Thursday, December 29, 2011

Planning a trip to Marin County

In between Christmas and New Year this year, we decided to escape for a few days to Marin County. It is only a short two hour drive from where we live. While we've visited some areas (e.g., Muir Woods, Sausalito, Stinson Beach and Bolinas - one of my favorite towns along the coast), there is plenty more to visit.

We had some ideas in general of what we wanted to visit in Marin County, but the evening before we left, my wife and I opened up our laptops and put a quick plan together. It became clear to me that a simple travel planning tool was missing. There are great travel websites which point you to the pletora of hotels in the area, or provide a list of things to do. But that's not a travel plan. That's just access to information. It takes time to stitch it all together into a trip. 

Wouldn't it be a great to have a Travel Notebook web application, which could assist you to plan your travel. Here's an initial list of its functionality: 
  1. Browse around the web and each time you find something interesting in the area you can tag it for your notebook. It could keep track of the URL, phone numbers and location to put ithe place on a map. This should work for anything and everything: restaurants, wineries, cheese factories, beaches, musea, historic monuments, national or state parks, vista points, images, etc. 
    • A map provides you simple overview of all the areas you tagged. Icons indicate the type of place. 
    • A directory provides you a list of all locations and phone numbers. 
  2. Based upon the weather forecast and opening hours of various sites, Travel Notebook would suggest a particular itinerary, or you could assemble one yourself and Travel Notebook would highlight which places are closed. 
    • E.g., we found out too late that the Point Reyes light house was closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. Sure it is listed on the website, but it does take a lot of searching around to figure out all the places. 
    • Similarly it could indicate recommended times to leave to drive to the next site and arrive on time. Although if you wanted to stay longer it will easily adjust. It will help with the simple question: what time should we get up so we can shower, have breakfast and drive to the place to be on time for a 10am Safari? 
  3. Since you may be going off the grid, the entire Travel Notebook can be easily printed or downloaded for offline use on your iPad, smartphone or laptop.
There are a couple of crude tools which can help you with this: we started with a custom Google MyMaps (how-to video). Each time we found a place, we googled the location in Google Maps and it provides a link: "Save to Map". Later on you can adjust the icons if you like. Both of us could be editing the map together, each from our own laptop. This was handy to have an overview of all the sites we wanted to visit. (Note: I did find it buggy in that sometimes not all icons showed up, or that the Save to Map either worked only in the left side and not in the pop up balloon, or vice versa.)

View Exploring Marin in a larger map

With this overview, we planned our trip in 3 pieces: 
  1. Mount Tamalpais / Muir Woods / Mill Valley
  2. Point Reyes
  3. Safari West (in Sonoma County) / Sebastopol / Cheese tour and Sausalito. 
We'll continue our trip next time with a visit Angel Island

Cycling 2011 in review

The best Dutch cycling commentary remains Sporza. At the end of the year, the Sporza team creates a nice summary of the cycling year. Unfortunately, because of ownership reasons and television rights, it can not be shared outside of Belgium. Come on guys - this is a rebroadcast many months later in support of the sport.

Ons audio- en video aanbod is, om juridische redenen, enkel te bekijken in BelgiĆ«. Als het access point van uw internetverbinding niet wordt herkend als Belgisch, dan kan u evenmin genieten van ons audio- en videoaanbod. 
Met vriendelijke groet, De sportredactie
Or translated to English:
Our audio and video programming is, for legal reasons, only viewable inBelgium. If the access point of your Internet connection is not recognized as aBelgian, you can not enjoy our audio and video offerings. 
Sincerely, The Sports editor

When you visit the Sporza link to watch "Cycling 2011 in review" outside of Belgium, you would never know what's going on with the video. It goes into an infinite loop trying to load. Is it my ISP? Is my browser? My wireless router? There used to be a simple "This video can not be shown outside of Belgium" error message. Usability is a lot about what happens when it is not usable. 

Nevertheless, it was just a matter of time when good cycling loving souls shared the wealth. Here's one rebroadcast (for as long as it lasts). Enjoy!

