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!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Austrian politics meets blogging

It's funny how I recently said that I don't like writing about politics but here I am again doing just that. The reason is that a recent blog comment (German only) by Christoph Chorherr from the Austrian Green Party which called for ideas and suggestions for posters for the upcoming elections has been meet with an incredible response: Within 3 days lots of people submitted great designs and the story was quickly picked up by the German blogosphere (ha, Google's spellchecker doesn't recognize the word!). Here are three of my favourites:

Stop smoking
Do more sports
Drink less
Vote Green
Finally do something sensible!

Even with a good economy not everyone is doing good.
We also see it that way.

A grand coalition will fail again.
We also see it that way.

I'm not one to wear clothes with messages advertising political parties but I could almost go for a t-shirt with the top-most design as I certainly think this is a cool slogan.

In general I've been following Christoph Chorherr's blog for probably 1 1/2 years now and most days it's a pretty good read. I certainly consider him to be one of the most interesting and best politicians in Austria. (Admittedly the overall level is so low that this isn't really all that hard.)

Anyway, the jury ist still out there as to whether this thing will have any impact whatsoever on the campaign by the Austrian Green Party. Personally I somewhat doubt it but it's still a cool thing to watch evolve and maybe maybe also a sign of things to come with regards to the role of the Internet as a medium in Austrian politics.

6 days in Vancouver. And counting.

Man, how times flies, I just realized that it's almost been a week since I got into Vancouver. It's been an incredible week, especially thanks to my excellent hosts here in the city. Upon my arrival I was initially spoiled by Igor and John before moving into Mike's house mid-week. Here I was greeted by an high-end a/v setup (a real thing of beauty!), excellent Thai-steak-salad and freshly brewed beer:

Ahhh, gooooooood.

A lot of the past few days was spent just randomly exploring the city. I certainly have to say that I really love this city and now I understand why everyone told me just how great this place is. As ever so often it's not all that easy to say why exactly I'm so attracted to Vancouver but walking through it, sitting in cafés, enjoying the beach, having great Asian food and just watching the multi-cultural crowds of people on the streets somehow feels right. There's certainly a reason why Vancouver is consistently ranked among the top 5 cities when it comes to quality of living (in a 2008 report only topped by Zurich, Vienna and Geneva).

One of the things I realized when I walked along the beaches of Stanley Park just north of downtown Vancouver is that one of these days I'll have to spend at least some weeks or months living in a city located on the sea. This is not the first time I had this idea as I had similar thoughts a couple of years ago when I walked through the old-town of Split, Croatia and realized just how great it would be to live there for a month or two. When I was in Kenting in the south of Taiwan I also badly wanted to stay for a couple of weeks and enjoy the good life there. The last reminder was when my friend M., who had spent a half a year in Cadiz, Spain told me about having the good times at the beaches there. To me there's something deeply fascinating and relaxing about sitting on a beach and watching the sea. Combined with the proximity of an urban center such as Vancouver this is just an outstanding environment to be in and something I should definitely do in the years to come!

Anyway, back to the present... After watching Wanted on Thursday and with the iPhone 3G launch on the horizon the guys decided to get up early on Friday morning to get in line in front of a Rogers (a Canadian provider) store so they could be among the first people to get their hands on one of the phones. Not being the kinda guy to miss this sort of crazy action I crashed on their couch for a couple of hours so I could join them for the fun in the morning. We got up at 6 a.m. and initially joined a queue of 5 other people who had spent the night at the closest Rogers store before we moved to another one where only one person was in front of us. Unfortunately that store was only to open at 10 a.m. and without having a laptop on me I got bored pretty quickly. So I went home, got some e-mailing done and took a shower before heading back into the city. Somehow I got confused when getting off the bus so I had to walk the last 15min to the store. By the time I got there the guys had found out about the omnipresent activation-issues and therefore had to leave the store without their iPhones.

Boys and their toys.

Afterwards we split ways and I spent the rest of the day going through the city and ended up walking a total of just over 18km (according to Google Maps). Took a lot of photos, had some good southern-style lunch, a couple of wifi-fueled iced-coffee breaks and just generally thrived on being in the moment.

