (at the end of October) and saw Christmas stuff being sold. Since then it's felt like every year Christmas season started one week earlier than the year before and these days I'm used to seeing it by the end of September. But August, really?

Frankly speaking the very concept of Christmas has been pretty much ruined for me ever since it's become so over-the-top commercialized a couple of years ago. The only high-point was that you only had to put up with all the joyful joy a couple of weeks per year. And drinking lots of Punsch and Glühwein normally helped me get through most it pretty much unharmed.

But here's the problem: Supermarkets might have started selling Christmas stuff but I've yet to see the first little hut selling Punsch in Vienna's city-center. So what am I supposed to do to keep me sane this (long) holiday season?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Officially sick

So turns out that the cold is really kicking my ass and after a visit to my doctor I'm now officially sick for the rest of the week. Having said that I do hope to be able to get back to work on Thursday or Friday at the latest.

While sitting in the doctor's waiting room today I thought about two things:

(a) I can't remember the last time that I was really sick enough to stay in bed all day long. I'm not talking about just being tired or exhausted for a day but really feeling ill... It's certainly been a while and I have to say I didn't miss it.

(b) Doctor's waiting rooms really haven't changed a bit in the past 10 or 15 years. Already as a child a couple of things struck me being characteristic of these rooms. It all starts with the very moment you open the door to one because regardless of which doctor you go to it's always the same mixture of mothers with their children, elderly people and maybe 10% "regular folks". The rooms also all look the same. There's the tiny table covered with remains of children's toys surrounded by the tiny chairs. Next you have at least two small tables covered with magazines to entertain you while you wait. And of course all of these magazines have to be seriously outdated and exactly the kind of magazines you never even glance at in the book store. I'm not expecting to find Wired or FHM in there but are all patients seriously only interested in the worst weekly magazines that Austria has to offer? But in the end you always dig into the magazines anyway because the only alternative would be to listen to aforementioned mothers or elderly people exchange the latest health tips or town gossip. Of course you could also look at all the fascinating health information covering the walls. Or, if you're feeling really masochistic, you could decide to watch the enormous clock on the wall (another standard feature of every waiting room) while you waste your minutes away. Because that's another thing I don't understand, why on earth isn't it possible to have an appointment and actually see the doc on time (+/- 15 minutes of course)? In order to get a slip of paper confirming that I'm sick (which I need for work) I spoke to the doc for 3 minutes but spent 85 minutes in the waiting room.

Anyway, 'nuff ranted already, now I'm back and home and waiting for my delicious vegetable soup to be done cooking in 25min or so, then I'll prepare myself some tea and spend the rest of the evening reading before I fall asleep.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cold: 1 Christoph: 0

So turns out the reason why I slept so much over the weekend wasn't just to relax but mainly because my body was going for a narrow escape from a cold. Looking at the score board above you can see who won...

I didn't feel too well on Saturday evening and worse on Sunday morning. Not bad enough to cancel my coffee-meeting but I did skip the Michael Clayton show. Today when getting up I felt quite crappy but since that's my default mood every morning I didn't really realize how exhausted I was until I got to work. After half-a-day's work (which was surprinsingly productive I might add) I decided to call it a day since I was getting worse by the minute.

Now, after an afternoon spent sleeping, I don't feel any better, actually a tad worse. So now I'm off to watch a movie or, God forbid, some actual TV before I head back to bed... Ah, and yes, the title of today's to-do post-it will have to be renamed from Monday to Tuesday.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Going for a quiet weekend

For once I actually seem to manage to spend a (relatively) quiet weekend. The first one in two or three months I may add. My Friday started very late, past 3 p.m., and it was with delight that I woke up and realized that I had slept for almost 12 hours. All thanks to having the very smart idea of turning off my alarm-clock before I went to bed, also something which I haven't done since late May or so. It's not often that I wake up with a smile on my face but that was one of those rare occassions.

Friday evening was again spent in the city, where I had also gone out the night before, and it again turned into an excellent and very relaxing session. While Thurday's discussions with a close friend where pretty much focused on OLPC related matters on Friday we randomely meet three guys from Bosnia who live in Austria since the mid-90s. Initially we chit-chatted about pool and other Irish Pub matters before turning to politics, the upcoming elections and Austrian attitudes and policies towards foreigners. It was a very insightful discussion to say the very least.

