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 Gl├╝hwein 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.