On Saturday I got up early (8 a.m.) in order to tackle the Grouse Grind. For those of you who are too lazy to click on that link: it's a 2.9km trail up Grouse Mountain with 850m of elevation gain. Apparently the record for the trail is like 26 minutes or something. Before we started going up the mountain Igor had mentioned the goal of getting up in under 60 minutes so we started out and pushed pretty hard. When I hit the 1/4 mark after 19 minutes I realized that doing it in under 60 minutes wouldn't be feasable. After the 1/2 mark things got really steep and I was somewhat reminded of insane hiking we did at Olchon, the island on Lake Baikal, during the TransSib journey last summer.

Grouse Grind

In the end me and John's girlfriend managed to get up to the top in 80 minutes and while I could have probably shaved off 5 minutes anything faster would have required significantly more efforts. The view from the top was incredible and definitely well worth all the blood, sweat and tears.

The gang at top of Grouse Mountain.

The afternoon was spent at a nice birthday-BBQ on the beach, water-baloon fights included. Afterwards I intended to walk home but somehow ended up spending 5 hours just enjoying the evening and getting some writing done in a Starbucks and bar in the Yaletown district. This is another one of those up and coming neighbourshoods with lots of cool (and expensive) restaurants, cafés and shops. Definitely a very nice and relaxing evening after an excellent day!

I still haven't figured out the details but I think for the remaining days here in Vancouver I'll probably pay a visit to one or two the islands close to the city and just generally make the best of my time with the people here. After all it's not every day that I get a chance to hang out with them...

P.S. I know I should really be uploading all those photos to Flickr instead of posting a limited selection here but I just haven't had the time to sort through them yet...

WANTED: A better movie

On Thursday evening we went to see Wanted in the cinema and what can I say, we left thinking that what we really wanted was a better movie. Luckily we all had had some cold ones before seeing it. Combined with the fact that the film was at times so incredible ridiculous we still ended up having a good time and quite some laughs. Somehow the whole thing reminded us of a bad mixture of a wanna-be Office Space, wanna-be Fight Club and any run-of-the-mill assassin movie. In conclusion: Don't watch it unless you are really bored and have been drinking or are suffering from a hangover. And even then there are better things you could do!

Making fun of Facebook

Making fun of Facebook the way only the Brits can!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Max Payne - Movie Trailer

I was quite surprised when I stumbled across this earlier today as I hadn't been aware of the fact that someone was doing a Max Payne movie. Being a huge fan of both games - they're still among my favourite video games of all times - I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Especially given the fact that most movies based on video games plainly suck (not in small part thanks to the work of Uwe Boll).

But having watched the trailer (extra kudos for the Marilyn Manson track!) I have to say that it looks pretty sweet and I'm pretty sure I'm going to see it once it hits the cinemas.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

5 days in Ontario

After my little border situation I spent 4 1/2 days in Toronto, or more precisely on a former farm about 100km west of Toronto. Even though I had really planned to spend some quality time relaxing and just chilling the productive part of my mind quickly took control so I actually got quite a number of things done. Nevertheless I still managed to at least spend most of my Thursday just sitting in the sun, alternating between reading, internet surfing and sleeping. I also accompanied A.H.'s mother on a tour through the sprawling city of Fergus to get somewhat of an impression of life in the area.

proof that we're in the heart of Mennonite country

On Friday A.H. and I officially decided to go for a productive day so we went to the University of Waterloo where we had access to the facilities and especially the internet. I got quite a bit of work done, especially in terms of catching up with my e-mail. It's really quite insane how many messages start piling up these days when I'm not online for 48h.

pretending to work on my XO in the summer sun

On Saturday we drove to Toronto where we spent most the day walking through the city. I had really had no idea just how big (>2 million inhabitants) and interesting the city was. Even though the weather would have been perfect and probably offered a great view across Lake Ontario we decided not skip going up the CN Tower since the queue was simply too long. Instead we explored Chinatown and Queen Street. I certainly didn't know that Toronto's Chinatown was that huge, for some reason I only think of New York and San Francisco when I hear the term "Chinatown". Of course having been to both China and Taiwan the place didn't impress me as much compared to the first time when I set foot in New York's Chinatown back in 2000. However the street signs, the people, the shops all brought back vivid memories to previous days spent in Asia.

When it comes to the above mentioned Queen Street I have to say that it's not often that you come across an area that embodies the concept of 'hip' as well as that street does. Don't get me wrong, places such as Soho and Greenwich Village in New York obviously ooze hip every step of the way, however I would argue there the hipness is already too institutionalized. Queen Street on the other hand is still full of the tiny niche stores that really make an area exciting.

We spent most of our day walking along that street and I certainly enjoyed every minute of it. Especially Queen Street East between Leslie Street and Broadview Avenue was amazing since it had a very different vibe going than Queen Street West. The east side is full of (wannabe) posh and a few really cool restaurants and bars while the west side is really more about galleries and shops offering everything from clothes to vinyl. Again, the west side seemed so lively and experimental whereas the east side was certainly nice but already on the border of being too hip. Overall I was certainly impressed by Toronto and I have to say that I really liked the city!

Sunday was mostly spent being productive, again with catching up on e-mails that had piled up on Saturday and also on arranging some things when it comes to documentation for the upcoming OLPC G1G1 2008. In the evening we spontaneously decided to watch Wall-E in the cinema. I hope to have a more detailed review up soon but let me tell you that I really liked the movie quite a lot.

Monday morning went by quickly as I had to do some re-packing in order to meet WestJet's carry-on and checked baggage requirements but ultimately I got done with time to spare. One thing I noticed in the hours leading up to my jolly-arrival in Vancouver is that I'm still very much thrilled about traveling. I certainly consider this excitement a good sign and there's few things in live that make me as happy as knowing that I'm back on-the-road and on my way to explore more previously undiscovered places.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Vancouver treating me well...

I arrived in Vancouver last evening after a comfortable flight with WestJet. I was quite impressed with the amount of leg-room, plus the plane was only 2/3 booked so there was lots of extra space. The only thing that sucked was not getting any food on the 5h flight so I had to survive on the tiny amount of salty and sweet stuff that we were given, plus the remains of a sandwich I got in Toronto.

Since I really wasn't in the mood to watch satellite TV I decided to get some work done. As to be expected the battery on my regular laptop ran out after about 1 1/2 hours so I switched over to using my XO. With its small size, excellent screen and long battery-life it's really the perfect laptop for flights. After some writing of blog-posts and articles I watched an episode of Entourage which really got me hooked even though it's admittedly somewhat of a stupid show.

XO'ing at 39137 feet altitude

The approach into Vancouver was just gorgeous and even though I often tend to sleep through the last half hour of a flight this time I was glued to the window. What a great view!

free WestJet advertising included

Upon my arrival I was immediately spoiled after being picked up with a cabrio and treated to Asian dinner (excellent salmon Sashimi) and beers (discussions about all things mobile included).

And after a good night's sleep on a comfy couch I today woke up to this view:

such a view might almost convert me into a morning person

I don't think that life really gets any better than this! :-)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Austrian coaltion falls apart

I normally try to stay clear of talking about politics on this blog even though some of my entries are definitely set in a political context.

Regardless of that I do have to say that I wasn't really surprised this morning when I checked the Web sites of Austrian newspapers to find that the current coalition had falled apart and we're very likely to have new elections come September. Obviously I haven't followed the politics back home too closely over the past 3 months but I did notice that there seemed to be no progress whatsoever on any of the important issues at hand. Plus this coalition never really clicked anyway, from day one back in January 2007 up to the very end the whole thing very much felt like a forced marriage.

Now obvious question is: what's next? The likely answer is: Not much.

We're going to see a similar campaign as in the past elections in autumn 2006. Some faces might have changed but overall it's still the same party-politics like 10 years ago. The opposition parties will as always try to make some noise and they will likely fail to achieve anything. The one and only thing that I'm as always afraid of is that (one of) the Austrian right-wing parties could again end up in government. Overall it's different elections, same s***.