Saturday started a little earlier then Friday but I dedicated most of my afternoon watching 4 episodes of a TV series I'm currently hooked on. Then I visited my grandmother for dinner which was, as always, excellent. Now I've been watching some Two and A Half Men while trying to decide what to do with my night. And you know what, watching 5 of the 22min-episodes really took care of that question. ;-)

Tomorrow I will be focused on catching up with the many e-mails that have been accumulating in my inbox over the past 3 or 4 days. Then I'll head for coffee with another close friend before potentially hitting a showing of Michael Clayton. Plus I hope to get some reading done, the stack of books, newspapers and magazines next to my bed is growing taller by the day.

All in all definitely a very quiet and relaxing weekend. Looking at my schedule it might well be the last one for quite some time. Next weekend I'm heading to Klagenfurt, in the south of Austria, for a house-warming party. The weekend after I'll be in Vienna. Then it looks like I'm going to Brno the first weekend in September. Followed by a potential trip to Croatia and a visit of a friend close to Graz (also in the south) on the weekends thereafter. And you know what, then I have exactly one weekend left before university starts so something tells me that I'll be quite busy. So I better enjoy this weekend while it lasts...

Friday, August 8, 2008

Thrilled to be back to Vienna

Originally this post was supposed to be called Thrilled to go back to Vienna but that was last evening before I decided to spend half an hour watching the thunderstorm around me while enjoying some oustanding Peruvian rum instead of blogging...

Anyway, it's great to be back in Vienna, back at my flat, back at home. Of course first things first so when I got here I dropped my things and headed straight to the supermarket (not the one from the last post though;-) to grab the things I need for tonight: beer and pasta. It was funny to observe all the tiny details of the environment around here, the really small things that you never consciously remember or think of. But which strike you enough to notice them when you live in a neighborhood for some time. For example the weird clerk at aformentioned supermarket. The old Japanese guy who works at the Sushi place around the corner and who's normally drinking whenever I see him outside his restaurant (not today though). The small and somewhat odd wine-bar right next to my house where me and my flatmate have been meaning to go for the past 2 years but still haven't done so.

It's going to be a pretty social weekend for me and I'm really looking forward to meeting many of my friends again. However I will also set a couple of hours aside to get some work done, my to-do list, especially for olpc related stuff is quite packed for the weekend...

Hope you all have a great weekend. Cheers!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Surgeon General's Warning

Shopping at your local supermarket makes you smile like an idiot!

(from a flyer of a large supermarket chain here in Austria)

Walter Bender's 23 Questions

Last week Walter Bender, President of OLPC Software and Content until he resigned in April and now leading the Sugar Labs project, posted an entry called "A page from the Hilbert playbook" on his personal blog. In reference to David Hilbert's famous 23 problems in mathematics he came up with his own set of questions related to computer science, engineering, education, economics and social sciences.

For me these questions and thoughts are one of the most inspiring pieces of writing I've seen in quite some time. I'm almost tempted to print them out and stick them on my door as a constant reminder of some of the interesting challenges ahead when it comes to these fields.

Given that Walter's thoughts were the last part of a talk given at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society and he had written up the first half in a two-part article on olpcnews I was also very happy when he allowed us to re-publish his latest text. Somehow it feels like a foundation had been laid upon which we can now build ideas and actual projects pertaining to all these issues. There's definitely a lot to think about and no chance to be bored in the years ahead!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The glorious life of an intern

A Tuesday morning in a normal IT department of a medium-sized company:

Co-worker: How well can you deal with frustration?
Me: Ahhh, why?
Co-worker: Well, I was just assigned this really dull and boring task and ...
So guess who's now archiving several dozen Outlook e-mail accounts used for room-reservations in the past 5 years.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Blogger spell checker suddenly in German

While typing up my previous post I realized that Blogger's spell checker had suddenly switched from English, my choice of language here, to German therefore resulting in a relatively extensive list of words it considers to be wrong.

I've never had that happen to be and it's a real pain the rear. I checked my account's configuration but didn't find any options for setting the language of the blog / spell checker so I guess for the moment I have to deal with this.

