Thursday, December 20, 2007


I am fortunate to work with a great group of people that I can also consider as friends. One of those people gave me these gifts today. It doesn't take much imagination to figure out how the jelly bean dispenser works. As for the bunny, it's clear that my friend knows me pretty well.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Words and Rice

A little squirrel told me about this site:


It's a fun game and it is for a good cause. I just tried it this morning and reached level 43 and donated roughly 3000 grains of rice. I was curious about how much rice equaled a single serving so I did some searching on the net. This article seemed reasonable and concluded that 10,340 grains of rice was contained in 1 cup, but I found some other information that contradicted this. So, I did the only thing I could and counted some grains for myself.

I counted the number of grains of Kroger brand Long Grain Brown Rice that would fill one of my teaspoons, I then counted the number of teaspoons required to fill 1/4 cup.

~300 grains per teaspoon
9 teaspoons per 1/4 cup

So, that's just about 10,800 grains per cup. It turns out that the article is really close to what I counted, so I feel comfortable with the number. For the Kroger rice that equals roughly 640 calories. That's not too bad. You could probably donate enough rice to provide for the total calorie requirements of a single child with 25,000 grains per day.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

It's Snoopy!

We like to decorate around the office for holidays. This year for Christmas we split into teams and turned it into a contest. I won't name names, but an opposing team spent literally hours of time to turn the entrance to our office into a winter wonderland. My team, consisting of me, Rich, Grant and Mary decided that we wouldn't go to such extreme lengths. Instead, we focused on tradition and simplicity... Peanuts. Obviously, we should win.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Last night I went to see Suzanne Vega perform at the Variety Playhouse. This was my first time seeing her perform in person. I was somehow surprised that she sounds virtually exactly the same live as she does on her CDs. I suppose that is an indication that her CDs are not over-produced and that she is just a really superior singer / songwriter. She started the show by singing "Tom's Diner" a capella. I think she did that to get it out of the way since so many people know her by that one song (including me for a long time). She then proceeded to sing a variety of the songs from her latest CD as well as many of her better known older songs; many songs she sang with very little instrumental accompaniment. She provided nice backstories to describe the history of the songs she performed and even tossed in a bit of humor at the expense of Rod Stewart. It was a thoroughly enjoyable show. I overheard someone say that he felt like "he had been put under a spell" for the duration of her performance. I think that is a good way to describe the experience. I hope she comes back again soon as I would gladly attend another of her shows.

Friday, November 23, 2007


I took Mom and Dad to Florida over the week of Thanksgiving so they would have the opportunity to visit two of my aunts that live there. We first went to visit my mom's sister-in-law who lives in Lehigh Acres. It's been more than 20 years since we've seen her, so I suppose it was just about time. On the way we stopped in Sarasota to see the ocean. We weren't there for very long, but I think it made an impression on my mom; she's already planning a future vacation there. From Lehigh Acres we then drove back north to Ocala to visit my dad's sister. It hasn't been nearly as long between visits with her, but the area really has changed a lot. I put up some pictures from the trip on flickr

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Game Day

Dad and I went to the Georgia Tech vs. North Carolina game today. My brother-in-law has season tickets and was kind enough to let us have use of his seats. The last time I watched a Tech football game in person was when I was a freshman there. So, it's been a long time. Both Dad and I had a great time. He was reminded of his days in high school when he played the baritone in the school band. 

It was an exciting game. This shot was just after we scored a touchdown. It's difficult for me to say if I had more fun watching the game or more fun experimenting with my new camera. This was the first chance I've had to use it since buying it last weekend. I blew through my 2 GB CompactFlash card quite easily, and I was being conservative in what I chose to shoot. It's a good thing that I have an 8 GB card on order. It won't be difficult to fill.

This was a shot of the winning team. We won the game in the last 15 seconds with a field goal. To say that the stadium was energized would be an understatement. It was really an awesome game; the weather was picture perfect, the game was filled with action, I had a fun new toy to play with, and Dad and I got to spend the day together.

Garden State

I was in New Jersey last week attending a conference for work. Most of the week was spent indoors. That wasn't really a problem since it was also mostly rainy throughout the week. On Friday, however, the sun came out and the natural beauty and color of the changing leaves became apparent. These pictures do not do justice to the intensity of the colors. Unfortunately, I had my camera set for taking pictures of white boards in dim conference rooms and I forgot to change the settings before snapping shots outdoors. The last time I was in New Jersey I was under the impression that the state was mostly monochrome. I actually was looking at video from a color camera and thought there was a problem because everything appeared in varying shades of gray. I must now admit that my first experience was not at all typical of what I saw this time. Now I understand why it's called "The Garden State."

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Big One

Persistence pays off. On Friday morning I saw on dealnews a particularly good price for the Canon EOS 40D body and Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens at Circuit City. Thanks to a coupon that provided an additional 10% off the sale price if picked up in the store, it was possible to buy the kit for about $250 less than it is currently sold from most reputable dealers. I have been waiting for this camera to hit the stores and this deal was just way too good to pass up. I jumped onto the Circuit City website and placed my order with the intention of picking it up from the CC near work.

Grant and I ventured over to the store on our way back to the office from lunch. They were having some computer problems at the store when I arrived, so the customer service representative wasn't immediately able to locate my order. He sought help from someone in the camera department and came walking back up to the counter empty handed. They didn't have the camera in stock and allegedly no other store anywhere near Atlanta did either! I was annoyed. He offered to special order it, but said that it would take 2 weeks to arrive. Ugh! I told him just to cancel the order. I received my $24 gift card as their compensation for not having the item available 24 minutes after I ordered, per their advertised policy. Great... I now had a gift card for $24 but not the awesome deal on the camera I've been waiting for.

I checked their website when I arrived back at the office and it confirmed that the camera was unavailable unless I felt like driving to Chattanooga. It was the "Big One" that got away.

This evening on a whim I decided to check the CC website one more time. Impossible! It said that the kit was available for pickup from the store a few miles away from me in Acworth. I placed my order online for the kit and a high-speed CompactFlash card and this time called the store to verify that they REALLY had the camera in stock. The CSR confirmed that they did. Happy day! I drove to the store and picked up the kit along with the memory card. It was even better than the "Big One." The best part was that due to the lower taxes in my county and the $24 gift card I received for my inconvenience yesterday, I paid $41.82 less out of pocket than I would have on the original, awesome deal.

This would have been a Disney movie happy ending if not for one small "gotcha." They gave me an SD memory card instead of CompactFlash! So, unfortunately, I'm going to have to go back to the store tomorrow to exchange the card for the right type. It's annoying, but at least I still have a great camera at a great price. I'm really looking forward to being able to take shots with it. I love my PowerShot SD800 IS, but my new bundle of joy will provide me with a completely new world of options to explore in photography. I look forward to sharing my experiments.