It's hard not to be frustrated with politics in this kind of messed up situation and as ever so often I'm coming close to ignoring the whole damn thing in order to focus on other things that matter.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Almost busted by Canadian border cuties

One would think that crossing the border from the United States to Canada is the most trivial of exercises. Especially if you're an Austrian citizen in possession of a United States A-2 visa (which you receive when "traveling to the United States on behalf of your national government to engage solely in official activities for that government") who had previously crossed Peruvian, Bolivian, Chinese, Mongolian and Russian (among others) borders without any issues. Think again, because on Wednesday I spent almost 2 hours considering the fact that I would

(a) be escorted to the nearest airport and put into the next plane going to Austria
(b) have to spend the next weeks living on the bridge close to the Niagara Falls which marks the border between the USA and Canada with neither country allowing me in -- but what a fantastic view (as my travel companion A.H. puts it;-)

Luckily neither of these things really happened however I do have to admit that I was a bit nervous and above mentioned possibilities did cross my mind.

What happened was that when approaching the border I wasn't sure whether the US or Canadian border officers would take care of my I-94 arrival/departure record since normally this is handled at the airport and it was my first time crossing a US border on land. So we stopped at the US Customs and Border Protection office to ask about that. After waiting inside the office for 10min without anyone being at the front desk I decided to try my luck with one of the officers on the parking lot outside. Especially since sitting in there made me slightly nervous as various people who had been pulled out of cars or trains (with one guy speaking on his cell-phone and saying "something came up in the computer about a thing I did back in '72"). The US CBP officers were friendly and explained to me that the Canadians would take care of my record once I entered the country. So we happily got back into our car, paid our $3.5 bridge-toll and approached the Canadian border through no-man's land.

Arriving on the other side the Canadian border officer looked at our passports and started his routine of asking us questions about our purpose visit, our destination, duration of stay, travel plans, etc. Asked about my plans I explained to that I was visiting A.H.'s parents close to Toronto before moving over to see some friends in Vancouver and then going back into the United States before returning to Austria. He was obviously concerned when he heard the word "moving", especially when followed by me saying that "yes, I do have all my belongings with me in those two suitcases". A word and a sentence so innocent in my head but probably setting off the alarm in the officer's head. We were kindly asked to pull over for a more detailed examination.

We had previously talked about border crossings and A.H. told me to prepare myself for some serious beauties in uniforms. But I certainly wasn't prepared for that. Seriously, I'm not really into someone going through my car, backpack and suitcase and asking me questions about my belongs, but man, she was cute. And so was her partner. The first question I had to answer was obviously what the hell my OLPC XO-laptop was? (I should start counting how often I've been asked that.) Then, when opening my suitcase the little box of impeachmints that I had bought back in DC fell out and I earned an odd look from our officers. Funnily enough I had bought those mints together with an "I love my country. It's the government I'm afraid of." t-shirt, so go figure...

Anyway, after the examination we were sent into the office to what I expected would be the routine of showing them our slip of paper and then being allowed to drive on. Of course that didn't happen. I was told that considering that my US visa was to expire on that day Canada couldn't be sure that I would be able to leave the country again and obviously they didn't want me stuck there. I explained them that I would re-enter the US under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) which allows citizens of 20-some countries to enter the United States for up to 90 days when traveling for tourism or business. However the Canadian Border Protection officer (yes, she was also good-looking) asked for us to return to the US border-station and obtain a guarantee (in the form of a filled out I-94 form) that I would be able to re-enter the United States.

So we went back across the bridge to the US CBP station where our passports (even A.'s, although he really didn't have anything to do with the whole thing except for travelling with me) were taken at the entry booth and we were sent inside the office to await our fate. So while we were reading magazines from 2005/2006 (saw an interesting article about I was slowly starting to sketch out my alternatives. Even though my visa was technically expiring that day my A2 status allowed me 30 extra days to leave the US without committing a visa-overstay. Thankfully no living on the bridge!

