Friday, February 22, 2008

Movies, movies, movies, ...

It's just insane how quickly time passes, especially during the holidays. Being a student around here I'm currently enjoying 4 solid weeks of holidays in-between the two university terms. I spent the past 12 days back home in Upper Austria with my family and I'm proud to say that I managed to hit a perfect work-life balance. On the one hand I did get quite a lot of things done, for my bachelor thesis, preparation for the Chemnitzer LinuxTage and CeBIT (which means that I'll be heading to Germany for 10 days next Thursday) and also for the Activity Handbook. On the other hand I also spent a lot of time chillin', reading, visiting my grandmothers, meeting friends, going out and watching movies.

When it comes to watching movies I have a tendency to underachieve as they're are simply too many great movies to watch at any given moment. However this time 'round I had quite a good run as I saw the following movies in the past 2 weeks:

"3:10 to Yuma"

What can I say, this movie was everything I expected. And then some more. Having a thing for good vs. not-quite-sure-how-bad western stories and liking the main actors Christian Bale and Russell Crowe this film didn't have a chance of disappointing me. The pace of the film is just right with lots of action filled scenes and shoot-outs being balanced out by many quiet moments and dialogues. I'm not going to go into more details here but if you like westerns then this is a must-see!

"Charlie Wilson's War"

I read about that movie several weeks ago in the newspaper and based on the comments there I didn't expect to be blown away. And I wasn't. Charlie Wilson's War is definitely a solid movie and quite entertaining at times, however it's nothing to call home about. While Tom Hanks makes a solid impression as Charlie Wilson and his secretaries are definitely good looking my favorite character is CIA agent Gust Avrakotos who is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. In the end the portrayal of Charlie Wilson's actions and the results in Afghanistan are simply too shallow to have a lasting impact. Yes, the movie allows for a quick glance at the inner workings of how things came to be but these days I simply expect a broader and more differentiated perspective of things. You can watch it, but it's definitely not a must-see.

"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"

Apart from deserving an Oscar for having one of the longest titles I found this western to be pretty darn good even though I'm not the biggest fan of the middle of the movie. The first and especially the last hour are absolutely amazing but there are about 40min somewhere in the middle where the movie is simply stretched too thinly and ends up being too long. The acting, especially by Brad Pitt (Jesse James) and Casey Affleck (Robert Ford) is outstanding and the quiet and long scenes really add a lot to the atmosphere. The movie is also quite stylized in some regards, especially when it comes to depicting violence. All in all certainly well recommended if you like westerns and/or enjoy a dense and epic struggle between two exceptionally well portrayed characters.

"Batman Begins"

I have to admit something, I hadn't seen Batman Begins up to now. I know, I know, there's no real excuse for that but now I'm glad I finally managed to watch the movie. I actually did it in anticipation of the release of "The Dark Knight" because after seeing that outstanding trailer [YouTube link] I know I have to see it once it hits the cinemas. Again with Batman Begins having been directed by Christopher Nolan, Gothan City being the prototype of a 'seedy', dark and atmospheric city (Sin City anyone?) and featuring Christian Bale and Michael Caine there's nothing that can really go wrong here. Even though the movie is nearly as long as "The Assassination of Jesse James" it never felt thinly stretched. In fact it's quite the opposite, all the 140min are dense and exciting and I wouldn't want to cut a minute of it.

"The Band's Visit"

This one is definitely the least well known movie on this list. The setting is quite simple: an Egyptian police band goes to Israel for a concert but ends up in the wrong city. There they meet some locals who help them out and thanks to one woman the members of the band are able to stay at various homes around the city while they wait for their bus to arrive the next morning. The individual members of the band and also the Israeli locals are all extremely interesting and different characters. Much of the communication in the film happens via facial expressions, small gestures and the lack of spoken words. The fact that the movie comes in a mixture of English, Hebrew and Arabic (with English subtitles) really adds to the atmosphere and realism. While the beginning focuses on the strange setting the story slowly develops to show the similarities between people who at first glance seemed to be so different. Some might go as far as saying that it's a romanticized and idealized notion of intercultural understanding and while that may be true I really liked the fact that the film focuses on the small steps towards each other that happen on a personal level. The movie might not be for everyone but I liked it a lot.

The next movie up my to-be-watched list is "Tropa de Elite" which won the Berlinale last Saturday. Seeing the first comments about the film and the fact that the co-writer is also behind the excellent "Cidade de Deus" / "City of God" I'm pretty certain that I'm going to like it. I actually wanted to watch the movie the other night but as it was quite late already I settled for "The Band's Visit" which was shorter.

Other films I hope to see in the near future include "Into The Wild", "No Country for Old Men", "Persepolis", "Cloverfield" and "Sweeney Todd".

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

It's official, I'm going to Washington, DC

I just got the confirmation that I'll indeed be heading to Washington, DC for a 3-month internship which starts April, 1st. That means I'll be flying out across the pond somewhere around March, 25th and as I intend to do some travelling through the United States and Canada after my internship ends I'll probably get back to Austria the first week of August.