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Rather than a large Christmas Eve meal, we decided to have an onslaught of little bites: tapas! (paired with beer).

Sunday, October 02, 2011

California and bust

I keep roughly the same schedule on weekends as I keep during the week. I wake up early, I have a macchiato and read emails. However, in the weekend, I read blogs and personal emails I've saved up during the week. The Consumerist blog pointed me to an interesting article by Michael Lewis in Vanity Fair on California. Go read it - in its entirety. Here are a few interesting quotes to wet your appetite:
The average Californian, in 2011, had debts of $78,000 against an income of $43,000. 
The head parole psychiatrist for the California prison system was the state’s highest-paid public employee; in 2010 he’d made $838,706. 
San Jose has the highest per capita income of any city in the United States, after New York. It has the highest credit rating of any city in California with a population over 250,000. It is one of the few cities in America with a triple-A rating from Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, but only because its bondholders have the power to compel the city to levy a tax on property owners to pay off the bonds. The city itself is not all that far from being bankrupt.
For instance, back in 2002, the San Jose police union cut a three-year deal that raised police officers’ pay by 18 percent over the contract. Soon afterward, the San Jose firefighters cut a better deal for themselves, including a pay raise of more than 23 percent. The police felt robbed and complained mightily until the city council crafted a deal that handed them 5 percent more premium pay in exchange for training to fight terrorists.
He didn’t view the city’s (Vallejo) main problem as financial: the financial problems were the symptom. The disease was the culture.
Dr. Peter Whybrow thinks the dysfunction in America’s society is a by-product of America’s success. ... The human brain evolved over hundreds of thousands of years in an environment defined by scarcity. It was not designed, at least originally, for an environment of extreme abundance. 

After reading the article, two things came to mind:
(1) It is wrong we spent more on prisons than on education. (And yes, they are related.) Let's start by  revisiting the three strike law, especially for minor, non-violent felonies. At the same time, nobody is worth an $800K salary.

(2) Where is the time when people lived within their means; people valued simple stuff. For my grandma, having survived two world wars in Europe, key was to have daily a good cup of coffee and a ham sandwich. It is a somewhat like in the old days on farm - live within your means.

I sometimes have the hear how in Europe this or that is better - "We drive smaller cars. We use less water. We produce less waste. We don't use as much plastics. etc. etc." All true. But it is only true because governments have made people care and adjust by levying higher taxes. As Peter Whybrow stated in the article, it is because we don't know what to do with abundance. So if you want the people to care, let's raise taxes (temporarily) to fix both at the same time: adjust the culture and have some funds to fix the educational system.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Impressions from visiting LSU

As my flight home from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had been canceled twice, including a overnight stay in a Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport (BTR) airport hotel, I had a few moments to document my first on-campus recruiting trip to Louisiana State University - LSU in Baton Rouge for Real-Time Innovations.

I had the honors of presenting my first US company, VLSI Technology, many years ago at an info session and on-site recruiting event to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. But it has been too many years ago to remember the details. But Cal Poly dwarfs in comparison to some of the universities on our current roster in size. Nevertheless we also are visiting Cal Poly and have recently hired some great engineers from Cal Poly.  

A couple of observations:
  • The first scenes on-campus were those of large couches outside the frat houses and guys throwing the football while onlookers were sipping a beer. These could have been scenes straight from Revenge of the Nerds. 
  • The Cook hotel on-campus is right next to the lake. The hotel is all about sponsorship: very room has a sponsor name tag with one of the best room being the Shaquille O'Neal suite
  • Computer science students focus on HPC, thanks to Eric, the on-campus cluster at the CCC, and the Queen Bee cluster at the Baton Rouge capital building. Louisiana has invested a lot in compute and communication infrastructure. HPC talent is in demand among the Oil and Gas exploration companies in the Gulf of Mexico. At the career fair, all the Oil and Gas exploration companies were recruiting heavily for both petroleum engineers, but also computer scientists able to help them run the compute clusters. Beyond HPC, LSU didn't impress me with lots of education on distributed computing or networking.
  • Career services is a well oiled machine. I am not used this at my university in Belgium. 
    • A well run career fair
    • Nice on-campus interview booths
    • Displays educate the students on proper interview attire (sponsored by Mervins and Target). 
    • Feedback forms on students.
  • This is a wealthy university. The Student Union is very modern, with great facilities and including three giant screens to watch the LSU football games. We were (un)fortunate that our company introduction was right before the LSU-Alabama game. LSU football (undefeated in the 2011 season) must bring in quiet a lot of money. The stadium is larger than the largest soccer stadium in Belgium and in Argentina combined. It would be a unique experience to tailgate and watch a game at the LSU stadium. 
LSU Tiger Stadium can fit more than 92,000 people 
  • LSU has on-campus tiger, Mike the Tiger (official site). This is a real tiger and mascot of the team. No stealing the mascot here. 