Any suggestions of how to get rid of the German spell checker?

P.S. Damn, now everyone will see the spelling mistakes I make... :-/

Secrets of success in 8 words, 3 minutes

I just realized that I've never mentioned TED here on the blog which kind of surprised me. Anyway, in case you've never heard of it, TED (Technology Entertainment Design) is an annual conference with presentations from some of the smartest minds on earth and its tagline is "ideas worth spreading". Over the past year I've watched about two dozen of the presentations and most of the were great while some were simply outstanding.

The one I've embedded below is somewhat unique in that it's very short but definitely well worth seeing.

My favorite part comes up at 3:09 min...

Weekend almost over

Had a very quiet and relaxing first weekend here at home. Got home in the early afternoon and most of the day was spent recounting some of my experiences and stories from the past few months, unpacking all my stuff, re-organizing it in preparation for next weekend when I'll go to Vienna, going through all the mail that arrived for me (I should really switch all my bills to electronic versions if possible!) and catching up on my e-mails. In the evening I got pretty tired but managed to stay up until 11 p.m. which I felt was a reasonable time to go to bed.

Woke up at 6 a.m. when I was still pretty tired and finally got up close to 10 even though I still felt like staying in bed. So I guess I'm doing pretty good in terms of my jet lag but the real test will take place tomorrow morning because I'll have to get out of bed at 6:30 a.m. as I'm starting my next internship!

The evening will be spent visiting a friend of mine and then watching some of the TED videos before I grab some sleep.

Given that the weather should be pretty good over the next few days and I'm really looking forward to the new job it will certainly be a good week. Also hope to get some reading done, I have two or three books and a ton of magazines waiting for me!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Almost home. And still going strong.

Ahhh, the beauty of being able get my connectivity fix thanks to using 3G on my mobile-phone again! No more hunting for wireless networks just to check my e-mails or do some quick blogging. Right now I'm using my Nokia 6120 as a tethered modem and it works much better than when I last tried it in early January. (Note to all those iPhone 3G owners: Haha, it works out of the box without any hacking whatsoever!:-P)

Anyway, the flights were pretty unremarkable except for the stop-over in Paris CDG which I'll rant about at a later date. Was very happy to get out of Washington IAD because the queues in front of the Lufthansa counter were pretty long and everything took much more than time than expected. It was a good decision to be at the airport 2 1/2 hours before the departure time, by the time I got to the gate I had little time to spare.

Now I'm looking forward to this train moving out of Vienna's main-station so I can complete the final leg of my journey. It will be good to be home and it will be great to have that first sip of cold beer!

By the way, my counter jet lag efforts seems to have paid off, I only got 2 hours of sleep on the way to Paris and even though my internal clock tells me that it's 5:30 a.m. I'm still going strong. Let's see how the afternoon and evening turns out...

All in all: Home Sweet Home! :-)

Friday, August 1, 2008

Off we go...

Good bye United States. Next stop: Europe!

Last day in Washington, DC

I've had an excellent last day here in Washington, DC and really couldn't be happier. After some research and 15 minutes spent in the queue of Lufthansa's call-center I managed to change my flight back to tomorrow. I'll be leaving in the late afternoon on a flight to Paris CDG where I'll switch over into a plane to Vienna which is about as far away from home as Munich. So overall I'll be home a couple of hours later than originally planned but that's still significantly better than getting home on Sunday afternoon.

Anyway, apart from figuring out these details the day was certainly well spent. It started off with visiting the Afghanistan - Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul exhibition at the National Gallery of Art. This turned out to be an excellent decision as it was a great exhibition which I'd definitely recommend anyone going to while in DC! Some of the pieces on show were simply stunning, the whole thing was very well set up and informative and with the entrance fee being $0 it's hard to beat it in terms of value.

I proceeded to pay my former neighbors a brief visit and even though I only saw two of them it was good to say our good-byes in person, something which hadn't quite worked out in June. It was also good to have one more chance to walk the well known route from the Metro station to what used to be home for 3 months.