Hooooray! What else can I say... :-D

Now all I need to do is get my visa (you know how much I like paperwork), book a flight (Lufthansa from Munich non-stop to Washington at €580 sounds like a reasonable deal) and find a place to live in Washington. That last item is undoubtably the hardest one, I've been looking up and down on craigslist but not too many interesting (and affordable!) places have popped up. I've also asked a couple of people I know in DC to keep their eyes open for anything that looks acceptable. If you happen to know a place to live that's reasonably close to Van Ness UDC or the red Metro line and costs <$800 / month then please let me know!

Okay, enough happy, back to work.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Photo Of The Day: Would you like a free Windows error message with your McDonald's coffee?

This is the first installment of what could become a regular feature here: Photo Of The Day.

Every now and then I stumble across something funny, weird, strange, etc. as I go about my day and thanks to a mobile phone with a camera it's now possible to capture those moments.

The honour of being featured in the first POTD edition is an ad-display in a local McDonald's where I stopped by yesterday:

How do I get blogger to display the correct timestamp?

A question to all the blogger users out there:

How do I get blogger to display the correct timestamp?

It's been annoying me for quite some time that blogger uses the time I started writing a blog post to timestamp the entries. The previous rant for example was posted at 4:01 p.m. but it still shows up as being posted at 3:23 p.m. because that's the time I started writing it.

Any ideas, comments, suggestions?

My Laptop: (Almost) Back from the Dead

It's been quite a ride these last 36 hours as I've been having some serious issues with my laptop which prevented me from getting any real work done. All the trouble started on the weekend during a LAN party with some friends. I had the very smart idea of deleting my Ubuntu partition in order to get some badly needed free disc-space for Unreal Tournament 2004 (our game of choice during most LAN sessions). Of course I didn't consider the fact that this partition also contained my GRUB boot-manager. Luckily I didn't reboot the machine on Saturday but when I did just that on Sunday I was greeted with a "grub error 22"...

Needless to say I spent the next 3 hours trying to recover from that stupid error. That process was significantly harder without a Windows XP SP2 disc since that would have allowed me to use the recovery console to get back to a working MBR. Of course once I downloaded the disc via my university I realized that I can't remember the administrator password which I selected 3 1/2 years ago when I originally set up my laptop. Trying other workarounds such as using Super Grub didn't work due a variety of issues. So in the end I did what I should have done all along: I simply installed an Ubuntu server edition which we had lying around to the former linux-swap partition and that also restored GRUB to a working condition.

Several UT04 death-matches and clone-wars later I shut down the machine only to look at an odd "your pagefile is corrupted" error-message for a second before it went into hibernation. Later that evening I wanted to watch a movie with my sister and right when I had enabled the tv-out the whole screen went black. The next time I booted my machine I looked at a "boot.ini couldn't be found" message.

Turns out I had to look at the message over and over again while I tried to fix my laptop over the next 24 hours. Of course again things didn't go as smoothly as they could because I was still without administrator password to access the recovery console. And oddly enough Windows XP has somehow gotten rid of GRUB again so I couldn't just boot into the Ubuntu server edition, install ntfs-3g and repair things that way. Once I did manage to boot Ubuntu I ended up starring at a "your CPU is too old for this kernel" message.

Things continued in that manner with a Live-CD that's able to set the Windows XP administrator password to blank not working due to a dirty NTFS file-system. It also took me 15 attempts to burn a working copy of the Ubuntu 7.10 Live-CD as the brand new CD-RW I used apparently had some bad sectors. Needless to say I didn't have a spare CD-R(W) around. After many hours wasted I finally managed to copy a working boot.ini to my C:\ partition but even though the "boot.ini couldn't be found"-message went away I was still looking at a black screen every time I attempted to boot into Windows. Then somehow I decided to boot via the Windows XP SP2 disc and I was greeted with the option of repairing an existing installation (that option previously hadn't shown up, due to the missing boot.ini I assume). That way I was finally able to get things up and running again. Of course it was 3:30 a.m. by that time and I had spent most of my day trying to revive my laptop...

Anyway, right now it's running through some extensive chkdsk tests, afterwards I'll do some badly needed defragmentation and then it should be good to go. So for the moment being I'm using my sister's Sony VGN-N11S that I choose for her last summer and I have to say it's a pretty good machine, especially the keyboard is really great to type with. The one thing that's a bit annoying is the glossy X-black LCD because sitting out here in the winter-garden it acts as somewhat of a mirror. I'd rather look at the text that I'm writing than see my reflection on the screen.

I'll finish my rant with a list of some lessons learned from this experience:
  • never leave the house without a Windows XP SP2 disc
  • never leave the house without a (working) Ubuntu Live-CD
  • don't delete the partition that contains your boot-manager
  • don't forget you WinXP administrator password (!)
Off to get some coffee and then I'll get some work done...

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The next computer game I'll probably play is...

...which should apparently become available before the end of the year. Being a huge fan of Will Wright's Sim-series (I even loved Sim Earth, some still judge me for that) I might as well spend all of my christmas vacation playing that game!

My mind is racing...