After some 15 minutes the US officer called our names and handed us the passports, basically asking why we had bothered to stop by. We once again explained my situation and the Canadian demand for a visa-guarantee. He promptly replied that there's no such thing as a guarantee for being allowed to enter the country unless you're a US citizen. A. had the smart idea of asking the officer to call his Canadian counterpart to explain this to them since they obviously didn't understand the situation. Additionally I managed to convince him to give me an I-94 form even though they're normally only handed out upon entering the United States.

After another $3.5 toll, another drive across the bridge, another set of explanations at the Canadian border booth we were back in the border office, this time talking to another officer. I was much relieved when she told me that our dear friend M., the US border officer, had in fact called her to explain the situation. Plus me being able to show a completed I-94, even though it was in fact totally useless, seemed to satisfy her. After some more waiting she called me over again to say that yes, I would in fact be allowed into Canada. When walking out the door I realized that she hadn't removed the previous I-94 slip from my passport. This could have caused some serious issues when re-entering the US since I officially wouldn't have left the country and then things could have gotten really complicated.

As you can imagine I was much relieved when finally driving away from the border station and repeatedly looking at my Canadian visa which, as it turns out, now lasts until January 1, 2009.

The absurdity of the situation is still beyond me. Had I entered Canada via any other way, nobody would have bothered to even ask me about my travel plans yet alone ask for proof that I could enter whatever place I would be travelling to afterwards. Seriously, I don't see the connection. Even assuming that the United States wouldn't let me into the country, the only difference that it would make to Canada is that I would leave the country flying out to Europe instead of heading to the United States. So what's the point of even considering my status upon entering the United States? Also, and this is what's really bothering me, when someone like me - European, well educated, fluent in English, having a diplomatic visa in his passport and being lucky enough to deal with a great US CBP officer - has these kinds of issues entering the country, how difficult must it be for everyone else?

In the end it's really as they say: Never judge a country by its border protection staff. Even when they're Canadian cuties.

Decisions, decisions, decisions

Damn, sometimes life can be really tough. I'm currently staying at casa de H. about 100km from Toronto where we arrived on Wednesday evening. Tomorrow evening I'm flying to Vancouver to meet my friends Igor, John (both Handi Mobility) and Mike (from SilentPCReview) after not seeing them for what sometimes seems like eternity but really did go by in no-time. So that's the fun part, the difficult part is trying to decide what to do next.

My general itinerary calls for me to go to San Francisco, Boston, New York and back to DC from where I'll be flying home to Europe on August 1. However the question is how much time I want to spend in each of those places plus whether I should stop anywhere else on my way. Both Seattle and Portland are options, not necessarily because I originally wanted to visit those places but rather due to A.H. suggesting that they're actually quite nice cities (and going there by bus and taking a domestic flight to SFO would also be cheaper). Plus both of these cities have (or at least had back in Q1 / 2008) local OLPC user-groups which I would like to visit if they're still around. Anyway, everything is still up in the air so I still haven't booked any transportation out of Vancouver. I'm probably going to wait 48 hours until Tuesday noon to see what kind of feedback I get from the various people I've contacted and then decide what to do.

Ah, life really is full of hard decisions, right?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

James Bond - Quantum Of Solace

Looking pretty good if you ask me.

Latest "bridges" articles online

Back at the beginning of May I posted about my interview with Whozat? co-founder Alex Bäcker which appeared in bridges, the quarterly online-publication by the Office of Science & Technology. Yesterday, which was my last day of my internship there, we still worked a lot to finish the June edition which went live earlier today.

This time 'round I contributed two articles:

One Laptop per Child - from a Vision to a Global Effort
(also available as a podcast)
Since its kick-off in 2005, Nicholas Negroponte's brainchild "One Laptop per Child" has come a long way - and into the classrooms of developing countries, from Kathmandu in Nepal to the Peruvian Andes.
Introducing Harald Kling – Collaboration Across the Big Pond
The Erwin-Schroedinger fellow spends a 16-month research stay at the Department of Hydrology and Water Resources at the University of Arizona, working on flood prediction and the impact of land use on water resources models.
I really enjoyed the process of writing these articles. Especially when finalizing the texts the feedback and input I got from other team-members and external contractors such as our copy-editor was invaluable and excelled me to produce what I consider some of my best writing to date.