UPDATE: The exchange of the SD card for the CompactFlash card went just about as well as I expected. I showed my receipt to the customer service representative and then showed the box containing the incorrect product. She was new, so she had to ask a supervisor what to do. After finding out that she should just return the SD card and then ring up the CompactFlash card she instructed me to go back to the camera department to bring the correct item to the desk. Sure, I could do that. I walked back there to discover that the card I needed was in a locked display case. The only employee in that part of the store was helping / flirting with a small group of young ladies as they searched for a camera. I realized this wasn't going to go anywhere fast so I went back up to the front of the store and asked the CSR if anyone else could unlock the display. They paged someone to the camera department and asked for me to go back there to wait for them. I went back to the display case and waited about 5 minutes (felt like 10 or more) for someone to show up. It was the same guy that was helping the young ladies (apparently he was the only person with the key). I took my card back up to the front desk and the CSR proceeded to ring up the order. Uh oh... The price didn't match what I paid. I informed her that was correct since I received a 10% discount on the item for picking it up in the store from the online order. She looked puzzled and thought she should still charge me EVEN THOUGH MY ORIGINAL RECEIPT WAS FOR THIS ITEM. She went back and contacted her supervisor again. The supervisor authorized the "discount" and was about to leave when she noticed that the SD card box was open. She asked me if I had opened it. "Yes," I said. That was how I realized I was given THE WRONG ITEM. She let it go and that was that. So, I finally got the right card and my order is now complete. I certainly don't like dealing with Circuit City and I wouldn't recommend it as a first choice to anyone, however this bargain was just too good to pass up. Unfortunately, I'll be out of town for the next week so I won't have a chance to experiment much with my new camera (I don't feel like taking it with me on a business trip where I'll most likely be in a hotel conference room all week). I'll try to get some pictures of interesting things posted up over the next couple of weeks, though.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Like 2 million of my closest friends, I bought a copy of OS X 10.5 over the weekend (actually, I pre-ordered it so it was waiting for me when I came home from work last Friday). I'm not going to go into a product review since there are plenty already out there, including some that explore the finer details of the new OS. There is a lot to be happy about. Yes, I've found a few bugs already, but they are nothing compared to what most people would probably expect from an initial release of an operating system (ever heard of Vista?). The improvements to the already excellent OS X 10.4 are substantial. The screenshot above is an example of one of the new features. It's a fairly old feature by UNIX standards (multiple desktops), but as usual Apple pulled it off with extra style. The transition between spaces is extremely smooth and you can view all of them quite easily with this all-in-one perspective. You'll notice than I'm running Safari in my first space, then iTunes in another, Windows XP full screen in yet another space, and finally Ubuntu 7.10 full screen in the final space. This is all running simultaneously in case it isn't obvious from the picture. I have to give credit to VMWare Fusion for making it possible to run both Windows and Linux, but on top of OS X everything feels as fast and responsive as if nothing else was happening on the system.

I'm more pleased with my iMac purchase with each passing day.

The Fog Rolled In

The fog rolled into the office this morning. It is a foreboding sign of the Halloween terror to come.

The eerie mist permeates every crypt.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Target

I think this makes for a nice Halloween-themed picture.

This is a Styrofoam cup that we have hanging in our office. It is a great target for rubber band shooting practice. As you can see, it has been nearly torn in half by the fury of the projectiles. Today will be the day that we complete the evisceration.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Morning Visitor

I had a little visitor peek in this morning. Dad likes to throw acorns out in the backyard. Evidently this squirrel likes to pick them up. I was very pleased that it posed for this picture. In the background you can see one of the bird houses that Dad made. Right now my yard is a haven for birds, squirrels, chipmunks, lizards, and the occasional cat that likes to visit with the birds, squirrels, chipmunks and lizards.

Gold Rush Days

Yesterday I took Mom, Dad and Simon to the Gold Rush Days festival in Dahlonega. This was actually an accident. I meant to take them to Helen, but I had a slight mix-up in my brain as to where I was driving. It worked out okay, though, since the festival was going on. This was a type of nice surprise. Even late in the day it was packed with people browsing the booths, enjoying the food and otherwise having a good time. I don't particularly care for buying stuff at events like this, but I enjoy taking pictures and watching the people.

Mom seemed to really like these wire sculptures. They were made to look like a band and swayed with the music that was playing (due to their spring-like nature). I really don't know where one would display something like this, and I don't think anyone else did either since I never saw anyone buy anything from this guy, but they do make for an interesting booth.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Rowan's Is Closing!