I'm looking at the clock in the lower-right corner of my screen and it tells me that I have to get up in less than 6 hours because I'll be helping out at the IT'n'T tradeshow (aka nano-CeBIT) here in Vienna for the next three days. That means having to get up at 6:30 a.m. to be there at 8 a.m. You honestly don't want to know how messed up I look when I get up at an insane time such as 6:30 a.m. (Should I post a mugshot first thing tomorrow morning? I didn't think so.) Now extrapolate how messed up I look when getting up at 6:30 a.m. after having slept only ~3 hours because with my current routine I normally don't go to bed before 4 a.m.

So being well aware of all these facts I actually started the process of preparing for those cruel three mornings today by getting up after 5h of sleep, normally I try to clock in ~6 hours. After a very productive day and a great dinner I decided to go for a 35min run at 9:30 p.m., hoping that this would make tired.

And now? It's close to 1 a.m. and my mind is racing. I've spent the last 3 hours working on various projects and ideas, reading websites and skyping with lots of people so naturally I'm in full-throttle fl0w-mode, ready to work until the early morning. So how on earth am I supposed to go to bed right now and fall asleep? It simply won't work. I'll be lying there, thinking about a million things, thinking about all the things I could be working on instead of lying there and slowly becoming angry about such an utter waste of time. Because that's what always happens. And this is the reason why I normally work until I'm fairly tired because that way I just go to bed, turn out the light and fall asleep immediatly. (Which of course results in the occasional dream about Java exceptions and 1's and 0's, I'll leave it up to the audience to decide whether those are signs of healthy sleep.)

Anyway, enough with the ranting already, I'll now check my e-mails for the last time and then I'll go and try get some sleep. In case you see another blog-entry appear within the next few hours be prepared for some serious ranting, b!tching and complaining, definitely NSFW...

Monday, February 4, 2008

olpcaustria blog goes soup

During a meeting dedicated to planning our presence at CeBIT in March it was decided that OLPC Austria needs to get a blog so we can document the work that we're doing. I'm not sure whether it was Simon or Helga who came up with the idea of using soup, that is, a very light-weight KISS (that's keep it simple, stupid) blogging-service that was invented right here in Vienna.

I have to say that I'm extremely impressed with and especially its interface that really gets out of the way and let's you post links, texts, pictures, etc. in close to no time. I think it would be a bit too simplistic for my own blogging needs, especially since I love having those long lists of links, places I want to travel to, etc. on the right hand side of the blog. However for the intended purposes, keeping people posted about what OLPC Austria is up to, it's just perfect!

So head over to where for now you can see Helga, Daniel and me hackin' away on the Activitiy Handbook.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Smashing Pumpkins Website with Lots of User-Submitted Content

One thing that I forgot to mention last night when I commented on the Smashing Pumpkins concert is that offers a lot of user-submitted content such as audio- and video-recordings, set lists, etc.

I haven't had too much time to browse through all the material but here are two things that I'd definitely recommend checking out:

(1) set list for the Vienna concert on 31-01-2008
(2) high-quality audio-recordings from the concert Smashing Pumpkins gave at the Nova Rock festival (which takes place close to Vienna) in June 2007

In preparation for the concert I've listened to the live-recording over and over again and I just absolutely love it. It captures enough of the audience feedback to create that live atmosphere yet it's not so loud as to disturb the listening experience. If you're only going to listen to three of these songs than make it Tarantula, Stars and Gossamer! I'll keep an eye on the website to see whether recordings of the Vienna concert will surface at one point or another.

Here's a band that seems to embrace digital-distribution the way it's meant to be done!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Smashing Pumpkins, 31-01-2008, Vienna

As previously mentioned I went to a Smashing Pumpkins concert on Wednesday and I have to say it was probably one of the best live performances I've ever seen.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves here because the beginning of the concert was actually quite disappointing. Not only was the support band (some Austrian band) quite boring, the audience significantly smaller than I had expected, the light-effects absolutely horrible and the PA setup rather shitty. To top it all of Smashing Pumpkins started with a couple of relatively quiet songs which combined with the total lack of bass coming from the speakers (as Patrick put it: "I still felt my own heart-beat so something was definitely missing.") which reminded me of a quiet evening in the living room. Of course when you're going to a rock concert the last thing you want to be reminded is a quiet evening.

But somehow, I can't pinpoint the exact moment but it was about 30min into the show, they completely turned around the evening. Finally all the parts of the puzzle seemed to come together and it all started to make sense. Billy Corgan seemed more relaxed, the music picked up in both speed and intensity. There were lots of acoustic sessions with just Corgan singing and playing the guitar. Also the guitar-solos became better and better and some sessions were really outstanding. The only thing that remained an issue throughout the evening was the lack of drums and base being audible to the audience. Other than that the 2h 15min concert really felt like a live event with many songs being played significantly different to the recorded versions, some hilarious talk by Corgan ("Billy can't hear you. Billy only hears the voice in his head.") and just in general a great atmosphere. All in all €42 well spent.

I'm going to leave you with a photo of reverend Billy Corgan preaching to the audience: