June 29, 2006

The Magritte Mac

Filed under: Technology — Cory @ 2:47 pm

Richard sent a link to the etching of Magritte’s “The Son of Man” on a PowerBook to me today and I love it! I’ve used the Son of Man as my IM icon for years, and most recently in my blog masthead. Incidentally, I never really thought about the apple/Apple connection until I saw this etching.

I’m generally against putting stickers on laptops, or modifying them in any way, but this is just too awesome. I think I am going to try to find a second lid for the PowerBook so that I can do this as well.

• • •

June 24, 2006

A Couple Days in Munich, Mussels in Brussels

Filed under: People,Places — Cory @ 3:12 pm

After an extremely hot and exhausting train from Prague, we finally arrived in Munich Wednesday afternoon. Our first stop was the Hotel Europäischer Hof, where I stayed 5 years ago when Brian and I came over for spring break. I knew that this was a nice place, and we really did not want another hotel experience like the one in Prague, plus the HEH is directly across the street from the train station so that made it easy.

Wednesday night we walked around central Munich. With Germany hosting the World Cup this month, there were people from everywhere and many places were very busy. We stopped by the famous Hofbrauhaus Wednesday night but there was some World Cup game on all the televisions and the place was just crazy with soccer hooligans.

We had read about the meals and brewery at the Andechs monastery, so on Thursday we decided to check that out. It took us a while to actually get there (and we missed the tour), but once there we ordered up some gigantic pieces of pork, german potato salad, sauerkraut, pretzels and of course some of the monk’s own beer. I had an Andechser Apfelweisse (apple), and Jason had a Andechser Spezial Hell. My beer was extremely good, and left my head buzzing for the rest of the evening. We also tried to go to the BMW museum that morning but it was closed for renovations.

There are two foods in Germany that I really love: wiener schnitzel and apple strudel. I ate snitzel every chance I had, but it wasn’t until Wednesday night that we finally had some strudel, and it was totally rad. Can you dig it?

Friday morning we took a train to Brussels for one more night so that we could catch our EuroStar train back to London on Saturday. When we were in Brussels the first time we noticed everyone was eating mussels, so this time we decided to try them as well. We found a nice place and we each ordered a kriek and mussels marinated in white wine. Excellent!

Before leaving Brussels we stopped by Mary’s Chocolate’s to pick up some treats and gifts. Apparently Mary’s is where the royalty buys their chocolate, and there were pictures of several national leaders on the walls.

We are now on the EuroStar train headed to London so we can catch our flights tomorrow. This has been a great trip, but I am ready for my own bed again. :)

• • •

June 21, 2006

Fun in Berlin, Not-So-Much Fun in Prague

Filed under: People,Places — Cory @ 9:19 am

We got to Berlin Sunday evening and found a hotel from the information center at the train station. The main train station in Berlin is very new and is quite a place, its almost like a shopping mall that trains happen to pass through. Once we checked in to the hotel we walked around to find a place to eat. The place we found was in a locals area and was very good. The sign above the entrance said that the place has been there since 1270, which just seems outrageous for an American.

The next day we visited the Checkpoint Charlie Museum which documented the history of the Berlin Wall. There wasn’t much substance to the museum, although there was a piece of the wall out front so we took some pictures. Our train to Prague was scheduled to leave at 3:30, and so we didn’t have much time in Berlin. I wish we had planned for more time there because it seems like a really cool city now. It’s hard to believe that it was still separated just 17 years ago.

On the train to Prague I met this interesting Korean guy named River, who was traveling with a friend of his. He has traveled all over the place, and has quite an interesting perspective. River and I talked for about 2 hours, until they exited at Dresden.

Our train to Prague arrived around 8:30 pm on Monday night, and at that point we started trying to find our hotel. At this point, let me give a little background information on this hotel.