We ended our visit with some blackened alligator and one of the many international (including Belgian) beers at Chimes. Alligator is very tasty and it's better (and a little more chewy) than chicken! 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hold for release - do not publish - yet.

It is sad to see such a great and natural voice disappear in such a tragic manner. Amy whinehouse's voice that is.  Her death by drug overdose was not unexpected. If you were organizing a bet on which star was likely to die, you barely got more than one-to-one for Amy Winehouse. Newspapers and television channels had an obituary on file, ready to go. Among various other ones labeled "hold for release - do not publish - yet", you'll likely find:

  1. Pete Doherty
  2. Charlie Sheen
  3. Whitney Houston
  4. Brooke Mueller
  5. Johnny Knoxville and gang
  6. Lindsay Lohan
  7. Fidel Castro
  8. Hugo Chavez
  9. Kim Jong-Il
  10. Nelson Mandela
  11. Margaret Thatcher
  12. Steve Jobs

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Google plus hangout is like meeting in a pub. Although serve yourself.

In recent article in the Huffington Post, Google's Head of Social Vic Gundotra likes to compare the Google Plus Hangout feature to sitting on your front porch.
"It allows you - in a very nice way, it's not socially awkward - to say, hey I'm hanging out on my porch," Gundotra said in a recent interview. "I'm available, if you're available too, you can join."
Coincidently I recently explained the feature much differently to my parents. European style. Who even has a porch in Europe? No, no, Google Plus Hangout is like meeting in a pub. When you start a hangout, you advertise "I'll be at the bar. Come join me." Your friends will know which bar, at what time and even know which side of the bar you'll be hanging.

I didn't have to go into a long explanation of how the feature worked with my parents. It was as clear as a nice cold Belgian trappist.

Google might be on to something with their hangouts. (check out also the longest hangout)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A view of the Golden Gate Bridge from Coit Tower

Posted by Picasa

I recently received a letter in the mail from Harrel Remodeling Inc. At first it looked like unsolicited offer for general contracting services. I often just rip the envelope before opening it. This time I did not tear it up. Here's the letter:
Dear Neighbor,
My company, Harrell Remodling is remodeling the home of you neighbors on ABC Drive. I am writing to let you know that our trucks, subcontractors, and related equipment may be in your area. If you are inconvenienced by any of the activities related to the work, please call us, and will take immediate steps to resolve your concern.  
While we respect our clients' homes and their neighborhoods by driving safely and cleaning the jobsite at the end of each work day, we ask that you please let children know of the additional traffic and other possible hazards while the work is in progress. In addition, our jobsite policies prohibit smoking, swearing and radios.  
Besides our own valuable staff of professional craftspeople, we also have an outstanding team of trade specialists such as our electricians, plumbers, roofers and other professionals whom we can proudly refer to you.  

Indeed, one of our neighbors is tearing up a lot of concrete around her house and I did note a portable toilet in her drive way.

I don't know if it is customary to send such a letter for larger constructing jobs. It definitely gave me a great impression about the company and free marketing for the cost of a postage stamp.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


Sixty six millimeters between Sebastian Langeveld and Juan-Antonio Flecha to make Langeveld the winner the 66th Omloop het Volk ... het Nieuwsblad. I tuned in online around 40km from the finish at 7am California time. It was supposed to snow in the morning in San Jose; the first time since 1976. It turned out to be another media-hyped meteorological non-event. At 40km from the finish, Langeveld was alone in front and race appears to be over. Ten kilometers went by. Yet, Flecha made a monster jump and closed the one minute to catch up with Langeveld. The two of them were heading for a sprint in Gent.

