Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I was pleasantly surprised to find an unlocked HTC G1 phone, also known as the Android Developer Phone (in the box) underneath the christmas tree. 

Timing could not have been more perfect as I had been exploring smart phones. Honestly I had been leaning towards the iPhone, because it has Exchange support, required to access my emails at work. I wish my company had never made the move to the proprietary Exchange technology. 

But when I opened the box with a cool geeky Linux powered opensourced Android phone, I was overjoyed. (I already found a couple Android Exchange connector applications.)

The ADP supports GSM, GPRS/Edge, 3G, WIFI, Bluetooth : connection galore. I was on the internet via WIFI in a heartbeat. Gmail, Calendar, RememberTheMilk, Twitter and Facebook worked fabolously (although I am still hoping for an Android native RememberTheMilk application). 

Since I already owned the phone I thought all options were open for a wireless voice/data plan. Wrong

(1) 3G is not 3G . When GSM came to the US, consumers won. You could take your GSM phone from one carrier to the next and shop around. This was true as most phones were able to support various GSM frequencies. Now with 3G, carriers have their monopolies back. AT&T 3G uses a different UTMS band than T-Mobile. It took me a while to find the 3G details about the G1 phone or about the carrier networks: 
Android developer phone specs: quad-band GSM; UMTS on 1700Mhz and 2100Mhz (bands I and IV); works with T-mobile. AT&T uses bands II and V
As a result, 3G for me ment T-Mobile 3G. Let's hope that phone UTMS chips will become quad band UTMS and the consumer will reign again. 

(2) Internet-only plans are not internet-only. With my own phone in hand, I boldly stepped into the T-mobile phone store to get an internet only plan. I still have my old GSM phone and needed to figure out what the best way to transfer my family plan over. Apparently nobody had been that foolish to request this as it was a mystery how to do this. Eventually, after the T-mobile rep spent more than 30 minutes on the phone with their own back end support folks, were they able to set me up for month-to-month internet only ($39.99). If only it were true. I waited for 24 hours to have it all kick in and yet no internet. The reason: I had a G1/ADP. Those require a special internet plan, which is only offered as an add-on to a voice plan. Gotcha capitalism!  I quickly figured out that trying to get internet only was futile (I envisioned the limitations in the activation/setup menus.)

Today I am finally fully empowered: voiceplan, internet, GPRS/Edge, 3G, SMS, and even their favorite five. As we start 2009, the world is at my fingertips!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Gold country

Last weekend, we spent three days in California's gold country, the Mother Lode. We visited the Southern part: Tuolumne and Calaveras counties with towns like Jamestown, Columbia, Sonora and Murphy. It was a fantastic couple of days with lots of interesting sights. Here are a couple of pictures I took.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rocking chairs in Charleston

A two day visit to Charleston, South Carolina, was my first visit to "the South". Charleston is one of the oldest cities in the US I have visited. This is where the civil war started. This is where you find one of the first submarines, the Hunley. Tobacco, crab cakes, and a slave market. The ocean front is  lined with two, three story old colonial mansions in impeccable restored state where cigar-smoking men in  seersucker suits must have debated the local politics or the state of affairs at the local papermills.
You get a feeling that life moves a little slower here. It is definitely not the rat race of the Bay Area. But by no means is this a town stuck in the past. The company I visited is cutting edge and pushing the envelope of computing. 

Although I did read that South Carolina is not a rich state, the center of Charleston gives the impression of an affluent city. Old money perhaps. Big houses, nice stores, and classy bars. I had the opportunity to eat a fantastic restaurant, one of the many upscale restaurants around. Luckily the bill  was taken care of.

Nothing says Southern lifestyle as the lines of rocking chairs facing the runway at the airport.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What I did last summer

Our house was built in the seventies. The ceiling had be sprayed with a plaster to provide sound absorbtion. This acoustic ceiling is also known as popcorn ceiling as it is very rough. It is also difficult to paint, because it is highly absorbant and can not be rolled. The way to go is spray painting it. We decided to remove it before we started painting the rooms. 

Popcorn ceiling is also known as a source of asbestos in older houses as asbestos was a good binding component. We had ours checked an no asbestos was present. This made it easier to remove. There was no need to involve an expensive asbestos removal company. 

We planned the removal of the popcorn ceiling to coincide with the summer vacation of the kids in Belgium. We had emptied the entire house into the garage (tells you we don't have a lot of stuff). We were camping out for a weekend at a friend's place. In three days, all the popcorn ceiling had been removed, the ceilings and walls had been refinished. Now our job was about to start. During four hellish evenings and nights, we primed the entire interior twice! Top to bottom, left to right. The clock had been ticking as we were about to leave to Belgium to meet up with our kids. 

After our "vacation", the finishing work awaited us: choosing colors, painting accent walls, replacing outlets and light switches, redoing the interior closets, choosing draperies (the hardest part), and hanging curtain rods in all the rooms. At out own slow pace, we finished it all in the fall. 

I enjoyed the paiting part a lot. It was a calming zen-like experience: Saturday night, all windows open, listening to this American Life stories. I'll do it again, if asked. 

Now that it is all done, the next home project awaits: redoing the bathrooms.

Car trouble

Running the support group at RTI, my ears peak for a debugging challenge. This time it is not about our Data Distribution Service or about a networking problem of an embedded system. My debugging challenge is about my 1998 Honda Civic EX (154K miles). 

The first sign of a problem showed up about three weeks ago. The check engine light came on as my wife stated the car in the morning. It started rough. The error code indicated a misfiring of cylinder 1. Once started and idling the car sounded and felt okay. Also when driving on the highway the car did not show any trouble. 

After a compression check, we did a major tune up (overdue) : oil change, new spark plugs, new spark plug wires, new distributor cap and rotor. All in all, all common electrical components were replaced. 

Two days later, the check engine light came on again. Again cylinder 1 was misfiring. My mechanic suggested to swap fuel injectors 1 and 2 to verify if the fuel injectors needed to be replaced. No change: still cylinder 1 was misfiring. 

A new distributor ruled out the distributor. The timing belt was changed around 90K miles. If the timing belt were the culprit one would expect to see all cylinders misfiring. (Unless the ocmputer saves only the first error code, and not those of all cylinders). 

My car has a VTEC engine. The valve timing is variable through a VTEC solenoid. This boosts the car power at lower and very high RPMs. My mechanic found a used VTEC solenoid to test. Again, no change: the check engine light came on at the first cold start. Low oil pressure could also affect the VTEC, but my mechanic believed this was not the case. 

I have since switched mechanics. My old  wasn't too interested in working on it. He kept me waiting a full day for a 10 minute job to swap the VTEC solenoid. He was horrible running calls, even to tell me the part was in. When you feel that he doing you a favor repairing your car, it is time to move on. 

One more data point: exhaust fume check shows clean burning. 

I am out of ideas. Anyone has a clue what might be going on? 

My new mechanic believed it could be a miniscule leak of the head gasket leaking coolant, or from a fuel injector. Either leak likely to be so small that it only shows up briefly at start up. He recommended not to worry about it and drive the car regardless. 

Friday, December 12, 2008


I recently read The Film Club by David Gilmour. In this memoir, he chronicles the story of allowing his son Jesse to drop out of school as long as he watches three movies weekly with this father. David Gilmour is a former film critic and television host. Rather than letting his son troll the streets, he starts a father-son film club. As they cover various styles and classics, they also discus a lot about life, Jesse's girlfriends, and his friends. From the book I picked up a list of classic movies I have yet to watch:
  • Duel by Stephen Spielberg
  • Fast Times at Ridgemont High with Sean Penn
  • Jungle Fever by Spike Lee with a young Samuel L. Jackson
  • Breakfast at Tiffanies
  • Mean street by Martin Scorsese
  • The shining by Stanley Kubrick
  • Notorious by Alfred Hitchcock
  • Dity Harry Magnum Force
  • Wallstreet with Charlie Sheen, Michael Douglas and Martin Sheen
Amidst all the financial mess, I decided to start at the bottom and got Wallstreet by Oliver Stone from Netflix. It couldn't have been more timely. The news broke last week that Bernard Madoff's hedge fund was a giant $50 Billlion ponzi scheme

After learning about bail-outs, derivatives and credit default swaps from NPR's Planet Money blog, or after reading Michael Lewis' article about the financial mess you conclude that not much has changed. Financial companies will keep inventing products which are hard or impossible to understand. In the process, the ignorant will end up holding the bag. Even those who are cognisant they are ignorant and don't want to play, will end up holding part of the bag.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Wild California

San Jose, CA is the 10th largest city in the US with a million people. The entire Bay Area counts about seven million people. So you would think this must be a pretty densily populated area. And it sort of is. However, every so often you learn that you aren't that far from the real California wilderness. I am not talking about the annual trip to Yosemite where the late night chores include franticly cleaning up the campsite to avoid attracking the wild bears in the valley.  Right here in my backyard, you find a lot of unexpected wild life. 

Last night in the dark, as I gathered the clothes from the clothesline, I ran into our yard marsupial: our cute opossum. The first time I ran into it I didn't know what to think: it looks like a rat, with a long tail, but it is much bigger. I called everyone inside and locked the door as it calmly walked the back fence and right into our garden-shack. Animal controlled told me on the phone, not to be concerned. They won't harm you. Just leave them alone. They are an omnivore, so don't leave food or trash outside. We don't, although we do have fruit from our fruit trees falling onto the floor. 

This morning I ran into what looked like a dead raccoon in the street. (My wife thought it could have been an oppossum. Let's just hope it is not my back yard friend.) Right next it, I saw a bird I typically see in the zoo. It looked like straight out of a comic strip of Lucky Luke. I looked it up: it was a turkey vulture. These are some bug ugly birds and always right where death looms. 
Other famous visitor I ran into is the black widow. I was cleaning up the yard and touched a spiderweb and it attacked my shovel with great speed. The red hourglass shaped markings on this shiny, inky black spider were unmistakenly. Luckily it didn't come close to me. Here's the answer to a commonly asked question: 

How dangerous are black widow spider bites? If a black widow spider bites a person, do not panic! No one in the United States has died from a black widow spider bite in over 10 years. Very often the black widow will not inject any venom into the bite and no serious symptoms develop. Wash the wound well with soap and water to help prevent infection.

If muscle cramps develop, take the patient to the nearest hospital. Some victims, especially young children, may be admitted overnight for observation and treatment. There is treatment for a black widow spider bite that can take care of the symptoms. Various medications are used to treat the muscle cramps, spasms and pain of a bite. Black widow spider antivenin is seldom necessary.

Garden snakes are around although we have not run into any around the house. Tarantulla's and rattle snakes aren't very far way. When I learned of an email at my wife's work alerted them of a mountain lion near their offices in Mountain View, you are reminded that this isn't cow country but that it is still wild California. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Copy Cat

Almost daily I read news from Belgium in Het Belang Van Limburg, a national newspaper which also includes regional news of the province of Limburg. Occasionally I read something in the gossip world of Het Laatste Nieuws. I came across this little story about Reggie Love: Meet Reggie Love, de man achter Obama. Interesting since I had not heard about Reggie Love among all the news coverage in the US. So I googled a little more about Reggie and came across this article from The Guardian: The man behind the man: Obama and the aide who makes his campaign tic

Body Man: 
TG: Reggie, as everyone on the campaign calls him, is more than a body man, whose official duties are to look after the candidate's personal needs. He carries the candidate's pens, his favourite snacks and drinks, an endless supply of chewing gum (Dentyne and Nicorette), as well as numerous bottles of water. He lines up the podium before the candidate steps out, and adjusts the autocue machines to the correct height, a few inches lower than his own.

HLN: In feite staat Reggie in voor alle persoonlijke noden van Obama. Hij draagt zijn pennen, zijn favoriete snacks en drankjes, een enorme voorraad kauwgom en talrijke flesjes water. . Hij controleert ook het podium waarop Obama het volk toespreekt en zorgt ervoor dat de autocue op de juiste hoogte staat (hij is net iets groter dan Obama).
Jay-Z :
TG: It was Love who introduced Obama to Jay-Z, loading the New York rapper's music on to an iPod which he bought as a birthday present for his boss.
HLN: Voor zijn verjaardag kocht hij zijn baas een iPod die hij gevuld had met de muziek van rapper Jay-Z.
In Charlotte: 
TG: Back in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, Love is something of a college legend. At a rally earlier this year, Obama called his body guy on stage and led the crowd in a chant of his name.
HLN: In zijn thuisstad Charlotte, in North Carolina, is hij een lokale legende. Obama riep hem er eerder dit jaar eens op het podium en dirigeerde het publiek terwijl ze zijn naam scandeerden.

Unfortunately Het Laatste Nieuws refrained from adding a true reference to the original article.
(Image: BBC News)

Friday, September 26, 2008


I've been twittering from time to time. You can see my tweets on the right side of my blog or at

Until now I use twitter often to record a funny quote from the kids. The potential of twitter isn't easily understood. There are some amazing things going on. 

With the first presidential debate tonight, I caught a blog post about how Twitter and Current are working together to "Hack The Debate": when twittering, add #current to the tweet and it will be grouped and might even be appear on the Current TV feed. (What's #?) is scrolling through all debate, candidates and election related tweets. A squawk-box for political geeks. 

Then I came across more funny posts: #obamashot and #mccainshot
Drinking rules for tonight! #obamashot for every time Obama says "change", and #mccainshot every time McCain says "my friends"
Good luck not getting smashed. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pick up the phone!

I am a radiophile and I listen regularly to NPR radio. NPR is broadcast in the Bay Area by KQED radio, in San Francisco. Because they are member funded, they have regularly a pledge drive.

During the pledge drive,  the presenters solicit donations from the listeners, often supplemented by dollar for dollar matching grants from sponsors. In return you often get a small "speed dial" gift. 

In the background you will hear a phone ring. And ring ... and ring. Isn't anybody ever going to pick this up? They are asking us to call them right? Pick up the phone! It is probably just a soundtrack. Cheaters! ;)

To donate to KQED: (800) 937 8850 or visit the website.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Phone spam?

Tonight I received an odd call from a 866 number:
Me: "Hello"
No response

Me: "Hello, who am I talking to?"
Answ: "I am sorry to disturb you. This message was only to be received by an answering machine."
Apparently this not nothing new. One google search result (telephony phishing) goes back to 2005. Very weird. Why do they want to talk to my answering machine? 

This must be a tactic to circumvent some do-not-call list law.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Something smelly in the air

There is something in the air in Gilroy. For one, literally: just drive to Gilroy, and you can smell the garlic from miles away.  You start imagining shrimp in a garlic butter sauce, or a roasted pork shoulder stuffed with garlic. In July, Gilroy hosts the garlic festival. Typically on a hot summer day, this great festival has many open air cooking demonstrations, has many garlic products and has great food to taste. However, whoever thought that garlic beer was a good idea, or garlic ice cream, must have eaten one clove too many. (I've tasted both. The ice cream falls in the barf category.)

Similarly I thought Michael and Claudia Bonfante's idea to build a theme park based upon trees in Gilroy was wacky. Can you imagine in Belgium: an arboretum with roller coasters? Originally known as Bonfante Gardens, the theme park is now known as Gilroy Gardens. My kids has been there a few times as part of school excursions. During this labor day weekend, and with some free passes in hand, we made the 45 minutes drive south to visit the park. 

It is a great park for 3-9 year olds. The rides are gentle and the water plays are exactly what kids need on a warm summer day. We were informed and brought swim suites and towels.

The mixture of education and fun worked surprisingly well. Funky "circus" trees, flower gardens and a nice lake to pedlle on are very nice. The monorail through the hot house is perfect: great views and short enough.

What did not work for us? (1) The entrance fee is rather steep ($42 per adult). (2) One is not allowed to bring any food into the park. There is a picnic area before entering the park. (3) Efficiency : unlike Disneyland the lines are slow moving. 

We'll might  do it again near Christmas, especially since your entrance pass immediately can be exchanged for a year long pass. Great idea. 

Thus what's next? A garlic festival .. check .. a tree amusement park .. check .. a July Harley Davidson rally in nearby Hollister .. check. There is something in the air of Gilroy. 

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A festival without a theme

Bicycle trails are few in the south bay. We can only dream of a system, similar to the "crossings" (knooppunten) in Belgium. On labor day, my son and I hopped on our bikes for a ride to downtown along the Guadalupe River.

The Guadalupe river trail (wiki) is a 11-mile pedestrian and bicycle path in the city of San Jose, Ca. It starts near the San Jose airport and brings you straight to downtown San Jose and ends near the discovery museum.

Sadly signalization can be improved a bit. For one, the fish pointing left always point left. They are not an indication of the route. Secondly, you have to cross the river on several occasions if you do not want to dead end. At least with a dead end you can not get lost.
The trail is interesting as you get to observe the flood protection system of San Jose. The last time the river flooded big parts of San Jose was 1995, a couple of months before I arrived in San Jose.
The trail is a nice and safe sneak road into downtown. You pass along the headquarters of Adobe and end at the San Jose discovery museum on Woz way, named after Steve Wozniak, inventor of the Apple computer.

Labor day weekend in San Jose typically means the San Jose Tapestry Arts festival. Feel free to skip it. It lacks some sizzle and frankly a theme. Most festivals are artsy and have paintings, soaps and hats. You need a better theme to lure people in. Wine or beer festivals do the job. Or a fruit or vegetable. The Kendall Jackson tomato festival, the Watsonville strawberry festival, the Castroville artichoke festival or the Gilroy Garlic festival are examples. I do have a suspicion that all good fruits and vegetables have been taken: all Hayward could come up with was the Hayward zucchini festival. That leaves lifestyle as a theme, which San Francisco has a monopoly on: the Haight Ashbury street fair, the Folsom street fair or Castro street fair. Does mean that the only options were a geek themed festival or a festival with not really a theme? They might as well called it "surprise"-festival to get the crowds of free loaders. We caught the end of day one of the festival. It was very much dead, with only a few people strolling around. I must have missed the lunch time crowds.

On the way back, we passed by the Shark tank (officially called HP Pavilion) where the San Jose Sharks hockey team play. We continued to San Jose airport, currently under construction as another terminal is being added. And then headed for home (another 10-15 minutes).

This was the longest bicycle trip for my son. So his demand for double icecream desert was definitely granted. And for pappi too.

Monday, August 25, 2008

We are a Costco Nation

(Or for the Belgians reading this: We are a Makro Nation).

Last weekend, we celebrated my daughter's birthday in a nearby park. The public parks in California are wonderful. There are many parks, most of them are free and have new and safe play structures. John D. Morgan park in Campbell is a large park, with 3 soccer fields, 2 soft ball fields, two areas with play structures and lots of open space. One area includes a water play structure with fountains. Kids just love it. Since last year's birthday party was a success, we were planning for an encore.

The picnic benches around the water play structure are first come first serve. I had packed our station wagon the day before and woke up early to grab a space. Just like I did the year before. At 7:30am, I arrived at the park, only to find that all 13 spaces had been taken already. Ready for plan B: grab a bench and bring a fold up table or two to create an improvised birthday setup. As long as we are close to the water and sand, kids wouldn't mind. Another poor soul had arrived too late as well and was opting for a similar plan B. He had been there already since 6:10am. Either we were dealing with a bunch of owls or the others had cheated and claimed the spots the night before. Oh-well, the last thing you want to do is fight over a table in front of sugar happy kids.

I quickly set up shop on two borrowed tables and then waited for the rest of the family to arrive. It was very interesting to observe the larger parties set up camp. Literally. One family showed up with a large pickup and a mini van packed with stuff. First, the barbie hummer was unloaded to keep little Jasmine occupied. The first big canopy was setup for shade. Four large tables and matching chairs were unfolded. Another big canopy provided for even more shade. Next up: a 4-6 person tent. Three bags of coals - they must be planning a large barbecue. Honey, did you bring the extra barbecue? And to top it off, an inflatable basketball ring was set up. Luckily they brought a little four wheel cart, so it was easy to roll the ten bags of ice from the car to the coolers. The next hours they spent setting up the tables, hanging the balloons, preparing the food.

It's all the fault of Costco! Costco is the largest membership warehouse club chain in the world based on sales volume. At Costco you can buy cereal in 5kg boxes or olive oil in 5 liter jars. Cordless phones come in packages of 6, with an extra water proof one for the pool. All these party, backyard and pool supplies can be found at Costco at rather cheap prices and come in convenient fold up packaging. Outdoor pools are not 2mx2m: they are 4m x 6m with a built-in slide and obstacle course. It is just too much.

At the end of evening, we all had a great time. The food was great, the Thinkerbell cake a hit. The kids had a great time in the water, building castles in the sand and at the arts and craft table. And so did the other family I noticed. Luckily I didn't have to stay to see them clean up and pack it all up. Unless they were staying for a couple of days ... they sure had the equipment to do so.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

On credit reporting companies

A good credit history is one of the most important assets in the US. Upon arrival to California, several friends recommended me to get a Shell (pre-paid) or Macy's credit card to build up a credit history. Without a good credit history, getting a credit card is difficult and getting a loan is impossible. All your credit history is collected by one of three major companies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Companies can then contact these companies before granting you credit.

It's ironic that you need a loan or credit card to start building a good credit. I have always been averse to debt: first you save, then you buy. I don't buy on credit, and every credit card bill is paid in full every month. I might not be the best customer for the credit card companies, but haven't had any issue with my credit history (and I don't have a garage full of gadgets or impulsive buys).

Recently, after the outsourced HR of my wife's company reported stolen personal data, I added 90-day fraud alerts on both our credit reports. I added the first 90-day fraud alert with Equifax. The webpage stated I didn't need to contact the other two compabies. They would take care of this.

Since then, I have received letters from both TransUnion and Experian: "We were unable to complete your request ... please provide us more information". Obviously, the request from Equifax to add a 90-day fraud alert was lacking some information. I went to the Experian website and provide the missing information: it was my address, my social security number and my birthdate.

Hold on a second! Our car purchase, our home purchase, even perhaps a future student loan for my kids depends on these companies and these bozos can't even transfer a little piece of data among each other?

Vote for Marco Zaldivar!

A few years ago, I wrote about my ideal cellphone specs. The list of requirements is still very true, except for a cheap data-plan and great battery life. The last requirement puts the latest iPhone or any 3G phone for that matter on the black list. This was especially so after watching Charlie Rose's discussion on the iPhone 3G.

Item 7 on my original list was "Free incoming SMS". I am not a frequent SMS'er. I can count the number of SMS messages I sent this year on two hands. I do receive tens of SMS messages per day, most of them from webservices. When our Salesforce email-to-case daemon acts up, I get an SMS message alerting me. When I need to attend a meeting, Google Calendar sends me an SMS. When an item on my todo list is due, RememberTheMilk sends me an SMS message. Luckily I am using an inflation protected cheapo plan from AT&T Wireless (now Cingular): it includes free incoming SMS messages.

When I heard from a friend using Virgin Mobile that he had to pay for incoming SMS messages, I couldn't believe it. That had to be illegal since you can not control receiving an SMS message. Every time you received a message, even if you did not open or read it, you are charged. So you might end up with a $500 cellphone bill for something you have no control over. You gotta be kidding. Sadly, no, he wasn't. Gotcha Capitalism!

Finally somebody is taking action against such practices. His name is Marco Zaldivar. Red Tape Chonicles' Bob Sullivan discusses the case in a recent blog post, "T-Mobile Sued over 'Mandatory' Text Fees".
T-Mobile USA, Inc., a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom AG, lost an important ruling earlier this week when a U.S. District Court judge denied its motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a group of disgruntled T-Mobile subscribers, claiming the Bellevue-based company charges them -- and millions of T-Mobile customers -- for unsolicited text messages.
The article has a couple of great tips when it comes to handling text messages. The one about "premium text messages" caught my eye:
Even with an unlimited plan, you can still end up paying a lot for text messages – so-called “premium text messages” -- which can cost $1-$10 each. These are texts sent to or from special subscription services, like dating services. One consumer who wrote to Red Tape found himself on the long end of a $10,000 bill not long ago. Even if you use text messaging, you should consider calling your carrier and asking that premium texting be disabled.
Why would I ever want to give up my current cellphone plan? It is cheap, inflation-proof, free cellphone calls after 7PM (not after 9PM), free mobile-to-mobile and has free incoming SMS. If I ever decided to go for a data-enabled phone, I might just get a phone with only a dataplan and keep my current cellphone.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Travel tips at Dulles Airport

For the third time in nearly as many weeks, I found myself in Washington Dulles Airport. This time I learned two new traveling tips:

(1) If you want to hop onto an earlier flight, make sure your luggage gets transferred to the new flight at least 2 hours prior to take off. Or if you come from abroad, make the change right after customs, right before you enter your luggage back into the hands of the airline.

(2) When Terminal C (an older United Terminal) at Dulles is stuffy and without air-conditioning (as was today), head over to Terminal B. Terminal B is a new international terminal. It was not very crowded and had some nice food options. At Dulles, it's only a 1 minute ride on those odd looking "mobile lounges". Unlike other airports where you might fear coming back via the inter-terminal transportation system can take a long time, the system at Dulles is great and fast.

From the history page of Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority page:
The concept that made the new airport outstanding and unique from the passenger's view in 1962 was the specially designed mobile lounge, used to transport the passengers between the terminal building and the aircraft parked on a jet ramp ½ mile away from the terminal. The mobile lounge was designed by the Chrysler Corporation in association with the Budd Company.dulles_history_4

The mobile lounge was constructed as a 54-foot long, 16-foot wide, 17 1/2-foot high vehicle, and could carry 102 passengers, 71 of them seated, directly from the terminal to the aircraft on the ramp. This protected the passengers from weather, jet noise and blast, and also eliminated long walking distances. Because of the mobile lounge, passengers had to walk only 200 feet once they entered the terminal until they were seated in the lounge for the short trip directly to their aircraft.

Today, Dulles operates 19 mobile lounges and 30 plane mates, which are similar to the lounges but can transport passengers from the terminals, directly onto the airplane by attaching itself to the aircraft.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Wanted: Traffic Expert (Relocation a must)

Belgium has gone mad when it comes to traffic signalization. On our recent vacation in Belgium, although I do carry a Belgian driver's license, I felt like a foreigner in my own country when it came to driving.