Several months ago my credit card company sent me a voucher for 3 free magazine subscriptions. Of the available choices, I picked Time, Wired, and Travel & Leisure Magazine. Just as I was finalizing the plans for this trip, I received a new issue of Travel & Leisure with that month’s focus being “Hotels in Europe.” I thought this was perfect timing, so I looked through it to find the cities I would be visiting, and see which ones I could afford. All the ones for the bigger cities were very expensive, but the one they listed in Prague seemed very nice. They suggested the three star Hotel Jasmin. I checked out their website and it looked like a good place to me, so when Jason and I arrived in Berlin on Monday we found wireless access and booked a room in Prague (they offered large discounts if you book online). I was excited about this, and we finally were going to be able to stay two consecutive nights in the same room. Ok, so back to the story…

So when we got to the train station we changed some money and stopped at the information center to get a map of Prague. We asked the guy where we could find the Hotel Jasmin, but he just looked at us with a blank stare and said “I’ve never heard of that hotel.” We had the address, so with his help we located the street it was on and how to get there via 2 subways and a bus. When the bus dropped us off we had a ways to walk, and at some point there ceased to be street lights. Walking along a dark and curvy street in a somewhat-sketchy part of town, this was pretty much the only time so far I have felt a little comfortable. We could not find the hotel on the street, even though we had its exact address. Finally I asked a woman who was walking her dog. At first she ignored me, then later she just pointed in a direction down a hill and through some apartments. So we went that way and up to an apartment for light to read the map. Another lady was walking her dog so we asked her as well, and she pointed us further down the hill. Finally we found the place, on a completely poorly lit different street. The front clerk (still not identified as male or female) seemed to be annoyed with the fact that he/she was going to have to deal with us. After being as polite as possible, filling out paperwork, presenting passports we finally had a key to room 104 in building A, and the clerk told us to pay one day before checking out. After walking in the direction we were told, we noticed a building labeled “3″ rather than A, and our key worked. Our room was like something out of a movie about the cold war. There were 4 walls, 2 small hard beds, a bathroom and shower with broken tiles on the floor, and drunk people loudly conversing outside the window. This was not what I was expecting from Travel & Leisure Magazine.

Enough about the crappy hotel room for now. After settling down we noticed that there was a wireless network available, but my laptop was not getting an IP address or anything from DHCP. After watching tcpdump and trying to connect to ports on several IPs we saw, we finally figured out the (random) gateway address, assigned ourselves an IP and were on the ‘net. There were all kinds of Fedora Linux machines on this network, and a Windows box with several open shares (mostly full of warez). Once we were on this network we immediately connected to the VPN to avoid having any shady neighbors from snooping traffic.

The next day we set out to see the sights in Prague. What we found was that most of the famous attractions are really just huge tourist traps for Americans, much like Stroget in Copenhagen. We walked around, crossed Charles’ Bridge, and climbed our way up to the Castle. For lunch we had Gulash, which is actually pretty tasty. That evening we checked out the area around the Dancing House and found dinner. Afterwards we traveled over to Wenceslas Square and finally headed back to the dungeon to begin packing.

While packing (around 1:00 am) we remembered that we still needed to pay, so we went to the office only to be turned away at the door by the genderless clerk. After explaining that we had to leave at 7am to catch a train, and just generally begging to let us pay, he/she/it finally let us in. As I pulled out my visa card the clerk said “no visa, no credit cards.” Uhm.. what? I asked about travelers checks, no-go there as well. This was problematic as Jason and I had spent the last of our Czech cash on a coke and milkshake before heading back to the hotel. The subways were closed, and there were no ATMs anywhere nearby. We were planning to leave at 7am the following morning to catch one of the only 3 trains to Munich, so going out in the morning wouldn’t work. We had about 90 euro left from Berlin and we asked if they would accept that, and fortunately they did. What kind of hotel operation only accepts cash? And why is Travel & Leisure Magazine recommending this place?

Altogether, our stay in Prague was not quite what I was expecting. Along with the generally unpleasant locals and shopkeepers, we also were forced to pay $50 in fines to the subway police for a dumb tourist mistake. No leniency at all. I probably won’t be returning to Prague, and despite our friendliness there, it seems they would rather we not return as well. Oh, and they don’t want you to visit either.