I suppose the sign says it all; my favorite, used music store is closing up shop. I'll have to find a new place to find a bargain. It's tough to beat 5 discs for $21.20 including tax. Anyone have any suggestions?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Gift Of Fine Art

I received this finely wrapped gift this morning for my birthday. My little friend, M., did an excellent job with the decoration of the paper. You may find this piece prominently displayed on my desk at work. Within it was a framed photograph of an Anartica iceberg by the renowned polar researcher, Charles R. Stearns. This was a very cool gift indeed.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Fermented Tea?

There's no telling what one might find in the office kitchen in the morning. Today, Rich and I discovered a jug of fermenting tea. It's a little difficult to see in the picture, but the jug looked like it was ready to pop. There was a nice hissing sound as I unscrewed the cap to pour it down the drain. It apparently was left sitting on the counter since last Thursday. We didn't try any of it, but I doubt it would be as good as Kombucha is supposed to be.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Start Of The Fall Season

The familiar, golden light of sunset greeted me on my first evening trip of the season to Kennesaw Mountain. I generally like to park along Burnt Hickory Road and then walk north up the trail that crosses over Pigeon Hill, Little Kennesaw Mountain and then Kennesaw Mountain. I think I am most at peace when walking the trails and sitting on the top of the mountain.
With a few squirrels, chipmunks, birds and crickets, I watched the sun retire for the day and welcomed the evening. There was one particularly sassy chipmunk that gave me a stern "chirping" as I tried to get a good look at it. I don't think it appreciated my attention. I would have taken a picture if I could, but the light was far, far too dim for any sort of shot.

This is the crescent moon as seen from the top of Pigeon Hill. By this point it was really dark, but I had to stop and sit for a while to appreciate this view. I look forward to many more sunsets on the mountain over the coming months.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


I just spent the evening performing the iPhone 1.1.1 jailbreak. I followed a combination of steps from the guide found at iPhone Alley and the one from the iPhone Dev Team. I ran into a few bumps along the way, and this certainly isn't a task that I could imagine a casual computer user performing, but it was worth it. I actually can't believe I didn't hack my iPhone earlier. There is something very cool about being able to SSH into a phone. Now I just have to figure out why my chat client isn't logging in.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Today we all left work a bit early to go bowling. It was a company event to celebrate the departure of one of our most beloved coworkers. She is on to bigger and better opportunities closer to her home in our office in Switzerland. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to have a party, although it really doesn't take much for us to find a reason to have a party. 

Fun was had by all in attendance. We were split up into four lanes, so it was a bit difficult to keep up with all of the action. We had a similar bowling outing a couple of years ago and I think that the skill level in our office has definitely been kicked up a notch or two. It was a particularly notable event for me; I think 152 may be my highest score ever. It was a COMPLETE fluke as I normally am happy to break 100. The picture below shows the scores from our final set. It was a good game for the elusive "C" as well (initial covered here by screen instructions). She suddenly came on strong in the second half of the game to score a very respectable 136.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Las Vegas

I just recently returned from a trip to Las Vegas. My coworkers and I were able to successfully complete our business there, and I was able to go out for a few hours each night to take pictures. So to me, it was a very good trip. I took literally hundreds of shots, but there are only a few I feel are worth sharing. I posted them on flickr for your viewing pleasure.

This was my first real visit to Las Vegas. I was amazed by the over-the-top grandeur of the place. The lights, colors, sounds and people were almost enough to distract me from the ever present stench of cigarette smoke that permeated virtually every building. The smoky atmosphere wouldn't be enough to keep me from wanting to return, though; there is still so much to see and photograph. Next time I'll just bring some allergy medication.

I tried my hand at the slot machines and walked away with a $24 loss. I suppose that isn't too bad. I watched some folks play craps. It looks like a very interesting game, but I didn't feel that I understood the rules well enough to put any money on the table. I think I'd like it much more than playing slot machines. Maybe I'll give it a go next time.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Suite

They were out of non-smoking rooms by the time we arrived last night. I ended up with a slightly nicer, smoke-smelling room. Grant, however, was put in a suite. Here are some shots from and of Grant's Palace.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

At The Airport

Grant and I are waiting at the airport for our flight. Fortunately, our gate is near the bathrooms; We just drank dinner.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Who Needs A Key?