Several traffic signs where completely new to me.
At the entry roads to Antwerpen, I noted the following sign over and over. At first I thought something was going to fall on my car. But the red circle does not mean this is an advisory sign, rather a mandatory rule. The signs means no entry for cars who carry explosive or incendiary cargo. I didn't take it conveys the message very clearly.

The provincial recreation park, De Nekker, in Mechelen featured a funny sign: no waterpipes allowed. (Photo forthcoming).

Even since unmanned cameras were allowed by law to catch speeding, local governments have been installing these "birdnests" as my dad calls them, everywhere.

Even in the middle of the night on an empty road, you better be on the look out for them, as they never rest.

To increase the effectiveness of these cameras (read: revenue), it appears there's an active campaign to confuse drivers about the current speed limit. This is especially the case if you are not familiar with the area.
  • In Tremelo, in one direction you can drive 70km/hr. Make a U-turn and the speed limit is 50km/hr. It turns out the town limit with Keerbergen is in the middle of the road.
  • In several town centers, I noted an "end of 30km/hr" sign. The "entering 30km/hr" sign is nowhere to be seen. You are speeding by definition.
  • "Herhaling" means "repitition". All ofa sudden you encounter a sign "50km/hr- herhaling". Shock! Was I speeding? Where was the first sign? Nobody knows. Also known as X-signs.
  • As you leave a town, the typical speed limit is 70km/hr. We saw several times when a 70km/hr sign is followed withing 100 meters(!) by a 50lm/hr sign, allowing drivers to squeeze one quick burst out of the engine.
  • Upon entering an urban area, a white sign indicates the name of the town, as well as a little pictorial about the local abbey or church. This also means 50km/hr. Why not add a sign stating the speedlimit explicitly. It will be much easier for tourists and foreigners.
  • While on one hand overloading the meaning of the sign with a speedlimit, there are plenty of examples proving the Belgian maffia must own signage companies. On several roads I noted signs literally every 200 meters (with no street crossings in between). On the stretch Herselt-Aarschot, I must have counted ten 70km/hr signs every 200 meters. This little stretch is also known for extreme alzheimers.
Speed limit signs a plenty, direction signs are few. Unlike in the US, driving to and from town centers based upon signs is nearly impossible. I was looking for the note "Sponsored by Garming or TomTom" underneath the signs. Luckily I was well prepared using Google Maps.

Poorly design beltways where two lane roads are reduced to one lane traffic jams, the wild grow of speed limit signs, the lack of directions and the "birdnests", really take the fun out of driving in Belgium. It's time to get some real experts behind the wheel. Traffic experts, apply in the comments section.

Friday, June 27, 2008


Every now and then you stumble on a video on youtube which is just plain amazing. One of them is the video of Matt.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Welcome to our family time ...

As my pirate of the Caribean and Princess Aurora fell asleep tonight, their dreams started to take them along the Belgian freeways to Euro Disney in the North of France. Four and half hours until they will be again in the happiest place on earth.

Several months ago, we went as a family to Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. Although I have been living in California for over ten years, I never visited the magic kingdom. I did visit Universal Studios, Magic Mountain, Great America, but I saved DisneyLand for last. I am glad I resisted the temptation and was able to see the magic through the eyes of two little kids. It was fantastic.

Two days and two nights should be sufficient. That was our original plan. Luckily we choose the 3+2 days promotion package: buy 3 days, get 2 days extra. We spent day and night in Disneyland and in California Adventure. We weren't bored a single moment.

California Adventure is a new theme park, celebrating California. It includes parts of San Francisco, parts of Napa, the orchards, the aviation history of California and much more.

The true gem is still Disneyland, the park Walt Disney envisioned after having seen little FairyLand park in Oakland. Although I knew the Disney marketing machine was everywhere, it is done so smooth and not in your face that you hardly ever notice it. This place makes you smile and happy. Is there something special in the air, I kept wondering.

The park was perfect. From the moment you get on the little trolley shuttling you to and from the parking lot, happy music is playing. People smile and greet you nicely. Everybody is nicely dressed, and not in a one-size fits all suit. Custom tailored outfits matching the ride. Every ride is nicely painted. No chips anywhere, no broken chains. Lines are ingeniously hidden away.

But most of all, rides advance smoothly. I am sure I must have waited in some lines for over an hour, but oddly it never bothered me. The first 30 minutes passed by in a rush of the last ride.

  • The evening parade as the sun went under - the smiles on the kids faces as the princesses and the characters waived at them.
  • The fireworks in front of the castle
  • Pirates of the caribean
  • Inside the Splash Mountain with my son
  • Family rollercoaster in Toon Town with my little girl
  • Sorin' over California
  • Hollywood Hotel
I can't wait to see the pictures and their faces as they tell their story of Euro Disney. (I'll let you know Kate)

Welcome to our family time
Welcome to our happy to be time
This is our festival
you know and best of all
We're here to share it all

Saturday, June 14, 2008

And justice for all

... rings the Metallica song. Last week, my introduction into the American justice system concluded in a conviction. Almost a year ago, my house had been broken into. The burglars had been caught red handed, at least 3 out of 4. Originally it was believed there were only 3 of them. The look-out guy (in a car) managed to escape. Luckily all items were recovered. As far as I was concerned, with exception of some damage to the fence and the inside door, the case was closed.

Not for the district attorney of course. He had a slam dunk case in front of him. Quickly two of the three burglars pleaded guilty and got a 1 year county jail sentence. Number 3 was a hard core case, a repeat offender. A trial was going to decide his fate. I was called as a witness ("Yes, that is my stuff; No, I did not give him permission to enter the house"). A trial date was set and postponed at least four times (due to unavailability of either the DA or the defense attorney). Luckily, I was allowed to be a standby witness which means that the DA will call you when you need to appear (and it is not required to be present in person every time).

Finally the trial was on. A jury was being selected. It was getting all a little close to my planned trip to Europe. I asked the DA what could be their possible defense. He explained for repeat offenders this is often the case - they want to postpone making a decision until the very end. Standing tough. The piper would play eventually: he cut his losses and agreed to a last minute plea bargain before the jury selection was completed. He will go 7 to 9 years to jail. What a fool - risking much of his life for a couple of toy walkie-talkies and my son's piggybank full of pennies.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Hi, my name is waffletchnlgy and I am an info-snacker.

I always thought that Amazon's Kindle was targeting the gadget freak or the die hard reader. Why else would anybody want to buy a feature-clipped laptop? For $350 you can buy yourself a laptop which allows you to both read and surf. Better yet, get an iPhone.

After reading The digital future of books in the WSJ (May 19th), the idea is not as stupid as I thought. As Jeff Bezos mentioned:
Laptops, BlackBerrys and mobile phones have "shifted us more toward information snacking, and I would argue toward shorter attention spans." He hopes that "Kindle and its successors may gradually and incrementally move us over years into a world with longer spans of attention, providing a counterbalance to the recent proliferation of info-snacking tools."
I also was surprised by the average time people spend reading.
A recent National Endowment for the Arts report, "To Read or Not to Read," found that 15- to 24-year-olds spend an average of seven minutes reading on weekdays; people between 35 and 44 spend 12 minutes; and people 65 and older spend close to an hour.
I am officially old now.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Gmail spellchecker

Gmail's spellchecker isn't working right. Since I write a fair amount of emails in Dutch, I set the spellchecker to 'Nederlands'. However it isn't working as expected. Common Dutch words are flagged as incorrect. Some suggestions are actually in English.

Request for Enhancement: It would be useful if one could specify the preferred language of the recipient in the Contacts section. One wouldn't need to set the spellchecker language manually for every email. Or better even, perhaps the Googlebot could deduce than language from previously written emails.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Gotcha capitalism

Last year, I read John Bogle's little book of common sense investing, and learned how the little investment fees in the end can cost your dearly.

Tonight I started reading Gotcha capitalism by Bob Sullivan. The book is about how companies add hidden fees everywhere. No surprise there. I fall into the category of people who reviews every bill thoroughly. I fight back and don't mind going through several layers of phone support to get my money back. Example:
A few years ago, I received a $400+ cellphone bill. Ouch. My regular monthly bill is $75 for our family. As it turned out, they had dropped the free in network calling from my plan, several months before but only now did I reach the minutes limit. I was now billed for calling all our friends using the same cellphone provider. But worse, every call with my wife was rung up twice: once for me and once for my wife. Early calls to AT&T wireless were met with "Nothing we can do". It then changed to "Let's split it in half". That's when I realized there was more to fight for. It was just the right catalyst to start a spreadsheet. I took every phone number from the bill and figured out whether he/she belonged to AT&T wireless. With details in hand, resistance was futile (I can boast now). At the end the monthly bill was lower than regular. But it took some stubbornness.
Knowing there is a chance to beat the system, I am typically looking forward to the fight. This book appears to be written for me. In the first chapter of the book the author brings up how the real cost of a printer is difficult to estimate. Well, I am part of the few who attempted it. When purchasing a printer, I consider both the acquisition cost, the cost of a ink cartridge and the amount of pages I print per month.

One thing is clear early in the book: as a consumer in America, you are often alone. The influence and power of Federal Trace Commission (FTC) has been clipped. Worse, companies have been allowed to create one-sided contracts just by mailing you a letter. As such many companies made you to silently agree to mandatory arbitration and avoid the court system.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Where all the missing Lego pieces meet

Last night we watched Indiana Jones and the kingdom of the crystal skull (tickets courtesy of large internet company - thank you). The movie was entertaining and fun. Nothing to earth shattering, although coincidently I have been watching some documentaries about the Manhattan Project. Written by George Lucas, the end isn't very surprising.

And then I came across this great Indy-based video.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Dear old powerbook

In 2003 I purchased a new 15 inch 1GHz Titanium Power G4 Apple Powerbook. I bought it the day after the new 12" and 17" aluminum PowerBooks were announced at MacWorld. It has been a great laptop, although I had to replace some components while under warranty.

Like many, I've been ogling the new MacBook Air. How can you escape the commercials and that great catchy tune by Yael Naim? However I decided, it is not a laptop for me: it's a bit pricey.

Figuring that Apple will probably do an update before the September school year start, I decided to consult AppleInsider and MacRumors on the rumor mill: when are the new laptops coming? June?

That's when I came across this nice chart of the different Powerbook models over the years. The Titanium powerbook is the second generation.

(Picture: Apple Insider)

Dear old powerbook, please stay a little longer. A least until the new MacBooks and MacBook Pros are around.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The kids of today

I discovered a box set of 3 DVDs with old school Sesame Street episodes at the library (review). These are the episodes I grew up on, with the same silly cartoons I remember.
The episodes are prefaced with an interesting disclaimer:
The early episodes are intended for grown ups and might not suit the needs of today's preschool children.
What?? I am not alone in my reaction to the Sesame Street disclaimer (Blogosphere). Virginia Hefferman in the NY Times summarizes it sarcastically: it is "certainly not for softies born since 1998, when the chipper ‘Elmo’s World’ started.”

Perhaps the kids of today might be missing contemporary geography or ultimate fighting exercises.

My kids have been enjoying Old School Sesame Street. Similarly, my son loves the old Popeye episodes (YouTube). They are definitely a lot little less PC as the children's programs of today. But if anything the Popeye episodes teach one to take things with a spoon of salt.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Yet another music streaming site? That was my first reaction when I read on Jacob Lodwick's blog about Muxtape, a website for creating and sharing mixtapes. The site is stupidly simple - I love it! Muxtape allows you to make your own digital mixtape (with its very own URL to share with anyone you want). You can create your 12 song “mixtape” by simply uploading any of your MP3s. Unfortunately most of my music is in Apple's Advanced Audio Coding format, so I'll have to do one extra step to convert to mp3. The songs can then be streamed by anyone visiting your muxtape site.

I've been taking a break from Pandora and have been exploring great artists and music I've never heard of. A couple of my favorite muxtapes:
There is of course the sixty-four thousand dollar question: is muxtape legal? (legal issues of mixtapes) It must be billing time for the lawyers for the record industry.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Cycling is the second most important sport in Belgium. This time of the year, various one day races captivate the country in front of their television, often twice a week. They are known as "the classics". Many of the spring one day races happen in Belgium: take a look at the calendar of one day races. Among them Gent-Wevelgem, Brabantse Pijl, Ronde van Vlaanderen, Waalse Pijl Liege-Bastogne-Liege and others.

My top three classic races are: (1) Ronde van Vlaanderen - tour of Flanders ( (2) Paris - Roubaix and (3) Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Naturally I try to follow the races on the internet. There are various ways to follow the races. provides a subscription video feed. Sporza Radio broadcasts the races live. (Sporza, part of VRT, is the sport channel of the publicly funded national Belgian broadcasting station in Flemish). Unfortunately, the Sporza video stream is only if you live in Belgium, as the contracts with the race organizers prohibit broadcast to other countries.
Voor wie niet in België woont...
De livestreaming van is in het buitenland niet te bekijken, omdat er rechten op de beelden rusten. De eigenaars van de contracten (de organisatoren van de evenementen) zeggen uitdrukkelijk dat de beelden alleen op het Belgische grondgebied te bekijken mogen zijn
Anonymous internet proxies to the rescue! With any luck I will be able to follow the Ronde van Vlaanderen with the help of an anonymous internet proxy in Belgium (e.g. from aliveProxy). If you know any good ones, let me know.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

IM client galore

Since a few days I switched at work from Pidgin to Trillian instant messenger client.

We use Yahoo Instant Messenger as the company standard. I do not like the YIM client because too much real estate is spent on commercials and useless buttons. To consolidate various clients, I had switched to Pidgin. I still run Google Talk and Skype because unifying instant messenger clients do not handle voice and video well. Here's a couple of reasons why I liked Pidgin and have become a big fan of Trillian.
  1. Both clients support various instant messenger protocols: Yahoo, AOL, Microsoft, Jabber (although Trillian requires you to buy the pro version).
  2. Tab windows. At any moment, I have multiple chat sessions open. I do not like to have four or five windows on my desktop. (For the same reasons Firefox tab browsing is key feature of a browser.)
  3. Both clients support various skins. Trillian is a windows application and looks a little smoother. I use the minimal GuiStyle Skin.
  4. Although Pidgin supports also IRC, I never installed the plugin. Trillian IRC support is great. I have several IRC channels running from the rhel, linuxnewbies IRC channels to the Netbeans IRC. The good old protocol (anno 1988) is the perfect group chat protocol. I don't know why we don't use it internally. (It could replace many quickly evolving email threads.)
  5. Support from Google Desktop to index my chat logs.
Give Trillian a try. (On Mac, check out Adium)

UPDATE: 04/02/2008 - LifeHacker Five Best Instant Messengers has high praise for Digsby

Monday, March 24, 2008

Fubar or foobar

Last night I watched a great documentary about the war on narcotics in Miami during the 1980s: Cocaine Cowboys. It is the story behind Scarface and the Mariel boatlift. It is also the background for Miami Vice. Coincidently, the music for the documentary was composed by the same composer of the Miami Vice Theme: Jan Hammer. Ever since arriving to the US, my first name has been difficult to pronounce: Jan. More often it is also mistaken for a woman's name -I have gotten samples for female products in the mail-. In my first weeks in the US, I tried various ways, including almost changing my email alias to 'ian', as it was phonetically closer to my name. Then, Jan Hammer came to my rescue. People knew how to pronounce his name, and knew he was a male.

The documentary taught me a new phrase: fubar. Over and over it was mentioned. Being an engineer, I immediately thought of foobar, a common place holder name in programming. It didn't make any sense in the movie. During Frontline tonight, the term fubar came up again. Now I was really intrigued. I had to look it up: fubar - fucked up beyond all recognition/repair.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Amazon fulfillment

As my son is hard at work building his new Lego Beach House, I had some time to look into how the box arrived at our doorstep.

I bought the item on Ebay in new and sealed condition. There was something odd about the shipping: (1) It arrived super fast: 2 days after purchasing. (2) It was shipped in an Amazon box and by Amazon. The Amazon labeled stated: ship to me; shipping is billed to the Ebay seller. That looked odd.

Was the seller just a front for Amazon? Nope, as the billing address was a private party in New York.

Was the eBay seller buying his items on Amazon? Doubtful, since the items is purchased on auction, there is no guarantee of making money if he has to buy it full price on Amazon. Let's run down the numbers:
  • Lego store cost: $30
  • Amazon store cost: $25 + shipping ($9.99 for comparable 2 day shipping) = $34.99
  • Final bid price: $16.75 + $8.99 (shipping) = $25.74
Yesterday I read a blog post (Techcrunch: Amazon takes the humans out of fulfillment) on the missing puzzle piece: Amazon Fulfillment. In simple terms: Amazon becomes your personal climate controlled warehouse, while providing you with software hooks to ship and track your shipments. You would think this was the turf of Fedex or UPS.

Such services do not come free. Is my Ebay seller making any money?

First, let's look at the Amazon Fulfillment Pricing.
  • Storage: $0.45 (assuming it was only stored for one month)
  • Order Handling: $1.00
  • Pick and Pack: $0.75
  • Weight Hanlding: $0.88 (2.2 pounds)
  • Total shipping to customer: $3.08
Secondly, It is unknown how much the seller sold to ship it his items to Amazon. Let's assume he is charged $2 per item.

Total shipping costs: $5.08 (Note he charged $8.99 on Ebay. Amazon Fulfillment definitely appears cost effective for my seller.)

Finally, I estimate the New York Sales tax (4%) : $1.

Since this was a new item, my Ebay seller must have purchased the item gross for no more than $19.50 to make any money. This is probably a close call. Lego profit margins are just north of 30%. So for a $30 item, the whole sale price must be around $17-$18. Just a guess. He must be selling a whole lot of Lego sets to make a living.

From the looks of it, Amazon Fulfillment API will make it easier and faster for Ebay powersellers to increase volume, while lowering shipping rates. Definitely, a missed opportunity for UPS, Fedex or UPS.

Spring tomatoes

As fall arrived near the end of September, a new crop of tomatoes start growing in our garden. The tomato plants on the side of the house are in shock throughout the hot summer days. During the Indian summer in October, these plants start bearing new fruits. Some plants will last through the winter. Tonight, on the first evening of spring, we ate two delicious tomatoes which my daughter harvested in the garden. And there are more to come.

Unfortunately, fall also meant that our garden would be overrun again by clover. In the next weeks I'll start the yearly spring clover clean up. There's lots of clover. And none of that lucky clover. I wish.

Anyone know a non-toxic approach to getting rid of clover?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The unfriendly shopping cart

R99: "Ranch 99 customer service."
Me: "Hi, I am calling because one of your shopping carts is parked in front of my house." (I live about 1 mile from the nearest Ranch 99)
R99: "My driver will pick it up." Click

Click? Did she hang up on me?

R99: "Ranch 99 customer service."
Me: "Hi, I just spoke with you about the shopping cart. I did not tell you the name of my street yet."
R99: "We check every street." Click.

Click again? Wow. Why would one want to shop at such a friendly store? It also tells you something about how its customers use the shopping carts as personal dollies to their houses.

New rule: if you find a shopping cart outside of the parking lot of the supermarket, you get to fill it up for free at that supermarket.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

A perfect match (Man zkt vrouw)

The Belgian movie, Man zkt vrouw, (the English title is A Perfect Match) (wikipedia), made its North American premiere as part of the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose on Friday Feb 29. The film is directed by Miel van Hoogenbemt and was written by Pierre De Clercq and Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem.