We are on our way to Munich now, which is familiar territory for me. I visited Munich 5 years ago for almost a week and had a great time. After Prague, things can only go up. Here are the pictures from Berlin and Prague.

• • •

June 18, 2006

Two Days in Copenhagen

Filed under: People,Places — Cory @ 4:38 pm

After missing a train connection in Goteborg we finally arrived in Copenhagen late Friday night. We took a bus to the House of Colors, a bed and breakfast operated by Gitte Kongstad. This place turned out to be really neat. We had the entire second floor of her house, including a living room, kitchen, bathroom and of course a bedroom. She provides free bikes for all her guests, as well as tv’s, computers, and wireless access. She also let us do a couple loads of laundry, and recommended local restaurants and bakeries to visit (she also asked us to pick up some skim milk for her while we were out :) )

Before beginning our sightseeing on Saturday, we went to the nearby bakery to experience the famous Danish pasties, which were excellent. Afterwards we picked up a couple of Gitte’s bikes and headed towards Stroget, a large street in Copenhagen that we had heard was a big attraction. As it turns out, its mainly a tourist trap with lots of big American shopping stores. We did not stay there long, and quickly headed over to the Danish Design Museum.

The Danish Design Museum was small, but interesting. They had an exhibit/store downstairs called the FlowMarket that seemed like something Brett would create. It was like a grocery store, but all the products were white or silver with single words or phrases printed on them. There were pill bottles with “Pause” written on them, buckets with “holistic thinking“, “meaningfullness” and “sustainable innovation“, and milk cartons that said “1 minute for reflection.” It seemed somewhat similar to Oblique Strategies. There were some other interesting designs related to work as well.

That night we visited a local restaurant near a harbor that Gitte suggested. When we got there the place was mostly empty, except for two mostly-drunk local sailors/truck-drivers/who-knows that were at the counter talking with the waitress, in Danish of course. After a few minutes the three of them finally noticed us standing there and they all gave us an intense stare. I asked the waitress if she spoke English, she said “a little” and asked what we wanted to order. The mostly-drunk guys were still focused on us, so I turned to them, smiled, and asked what them what they recommended. Suddenly they were our buddies and through translation with the waitress we ordered their suggestion (we still had no idea what it was). She asked what we wanted to drink, and the guys busted out with “Karlsberg!” The waitress asked small or large, I said small, and then the mostly-drunk guys went crazy with “small! small is for girl! you girl? E – I – E – I – O!!!” After awkward laughs, Jason and I walked outside to a picnic table and waited to see what we had ordered. As it turns out, we had ordered some of the best pork chops I have ever eaten, along with salty boiled potatoes. The meal was excellent, so afterwards we went back inside to say thanks to the drunkards for their recommendation, and to get the waitress to take a picture. We talked with the guys for a few minutes, then headed back to Gitte’s house to pack.

I’ve posted my pictures from Copenhagen in my Europe 2006 gallery.

• • •

June 16, 2006

Stockholm, Sweden and Oslo, Norway

Filed under: People,Places — Cory @ 11:24 am

We finally made it to Stockholm late Tuesday evening, after spending 19 of the previous 24 hours on trains. Once there the hotel information center told us a familiar story: there is a convention in town and all the hotels are fully booked. We asked them to check again, and they came up with a single room available for a single night at the Hotel Kristineberg. Book it, thanks.

Wednesday morning we walked around downtown Stockholm and saw the sights. We accidentally ended up at Stockholm Palace just as the changing of the guards procession started. It was a very cheerful event, with upbeat, happy horn music. We also visited the nearby Armory Museum. A little later in the afternoon we stopped for lunch and had authentic Swedish meatballs, which were incredible.