Afterwards I went to see my former colleagues at the embassy and even though I had initially feared it was going to be awkward to get back there after a month it was a great experience. To some degree it was also the final closure for me as my first departure in June was totally crazy due to the large amount of work I had to deal with in the last couple of days. Leaving the office and then being on-the-road the next morning didn't really allow me to process my experiences.

I realized just how happy I am to have had this month in-between finishing the internship and flying home. Not only for the obvious reasons of having the chance to catch up with old friends, hang out with new friends and generally travel to cool places. Also because this gave me some time to reflect about my experiences in the past few months. This process is obviously still going on it but I certainly wouldn't be as far if I had gone home at the beginning of July. I would probably be too busy with a million other things and wouldn't allow for the necessary mental bandwidth to deal with this process.

After two hours of catching up with many people at the embassy and realizing just how well I had gotten to know some of them over the course of my internship we went out for some beers. Unfortunately we initially made the mistake of heading to the German Embassy's Happy Hour which was just as boring and cumbersome to get to as back in June. However afterwards we still went to one of our favourite bars close to Dupont Circle and so the evening turned out pretty great!

Now I'm off to pack my stuff and then grab a couple of hours of sleep as I still have a somewhat busy day ahead of me and also want to get up early in my efforts to counter jet lag.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Damn, flight no longer confirmed...

I knew it. The German trade union (ver.di) strike at Lufthansa is starting to mess with my flight back across the pond. Since 8:30 a.m. this morning my flight is no longer listed as a confirmed, unaffected flight. As I'm writing this I'm on-hold at Lufthansa's call-center which is "experiencing more calls than normal" as the introductory message says, what a surprise! Let's see what happens... :-/

Update: Looks like I have an extra day here in DC as the only available flight outta here leaves on Saturday evening and goes to Munich via Brussels. Definitely not the kind of option that makes me all to happy but for the moment being it seems to be my best shot. Will call back in the afternoon to ask for an update.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

With love from me to me

Gotta love refurbished Apple products!

Damn you, John!

You really got me hooked!

iPhone sales

1/3 of all iPhones were sold in New York.
1/3 in San Francisco.
1/3 elsewhere.

And Research in Motion owns the phone market in Washington, DC because literally everyone here (or at least everyone riding the Metro) has a BlackBerry.

These are the results of my extensive research into the topic over the past few weeks. Don't believe anything else, it's all lies lies lies.

Countering jet lag

I thought I'd be smart about jet lag this time 'round by trying my best to counter it. Especially since my flight schedule from DC to Munich is quite messed up: I fly out at 3:20 p.m. and arrive at 5-something a.m. By the time I get home it will be closer to 10 ~ 11 a.m. and then I still have a full day ahead of me. Talk about a long day!

So my idea was to try and get up early today, tomorrow and on Friday, therefore enabling me to at least grab two or three hours of sleep during the flight which could ease me into good ol' GMT+2. But since it's past 1 p.m. and I just got up after almost 12 hours of relaxing and badly needed sleep I'm not sure whether that's really going to happen... :-/

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

15 hours left in Boston

Oh my God, these past 2 1/2 days have just gone by in absolutely no-time, I can barely believe that it's Monday evening already which means that I'll have to say my good-byes here in as little as 15 hours. It's weird, the last time when I was here at 1CC at the beginning of June the time also went by very quickly but at my departure I was very much aware of the fact that I'd be back soon. Tomorrow when I head to the airport it's going to be hard to convince myself that it's really au revoir, not good-bye as I'm sure to be back here at one point or another. However it's definitely going to be a few months and realistically the earliest I'll really be able to make it back to Boston is late spring 2009.

Anyway, no time to be nostalgic now, that's what I can do on the flight tomorrow. Now I'm going to make the best of the little time that I have left and thanks to a great and very enjoyable dinner with great company at the Cambridge Brewing Company I'm well prepared for the hours ahead of me.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Something to keep in mind

Jonathan Rosenberg, Senior VP, Product Management at Google posted some interesting thoughts on the official Google blog the other day. In an entry called "Our Googley advice to students: Major in learning" Rosenberg talks about the importance of "non-routine problem-solving skills" for knowledge workers.
Here's a real-life example, a challenge a team of our engineers once faced: designing a spell-checker for the Google search engine. The routine solution would be to run queries through a dictionary. The non-routine, creative solution is to use the query corrections and refinements that other users have made in the past to offer spelling suggestions for new queries. This approach enables us to correct all the words that aren't in the dictionary, helping many more users in the process.
He goes on to mention:
It's easy to educate for the routine, and hard to educate for the novel.
Not that this is a terribly new or exciting insight but it's definitely an important one to keep in mind when you look at things like education and learning in your own life.