I met up with Miel and Pierre at the Paragon Bar in San Jose, prior to the movie. They had arrived the night before and were still jetlagged. Although both are experienced film makers (IMDB: Pierre De Clercq, Miel van Hoogenbemt), they appeared a little anxious about what was to come. How would America like the movie? What would the audience ask during the Q&A section at the end of the movie?

The movie is a romantic comedy and stars famous Belgian actors. It is located in Ghent, Belgium.
On the day of his forced retirement, a school principal (Jan Decleir) decides to look for a wife on the Internet. It's not love he is after, but merely companionship. He meets a lot of women but can't seem to make up his mind. Until his new housekeeper (Maria Popistasu) arrives: she is almost forty years younger than him and a total disaster at housekeeping. For the first time in what seems a lifetime, he falls totally and desperately in love.
The movie is very well done, with witty comments. The plot is simple - it doesn't try to weave a complex story -. Yet, they story leaves enough unanswered which makes you wonder what will happen past the end of the movie.

Also the cinequest visitors appeared to like the movie. Throughout the movie, you could hear the entire audience crack up. And during the Q&A section, many had compliments and questions about the movie: about the languages, the location, the music, the actors and about the plot, (I won't list the questions not to give a way the plot.) As for the music, it was created by Spinvis. From the Man zkt vrouw blog:
Het was Wim Opbrouck die ons nog tijdens de opnamen de Nederlandse componist aanraadde. “Ga bij Holland,” fluisterde hij ons toe, “die gast maakt geweldige muziek. We hebben wat van zijn materiaal gebruikt voor De Bende van Wim.” Wij dus naar Utrecht waar we aan Spinvis (het alter ego van de zeer aimabele muzikant Erik de Jong) onze film toonden en hij was meteen dol enthousiast om er de muziek voor te schrijven. Bedankt voor de tip, Wim!
Prior to the movie, Pierre had worried how our group of Belgians would receive the movie. Would we still be proud of Belgian cinema? We were! We stuck around until the end and I was happy the film was a success.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


During a busy week at work, we found time for a drink with our team and a spectacular show: Cirque du Soleil, Kooza. This is my third Cirque du Soleil show. The first was Quidam.

I used to work at Cirque du Soleil in San Jose. As part of a group of local volunteers, we would man the front tent: tickets, drinks and gifts. In return we hung around the circus and were treated with a free performance.

It is always an incredible show. Kooza tells the story of The Innocent, a melancholy loner in search of his place in the world.

The most incredible part of the show is the Wheel of Death.

KOOZA's 1,600-pound Wheel of Death rotates at heart-stopping speeds, powered only by the two artists who leap and counter-rotate in a death-defying display of fearless acrobatics and astonishing teamwork. Like the Highwire, the Wheel of Death is positioned diagonally stage left to stage right in order to break with the usual symmetry and bring the action as close as possible to the audience.

Monday, February 04, 2008


Monday, Feb 04, 2008, it's the night before Super Tuesday. It is not only politics which are about to rumble. I am still awaken as little jolts shake the house. The epicenter is each time about 10km from my house.

10:39:13pm: 3.0 earthquake
11:16:18pm: 3.1 earthquake

Our emergency backpacks are ready. I brought the kids in my bed. (Coincidently, I purchased earthquake insurance last week.)

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Microsoft can be cool too

I had been impressed by the multitouch interface presented by Jeff Hahn at TED. Some of it can be found in the iPhone. Although this time Apple had been upstaged in adopting cool technology by Microsoft when they announced the Microsoft Surface. Was the Microsoft copy-machine doing overtime?

Although big dollar amounts are sunk into Microsoft R&D, they are not know for cool new technology. Microsoft is not revolutionary. Until I saw the following presentation at TED by Blaise Aguera y Arcas about PhotoSynth. Wow! WOW!

Similar to the purchase of Keyhole by Google, Microsoft Mergers and Acquisitions deserves part of the applause. In 2006, "Microsoft Live Labs recently acquired Seattle-based Seadragon Inc."
Seadragon has 10 employees and was founded in Princeton, N.J., in 2003 by Blaise Agüera y Arcas, then a graduate student at Princeton University. He moved the company to Seattle's Ballard neighborhood in January 2004 after his wife, a computational neuroscientist, received a faculty appointment at the University of Washington.
Unfortunately some of the marketing slant for PhotoSynth is "cool new tourism app". Oh nooo, don't call it that. Just think about the possibilities of a Flickr + Google Earth + Photosynth webapp. Droooool. Where's DARPA when you need it to sponsor something like that.

Microsoft Live Labs - PhotoSynth

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Oh - Oprah!

I thought I had found the perfect gift for my wife's birthday: a purse organizer, $19.99 at the Container Store. Almost every day, my wife switches purses. Not that she has many purses, but as every man learns eventually, a purse needs to match the shoes. And every time, migrating the birds and other items in the magic purse, is a big thing. Hence, a purse organizer to the rescue.

However, the container store was sold out! "No more Oprah-thingies" was the answer. What? Indeed, the purse organizer had been featured on Oprah and in the O-magazine.
If you're constantly searching inside your purse for keys, credit cards or your favorite lipstick, Kip and Garrett have a solution for you. The Container Store's Purse Organizer fits inside large bags and features multiple pockets for your necessities.

"I wish I'd seen this in the store the other day," Oprah says. "I would have gotten it because you know our pocketbooks have gotten so big. I love a big pocketbook … but sometimes what happens is all your stuff, I mean, it has its own life down in there!"

What Slashdot is to geeky websites, or TechCrunch to startups, Oprah is to gadgets. If the purse organizer is any indication of the Oprah-effect, Obama will be the next Democratic president. Viva Oprah!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Waterzooi with Geuze

La Trappe is a new Belgian restaurant in San Francisco, on the corner of Greenwich and Columbus. The food menu includes rabbit stew with prunes, mussels and fries and chicken waterzooi. It is however the beer list which is the most impressive. Thirteen trappist beers (although West-Vleteren is not on the list), Lambic beers (geuze - my favorite-, framboise, kriek, peach), abbey beers, probably close to 80 beers.

My dad pointed out that the name of the of the "Belgian" restaurant was rather peculiar. La Trappe is the name of a trappist monestary in France, although its beer is the only trappist beer brewed in Holland. So I had to find out and went for a tasting tonight. The food and beer were excellent. And indeed, as I suspected, although the menu was Belgian, the owner was not. Michael Azzalini is Italian, who apparently lived in Belgium for a while.

Another "Belgian" eatery in San Francisco, FrjtzFries, is owned by a Colombian, who used to live in Antwerp. And Monk's Kettle in the Mission is owned by two Americans. (Three Belgian bars in the San Francisco Bay Area)

Belgians might have good cooks, brewers or monks, but it lacks more international restaurateurs.