Until this point in the trip the weather had been absolutely perfect: cloudless blue skies and temperatures in the mid to upper 70′s. Just as we finished lunch it began to rain a little, but it wasn’t a big deal for us because we had Swedish massages scheduled at the Central Badet spa, which was next door to the restaurant. My massage was excellent, although I don’t think Jason was as happy about his. (he got stuck with some really old guy, while I got my massage by a 24 year old blonde Swedish hottie who just happened to be a former professional skiier, poor me! ;) ) When we came out of the Spa the rain had pretty much stopped, although it drizzled for another hour or so, and it has been blue skies ever since then.

That evening we caught an overnight train to Oslo, Norway, and we arrived there early Thursday morning. Want to guess what the hotel information center told us? “There is a convention in town. All hotels are booked. Sorry.” Long story short, we are getting pretty good at scrambling to find a place to stay in foreign countries (in this case, the Soria Moria).

We spent that afternoon walking around downtown Oslo and visiting the Norwegian National Gallery. This is the gallery that is home to Edvard Munch’s famous “Scream” painting, Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker” statue, and lots of works by Monet, Picasso, Munch and many other well known artists.

Wednesday evening we met up with Andy Hanssen for dinner at Bippat Sentrum. I’ve known Andy for a while through his work in the qmail community and as the author of BincIMAP, so when I started planning the trip I emailed him to see if he was going to be around. Andy is now a developer of QT at Trolltech, which from his descriptions sounds like a really cool place to work.

After dinner Jason and I headed down to the docks, which turned out to be a bustling place with lots of restaurants. Finally we headed back to the hotel and took some pictures of the beautiful hills/mountains.

It is now Thursday afternoon and we are on a train back to Copenhagen. We have finally learned our lesson, and have pre-booked a place to stay for the next two nights at the House of Colors.

We are having a great time and are moving around fast, which is fine with me. I have posted my pictures of Stockholm (the land of beautiful people), and Oslo.

• • •

June 13, 2006

Chilling in Amsterdam; Copenhagen First Attempt

Filed under: People,Places — Cory @ 7:48 am

 [ Jason and I with our bikes in Amsterdam ] We arrived in Amsterdam Sunday evening around 4pm, and immediately had to wait for an hour at the travel center to reserve our overnight coachette to Copenhagen for the following day. At 5:05 we learned from the door of the tourist information center that they close at 5:00 on Sundays, which made finding a hotel a little more interesting. Someone at the bus station pointed us in the direction of an area of town with lots of hotels, so we took a trolley there and walked around until we found a hotel with a room available. We ended up staying at the Omega Hotel, which was a nice little bed and breakfast type place that even had free wifi (but still no A/C).

Monday morning we went out for breakfast, checked out of the hotel, took our luggage to the train station and rented bikes for the day. Our first stop was the Rijks Museum (Rembrandt), followed by the Van Gogh Museum which had several pieces that I recognized, including Van Gogh’s “The Bedroom.” After eating a late lunch and picking up some groceries for the upcoming overnight trip, we headed back to the train station to drop off our bikes and wait for the train. My pictures from Amsterdam are here.

We took the train from Amsterdam to Duisburg, and then caught the overnight train to Copenhagen from there. When we exited the train station in Copenhagen on Tuesday morning I realized that I did not have my camera, which was in my pocket when I boarded the train. I ran back down to the platform but the train was already gone. Eventually I found an elderly woman who told me the train was about 10 minutes away being cleaned. She made some calls, located my camera, and told me to come back in 30 minutes to pick up my camera. Yay for nice people!

During all of this running around in the airport I had noticed several flyers for the “International Rotary Convention.” While waiting for my camera to show up, Jason and I walked to the local tourist information center to find out where we could get a hotel. “None. Nothing in the City. No rooms available. Sorry.” Uhm… so we decided that maybe the tourist center only dealt with large hotels, so we walked around to find a smaller one that might have vacancies. That’s when we learned that 18,000 Rotarians were in town for the convention, and one hotel told us that there are only 10,000 beds in the city. We got a second opinion to be sure, and heard the same answer. Armed with Eurail passes, we ran back to the train station just in time to hop on a train to Stockholm (which apparently we needed reservations for, but again, yay for nice people!). Since we have first class tickets for the Eurail our seats are really nice, and there is even wireless and power on the train!