German trade union (ver.di) strike at Lufthansa

Even though someone had told me about it yesterday I just stumbled across the news again that the German trade union (ver.di) started a strike at Lufthansa this evening. Now guess with which airline I'm planning to fly to Munich on Friday?

Normally I wouldn't be worried, Friday is still a couple of days away and from previous strikes at airlines I have learned that they normally try to at least fulfill their long-distance flights in order to minimize damage. Also on international routes it's potentially easier to find replacement staff from other airlines. However looking at ver.di's last big strike at the Deutsche Bahn you can see that those are tough bastards and anything can happen with them.

So I sincerely hope that things get sorted out by Friday but admittedly I'm slightly worried so I'll definitely keep an eye on the news to see how things develop.

And I really really don't know why but I had to think of the "I dare you, I double dare you ..." scene in Pulp Fiction (YouTube clip @ 5:06min) when reading about this strike.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Legatum Fortune Technology Prize

Came across an interesting story via a Google News Alert the other day:
Fortune this week announced the Legatum Fortune Technology Prize, an annual $1 million award intended to reward for-profit efforts to provide products and services to the poor through the use of technology.
So I guess it's time to stop working on these non-profit projects and come up with the next big for-profit thing to qualify for this prize. Especially after reading this paragraph:
For-profit business efforts both large and small will inevitably be the greatest in quantity sustainable, powerful and rapid means by which to bring greater wealth to the world’s poor, particularly in the developing world where such an approach has frequently failed to achieve drawing.
Not that I necessarily agree with this notion. But again, what do I care, I can win a million bucks, right? ;-)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Arrived in Boston. Only 3 hours delay after all.

Funnily enough about 10 minutes after I posted the last rant the boarding call for the 9:55 a.m. flight was announced and even though I certainly hadn't expected it I actually got a seat! So overall I only suffered a 3h delay instead of the 6h which I had been afraid of. The flight went by in no-time as I basically passed out the moment I got on the plane. When I woke up close to touching down in Boston 40 minutes later I was surprised to feel quite relaxed and well rested even though overall I had gotten less than 3 hours of plane-seat-sleep.

Anyway, now I'm off to get some OLPC work done. Is there a better way to spend a Saturday evening?

6 hours stuck in JFK. Thanks to Delta Air Lines.

And the rant continues...

As predicted yesterday I missed my connection from JFK to Boston. When I arrived here this morning after a really crappy flight I learned that all morning flights to Boston were booked out so I've only got a confirmed seat for 12:55 p.m. - 6 hours after I was originally supposed to leave JFK!

Of course I got a stand-by ticket for the flight at 8:25 a.m., but that one was full. Now I'm on another stand-by ticket for 9:55 a.m. but I'd say my chances are slimmer than slim. Not even sure whether I should bother with the subsequent stand-bys, I might as well just grab two hours of sleep and be done with it.

Anyway, since one is supposed to take away something from each experience here are my lessons learned for the future:
  • Don't fly Delta Air Lines. Never.
  • Book non-stop flights even if it costs a little more. Always.
  • Skip the plane and take the train. Whenever possible.
By the way, thanks to the awesome T-Mobile hotspot here it has only taken me about 20 minutes and 8 tries to get connected. Yeah!

P.S. Is 9:30 a.m. (EST) too early to drink beer? I mean, it's a Saturday after all and it's almost 4 p.m. in Austria, right?

Thank you Delta Air Lines

Remember, there used to be a time when flying was an efficient and convenient way to get from point A to point B. Well, not anymore. These days flying is just a pain in the rear.

Example: At this moment I'm stuck here at SFO with more than an hour delay already. Plus when I arrived at the airport I learned that my flight from New York to Boston (nope, no direct flight for me tonight) was overbooked. Well, now that I'm very likely going to miss it that doesn't seem to be an issue anymore.

The overall result is going to be that I won't be in Boston by 8:30 a.m. tomorrow, my layover at JFK isn't going to be a convenient 45 minutes and I will be very irritated and exhausted by the time I finally get to my destination. Ahhhh, the beauty of traveling. Thank you Delta Air Lines!

As least my friend Samuel (Adams) is here with me during these dark and difficult hours...

By the way, in case you're wondering: No there's no free WiFi here at SFO, I got a 24h T-Mobile pass for $9.99. I figure if I'll be stuck here for some time and also at JFK for an hour or two I might as well treat myself with some connectivity.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The last evening on the road...

I just realized that this is the last evening which I'm spending "on the road". By this time tomorrow I'll be on a plane en-route from San Francisco to Boston via New York. And a week from today I'll already be half way across the Atlantic in my flight from Washington, DC to Munich.

The reason why I'm calling this the last evening on the the road is that the next few days will pretty much follow my regular routine of working (Boston) and partying / socializing (DC). No more sleeping on couches or in sub-standard hostels. No more walking x km a day while exploring a previously unknown city. No more shallow conversations with random room-mates in backpacker-hostel dorms. The next 7 days will take place in well-known environments with people I know.

Not that I'm complaining, I'm really looking forward next week, I'm definitely going to have a blast and it will be great to be able to spend some quality time with people which I'll probably not see for many months or years afterwards.

However it's still always weird when these travel-episodes come to an end. Somehow it's quite easy to get used to this feeling of always being on the road, with a new city, new people and a different bed every day...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Dark Knight - Review

It's 3:18 a.m., I just got home from the cinema where I saw The Dark Knight and well, what can I say. In my opinion this is one of the best movies of this decade. Even an hour after the movie ended I'm still completely mesmerized.

In terms of the visual qualities The Dark Knight is on-par with Miami Vice and I strongly believe that both movies have set the bar for all future action-movies very high indeed, similar to what Heat did in 1995 (according to IMDB's trivia section on the movie director/writer Christopher Nolan cites Micheal Mann's masterpiece as a major influence). Some of the scenes are simply breathtaking, and while some of that might be based on the fact that I saw the movie in an IMAX cinema, I think that even in a regular cinema people are going to be impressed. Especially some of the close-ups of Joker or scenes set in cities are simply outstanding and offer a seldomely-seen visual immersion.

When it comes to the actors Heath Ledger's performance was absolutely stellar and certainly lived up to the hype created in the last couple of days. I also think that he is a good candidate when it comes to winning an oscar, posthumous that is. It is a sad realization to see his acting on this movie and realize how many more great roles he could have played if he was still alive. Christine Bale, Michael Caine and especially Gary Oldman also delivered rock-solid performances, as it is to be expected, however I felt that Ledger always had somewhat of an edge. And not just because of the unique character he was portraying. The only slightly disappointing performance came from Aaron Eckhart who had previously demonstrated in Thank You for Smoking what an excellent actor he is. However this time, as the character of Harvey Dent, the white knight, he seemed to shallow and not always quite convincing, especially towards the end of the movie.

To cut a long story short: this is an absolute must-see movie and it will certainly be remembered for many years to come.

P.S. I just saw that The Dark Knight will only be released in Austria on August, 21. Something tells me that I'll go and see it a second time in the cinema...

Off to see "The Dark Knight". In IMAX!

It's not often that I get so excited about a movie that I purchase the ticket one day in advance. But guess what, The Dark Knight did that to me! Especially since I'm going to see it on the really big screen, in IMAX. I actually wanted to watch it on Saturday evening but by the time I went to the cinema all the IMAX shows until Monday morning (yes, even the Saturday/Sunday 3 a.m. shows!) had already been sold out. So now I'm going this evening, at midnight to be precise, and I'm really looking to the 152 minutes of Christopher Nolan's latest movie.

By the way, while looking at the IMDB entry of the movie I saw that it's current rating is 9.6 which makes it the best rated movie ever and puts it a solid 0.5 points ahead of The Godfather!

In related news, I couldn't resist the temptation to buy the poster when I saw it in a store today... $9.99 well spent I'd say!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Interesting tidbits from Google

I follow two or three of the Google blogs and while catching up on them the other day I saw 3 interesting stories that I wanted to share:

Google learns to crawl Flash
Now that we've launched our Flash indexing algorithm, web designers can expect improved visibility of their published Flash content, and you can expect to see better search results and snippets.
That's pretty sweet as a lot of Web sites (too many actually) heavily rely on Flash which makes it close to impossible to search information on them. I'm mainly thinking of all the fancy, flashy Web sites that restaurants, bars, clubs and hotels have these days.

Google Developer Days comes to Munich, Germany on September, 23

Mmm, that could be fun... Let's see, if the registration fees aren't insane (which I fear they will be) I might go there just to see what kind of people hang out there. Plus secretly I hope to be able to glance at some cool new technology!

Google Code Jam is back
If you're a great sprinter, you've probably been in a few races. And if you're a great chess player, you've probably had your share of matches. But what do you do if you're a great programmer?
You participate in Google Code Jam of course! Unfortunately its Web site is a bit disappointing, since the thing started some days ago I was hoping to see what the challenges are, how people are approaching them, etc.

P.S. The song currently played in the café / bar where I am is Falco's Amadeus... :-)

FSF speaks out against the iPhone 3G

I'm the first one to say that the Free Software Foundation (FSF) sometimes appears like a bunch of nut jobs, I dare not say, fundamentalists. However with their "5 reasons to avoid iPhone 3G" they have really hit the nail on the head. I'm not going to comment on the whole piece, you should really take a look at it yourself, but rather just comment on 3 quotes which seem important to me.
Apple, through its marketing and visual design techniques, is manufacturing an illusion that merely buying an Apple makes you part of an alternative community. But the technology they use is explicitly chosen to divide people into separate digital cells, and to position Apple as sole warden. When your business depends on people paying for the privilege of being locked up, the prison better look and feel luxurious, and the bars better not be too visible.
Oh, stop it, Apple manufacturing illusions? No way! It's totally normal for people to queue up in front of stores for hours whenever a company releases a new product. It has nothing to do with the perception that their lives will be much improved once they own Apple's latest and greatest. And yes, Apple's prison's is damn sexy!
As of November 2007, 3.3 billion people in the world had mobile telephones, and the number continues to rise rapidly. For many of these people, phones are becoming the most important computers they own. They are vital to their communications and they are with them all the time. Of all the technology people use that could be turned against them, this is one of the most frightening possibilities.
This one is definitely one of their strongest arguments. Mobile phones, especially when they're basically personal computer such as with the iPhone 3G, are per definition more personal than regular computers and for many people they're also vital life-lines for both their private and professional lives. Most of us (not me!) can go for a week without a computer, how how many can imagine a week without their phone?

Especially when it comes to your location mobile phones will reveal significantly more about your whereabouts than any notebook or desktop computer ever will. As an example let me use my own online-habits these days while I'm traveling:

Tracking my computer's IP address you could quite easily follow me through the various cities I've been in. You could find out in which public spaces (e.g. San Francisco's Union Square), cafés or hotels I've gone online. But then again, look at my blog and you can pretty much find that information out as well, even though it's not quite real-time. Plus I'm not online 24/7 so the best one can do is to locate me a couple of times a day.

However if you tracked my location via my mobile phone, which is turned on as long as I'm awake, you could basically track my exact whereabouts in real-time. Now some people aren't scared about that, I however do think this is quite a delicate situation. And I can't help thinking: How would George Orwell's 1984 have gone if he had known about such technologies? Definitely no getting away from Big Brother and all the cameras in the country side...

Plus my reverse argument when it comes to local-based services is always that they don't really offer too much value, at least to me. In order for me to even consider giving up my real-time location I need to see some significant benefits, not just the location of the nearest 10 Starbucks locations from where ever I'm standing.