It didn't look like it was a nice day in Belgium - muddy and rainy. It is a indeed a hard sport.

Friday, February 25, 2011

De Ronde

After watching two episodes of the De Ronde, it is time for action. Episode one was a whirlwind of introductions: the accident, the divorced Flemish nationalist, the cycling fan who got bumped from the car by a snotty director and his wife who could care less about the race, the driver of the company car, the ex cycling champion hired to chauffer vips, and so on. I was getting a little dizzy about all the story lines being set up within a single show. Having lived in the US for a while now, I prefer more simple shows. And it is not looking good for a happy ending either. It is time in part 3 of the show for some clarity and action.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

When buying a car

We recently had to replace our old car. I had been secretly on the look out for a replacement car. However, with the deadline to re-register our old car coming up, and the need to fix a few things to pass the smog check, we decided to buy immediately.

The selection process
I made a check list with features we wanted in a car. My wife and I both check of whether it was important, nice to have or a don't car.

Looking around us every day, we had settled on three or four candidate models: VW Jetta Wagon TDI, Subaru Forester, Toyota Rav4 and the Honda CRV. All were good brands. It was time to check them out closer and we spent two Sundays on the Auto-row. We test drove the Subaru and the Honda CRV and with some internet resource, we paired it down to the Subaru Forester.

Now finding the model, color and price we wanted. This is always the part most dreaded when buying a car. And we wanted to trade-in our old car. Upon a great tip from a friend, we tried and got some initial internet pricing. Sending emails back and forth between dealerships within a 50 mile radius, the price kept on dropping, from about $26500 to $22400 for the same model and options. You might have to be flexible on the color. At the end I never had to have the one on one conversation with the car salesman in his office, going back and forth with 'his manager' on the price. We did have a great price in hand when we drove up to the dealer, about 50 miles from here.

The trade-in was simple. The trade-in was negotiated at the dealership. First of all, I made it clear that the deal was {trade-in,new car}, and not new car alone. I was willing to leave if I didn't get a good price on the old car. We had a price in mind and when their offer was about dead on, we felt we might be able to get something more. We negotiated about a few options on the new car and kept the trade-in price fixed. For example, a new back bumper protector is $80. However the cost for the dealer is much less, so it was easy for them to throw in such items.

Lastly, although it is said, that financing the car is beneficial to the dealership and you might be able to get a cheaper price (as some of it is recovered by the dealer in loan-recruitment-fees), it didn't appear to have a difference or our final price. Having cash on hand helps in my opinion.

Thus, negotiating over the internet and willing to drive a few miles has made buying a car fun and without too much hassle.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Counting Down

De zes koersen van Flanders Classics:

  • zat 26/02 - Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

  • woe 23/03 - Dwars door Vlaanderen

  • zon 27/03 - Gent-Wevelgem

  • zon 03/04 - Ronde van Vlaanderen

  • woe 06/04 - Scheldeprijs Schoten

  • woe 13/04 - Brabantse Pijl

  • (PS - That's European date notation)

    Saturday, February 05, 2011


    Oh, we parted with our beloved and trusted little 1998 Honda Civic EX today. It was time. We spent many great times in this car. From the trips to Mount Shasta and Crater Lake to a hasty trip to Los Angeles to the Argentine embassy. We brought our first born son home in this car. And our second born daughter. We moved many boxes in it when we moved to San Mateo. It has been a great commuter car every day up and down highway 101 to Mountain View. A testament to the reliability of Honda. 

    But now at one hundred and seventy three thousand miles, it was time to part with it. We traded it in when we bought a Subaru Forester. In what must be a weird scene at a car dealership: we posed for pictures with the kids next to a green little and since recent smog puffing monster. 

    Adieu, you served us well. 

    The green little monster