Instead of going from Copenhagen->Oslo->Stockholm, we are going to see Stockholm->Oslo->Copenhagen so we will be back after the 14th, when the Rotary convention is over.

The weather has been absolutely perfect so far, even for the 5 days I was in London.

• • •

June 11, 2006

A Day in Brussels, Belgium

Filed under: People,Places — Cory @ 11:28 am

We arrived in Brussels around 4 pm on Saturday afternoon. As soon as we exited the train station Jason managed to pull an Americanism with a local shop owner while asking for directions. It was at that point I decided to handle public relations for the rest of the trip. :)

Finally we figured out what was going on and took a cab to the local information center. A lady there hooked us up with a hotel and said that they were running a “deal” until later that evening. Sure enough, she got us a price that was lower than even the hotel was advertising. More on this later.

After checking in and dropping off our bags in the room we headed out into the bustling town area to find dinner. The city was alive with people, and we walked around for a while before stopping at a little restaurant named Les Chapeliers near La Grand Place. Of course, I had to get a Kriek since I really enjoyed the one Dirk introduced them to me last fall. After filling up on meat and potatoes we stopped at a little corner dessert shop for Belgium and Liege waffles. Sweet!

Now that we had full bellies we started walking around the rest of the city. We saw La Grand Palace, as well as several really interesting little streets full of restaurants with tables out side, and after walking around for 3 hours we eventually saw the Manneken Pis, the famous statue of the little boy peeing. It was beginning to get late (but not dark) by this point, so we headed up to the top of the city to the capital. We got there just in time to see the sun set over Brussels, which was pretty cool, although a bit strange to see at 10pm.

By this point we were exhausted so we started back to the hotel. Along the way we met some interesting (drunk) dudes who were singing Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” for the whole city to hear.

Since the sun had just gone down, it was still pretty warm and when we got to the hotel room we were both still sweating. After a few minutes we noticed that the room was really hot, so we started looking for the air conditioner switch. We found a few knobs, but they ddn’t seem to do anything. I called the front desk to find out if there was a trick we didn’t know, but instead she said “Air conditioning? There is no air conditioning at this hotel.” Ok, we were on the 6th (and 7th) floor but fortunately there was a huge window in the room that we were able to open. This allowed the room to cool down a little, and so around 11:30 we were able ready for sleep. It was at this time that the Turkish Karoake Bar across the street started things up. This went on until at least 3am (which is when I finally passed out from exhaustion), and the entire time it was very loud, and well, I’ve never heard anything quite like it. There is a lot of high pitched yelling, as if the person is going through some excruciating pain. At 3am. The absurdity of the situation just made us laugh uncontrollably, possibly because we were simply delirious by that point. I don’t think it is something either of us will forget anytime soon.

The next morning we woke up, had a really good breakfast at the hotel, and caught a taxi back to the train station. Two Eurail passes later we were headed to Amsterdam for the next stop in our trip. I’ve written this on the train to Amsterdam, and we have an overnight train scheduled from Amsterdam to Copenhagen, so I’ll write the next update at that point. I’ve posted all my pictures from Brussels.

• • •

June 9, 2006

Last Days in London

Filed under: People,Places — Cory @ 12:53 pm

Today is my last full day in London, as Jason and I are leaving in the morning to begin traveling. I have had a blast here, and the UK Rackers have been just great. Wednesday night they took us out to Tas Pidi, a Turkish restaurant in the south bank area of London. Afterwards we crossed the Millennium Bridge over to St Paul’s Cathedral and then headed back via the tube.

Last night we all went to “Tequila Thursday” at the Hole in the Wall with the group from the office. No tequila for me, but it was a great time and I met lots more people. The Hole in the Wall is a really cool little pub with an outdoor area with picnic tables and green grass. The food there was excellent as well.