In the end let me take this to the extreme: These days you pay for location-based services, how hard is it to imagine a future where you pay in order for your phone not to make its location known to anyone who asks for it?
We can trade our freedom and our money to get something flashy on the surface, or we can spend a little more money, keep our freedom, and support a better kind of business. If we want businesses to be ethical, we have to reward the ones that are. By not enriching companies that want to take away our freedom and by rewarding those that respect us, we will be helping to bring about a better future.
I agree, but please, please someone else start supporting the better businesses, I totally bought into the whole idea of my life being so much more worth living once I have all those flashy and pretty gadgets! (Especially if they help you get laid...)

To cut a long story short: I won't buy the iPhone 3G for a whole host of other reasons but now I can even provide all those Apple fanboys with a philosophical and political reasoning on why I'm not getting it.

[via lifehacker who add some interesting comments on their own]

Why does this remind me of my German classes in school?

click to see large version

Sunday, July 20, 2008

John Burdett - Bangkok Tattoo

I had previously mentioned that Mike got me hooked on John Burdett's book Bangkok Tattoo when I stayed with him in Vancouver. So much in fact that I left with his book in my backpack as I absolutely wanted to read the whole story. Now.

Last night, during dinner, I finally managed to read the last page of the book. And what can I say, I really liked it, despite the ending being a little weak in my opinion. But the first 2/3 of the book are simply outstanding and a truly excellent read. Most of all I like the descriptions of Thai culture, thinking and living as compared to Western or rather Westerners-in-Asia () mentality. The best quote from the book in that respect reads
The advantage of a culture of shame as opposed to one of guilt is that you don't start to fell bad until the shit hits the fan.
Writing hardly gets better than this!

It's certainly been quite some time since I've been sucked into a story as as much with this one. It has many twists and turns and especially the descriptions of the various characters is just superb. I especially like Ishy and Colonel Vikon, with especially the first one being a perfect role for someone like Takeshi Kitano in case the book were to be made into a movie.

Overall a definitely well-recommended read which also made me realize that I really should be reading more books and novels. To that end I bought John Bardett's Bangkok 8, Bangkok Tattoo's predecessor today. Plus I stumbled across William Gibson's Pattern Recognition which I've also wanted to read for quite awhile. I certainly hope I can read one of these books before I fly back to Europe in 2 weeks. The second book will then probably keep me busy in August and September, hopefully while lying in the sun next to a lake or something. It's good to be back into reading books!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Watchmen trailer


Plus the Smashing Pumpkins song in the background is just perfect...

The one where I almost missed my flight

"E6 is the seat, not the gate" - this thought sent a shot of adrenaline through my body at 3:40 p.m. today. Because that's when I realized that I was supposed to be at gate E1, not E6, for my 3:42 p.m. flight to San Francisco. I guess that kind of thing happens when you're busy catching up with your e-mail (thanks to the free Wifi at Portland International Airport) and at the same time desperately scrambling to find an affordable accommodation in San Francisco on short notice.

Anyway, I packed up my laptop and started running, almost losing my boarding pass in the process. Sprinting along the E gates I see that the E1 waiting area is empty already except for one employee who looks like she is about to close the gate. In what seems like slow-motion to me I run towards her, frantically waving my arms. Breathless I arrive at the hate, only being able to nod my head when she says "You must be Christoph". The flight attendant waiting at the door of the plane also greets me with "I was about to start looking for you!". Literally seconds after I board the plane the doors are closed and we start moving towards the runway.

That was a close one!

Happy to be in San Francisco

More details to follow soon, first I gotta explore the city for a bit. (And find a power-outlet!)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A day spent organizing

Phew, talk about about overhead, I spent all my day organizing things instead of visiting Salt Spring Island as initially planned. I had really meant to get out of bed early (that didn't happen), go to the train-station to pick up my ticket from Vancouver to Portland (that did happen, but I was running an hour behind schedule already), arrange all the details for my stay in Portland and the flight from there to San Francisco (that took much longer than anticipated), announce the meeting on olpcnews (thanks Wayan!) before I was off to the island.

Anyway, most of the things are taken care of, with only minor details such as my accomodation in San Francisco and the flight from SFO to BOS in need of more attention. Regardless of that I will get up early tomorrow, in fact go to the ferry-station, take the boat over to the island and then spend a day there doing some biking and relaxing at a Bed & Breakfast before I head back to Vancouver on Wednesday at noon. You'll see, you'll all see!