I’ve also had a lot of fun teaching DNS to the Rackers here. We had 4 technical sessions, and 3 non-technical sessions. I was wondering what I could teach about DNS that wasn’t technical, but as it turns out there was a lot that the sales people and account managers wanted to know. Of course the technial sessions were fun and I got to talk about DNS people who were actually interested in hearing about it. That doesn’t happen very often. Also, I uploaded a few pictures of their new (very cool) Stockley Park office.

Tomorrow morning we are leaving for Brussels. From there we plan to head to Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Berlin, Prague, Munich, Paris and finally back to London to catch our flights. If there is time we may also swing by Zurich between Munich and Paris. These are ambitious plans for two weeks, but we are going to give it our best.

• • •

June 7, 2006

First Couple Days in London

Filed under: People,Places — Cory @ 11:06 am

I arrived in London yesterday morning, after a 9 hour flight from Houston. I managed to get the only window seat on the plane without a window, but not a big deal.

When I was walking to my hotel in the city I noticed the picture to the right. Click on it to see the full irony.

Today I taught two classes on DNS to several Rackers here in the UK. The Rackspace UK office is amazing, I would love to work in an environment like this. Now I know why Rackspace UK was ranked 6th best place to work in the UK.

Tonight some of the Racker’s here are going out to dinner with Jason and me to a Turkish restaurant. I’m trying to remember to take pictures, but I’ve never been very good at that. I’ll be uploading pictures into my Europe 2006 gallery whenever possible.


• • •

June 1, 2006

Thoughts on the MacBook

Filed under: Technology — Cory @ 1:16 am

Ever since I saw the parallels demo I have been trying to buy a MacBook. The Apple store in San Antonio has been selling out of them as soon as they get them, and I was calling a couple times a day to see find out when they would get some in stock. Today I called and they said they had just gotten some in, but that there were not many left, so I took off for the store to get one.

I got the base model, and upgraded it to 1 GB of RAM because 1) Mac OS X is much nicer with 1 GB, and 2) I figured that trying to do anything in Parallels with 512 MB would pretty much suck.

Before doing anything I had to install all of my favorite Mac applications. One thing I noticed immediately was how much more powerful the wireless is on the MacBook than on my PowerBook. At my apartment I was suddenly seeing 8 access points, where the PowerBook only occasionally picks up 2.

After switching the power management to “Better Battery Life” my battery life shot up to 5 hours and 21 minutes as seen to the left.

After getting all of my music copied over I started playing with Parallels. I’ve only installed an instance of Debian Sarge so far (it was the only ISO I had at home), but I can tell you, this is one awesome app. I can see this one application alone driving up the sales for Intel Macs.

I’m not completely sold on the new keyboard style though. Once so far when I was typing the little square key went down on an angle and snapped back up. Of course, this sometimes happens on the PowerBook keyboard as well. (maybe I type with a lazy gangsta lean?)

Other observations:

  • The MagSafe power adapter is very nice and I can see how this will save many laptops from an untimely death.
  • The new magnetic lid is much easier to use than the clasp latch on the PowerBooks/iBooks/MacBook Pros.
  • The MacBook gets a bit hotter than the iBooks ever did. That’s not unreasonable given the difference in processing power.
  • The RAM (and hard drive) slots are accessible through the battery hole on the back. This is much easier to work with than having it under the keyboard as in the iBooks.
  • The default installation used over 18 GB. I read this and decided to immediately reinstall to free up some space. After unchecking all the demo software and stuff I didn’t need, I got the installation down to 11 GB, so I regained 7 GB of space.
  • The glossy screen isn’t a big deal, once its powered on I barely even notice any difference.

At this point, although I really like the MacBook, I think I still prefer the feel (and screen) of the 15″ PowerBook. Although, I have not heard too many great stories about the MacBook Pro’s yet, so I wouldn’t consider getting one of those until at least the second major revision is released. The MacBook fits nicely on my lap, and I think it will be much nicer to use when I am on an airplane. This picture will give you a good idea with how the 13″ MacBook physically sizes up with the 12″ and 14″ iBooks.

All in all, this is a very nice (and fast) little laptop. I have a feeling the MacBook will be many people’s first Apple computer.

• • •
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