I was painting a few things for work in my garage this afternoon, so I decided to leave the garage door open to let the fumes air out. Being somewhat safety conscious, I locked the door to the garage from the house so that someone couldn't just walk in unannounced. I'm attempting to sell my house so this isn't completely unrealistic. The problem with this idea is that I have Schlage locks. For any of you familiar with these locks, they'll let you out but they won't let you back in. Well, I went back out to the garage to check on the progress of the paint without thinking about the locked door. It didn't take long for me to realize what I had just done to myself.

I (foolishly) don't have a spare key anywhere outside the house, so that really left me with just two alternatives:

a) Go over to a neighbor and use their phone to call a locksmith.
b) Use a big hammer to smash my way through the lock.

As you can tell from the picture, I chose option 'b'. It turns out those Schlage locks are really tough. I basically had to completely demolish the side of the handle facing me so that I could gain access to the mechanism inside. Even after doing that, it took me some time to find just the right sized tool to wedge in the lock so I could release the latch. I'm sure someone skilled in breaking and entering could have done the job more quickly, but overall I was pleased by how secure the lock turns out to be.

My door is now held shut with some invisible tape, a bottle of Purex laundry detergent, two hand towels and a piece of junk mail. I'll be making a trip to Home Depot tomorrow afternoon to fix this properly. The handle was losing its finish anyway, so this was probably a good thing.

I'm sure there is a lesson to be learned here. I think it has something to do with not locking yourself out of your own house.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Another One Bytes The iPhone

I won't name names, but another of my coworkers decided to buy an iPhone. The Cult grows...

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Another Reason Why I Really Like Apple

Yesterday the price of the iPhone was reduced to $399 from the $599 that I happily paid just over two months ago. Several of the folks at work thought that would really irritate the early adopters, like me. Apparently from what I've read online, that is exactly what happened with many of my fellow iPhone owners. I was somewhat baffled by this. I bought the device because I felt it was worth $600 to ME. Why should I be upset if someone else can now buy it for $400? Do I somehow lose out because it now is more affordable to more people? I still have just as much utility from my iPhone today as I did yesterday or the day before.

Imagine my surprise when I saw that Apple is offering a $100 store credit to those of us who purchased the iPhone early on. They certainly didn't have to do something like this, but it is very good for PR and for their business in general. Sure, I didn't feel ripped off because they dropped the price, but I'm not an idiot; I'll gladly take the $100 credit and apply it to the purchase of Leopard next month.

Looking back on the situation, I'd almost bet that they had this planned. It's a great way to drum up a lot of publicity and then show how good they are to their customers. Regardless, I'll continue to buy Apple products. To me, they are worth it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

My New iMac

I have no problem admitting that I have been absorbed into the Cult of Mac. It started with the iPod. I, as did many of my coworkers, received a 30GB iPod as a sort of bonus for a significant product release a couple of years ago. As a result, I started to use iTunes and paid more attention in general to Apple's products. A few months later I found myself picking up a used 12" PowerBook G4. I was impressed with how small, yet functional the device was. No Windows laptop I had ever used came close. I was pretty much hooked. Even though I had a Windows PC that was superior, in terms of speed, to the PowerBook, I used the Mac almost exclusively. I've long been a fan of BSD UNIX and fundamentally that is what OS X is... but with a much nicer GUI than anything else out there. As I've previously documented, I then took the plunge and purchased an iPhone earlier this summer. And now, my conversion is complete; I bought a new 24" iMac. I decided to go all out and purchase the model with a 2.8 GHz Core 2 Duo processor. I then upgraded the memory to 4GB after receiving it (memory upgrades are generally a rip-off from the manufacturer, whether it be Apple or Dell).
The screen is BEAUTIFUL and the machine is very, very fast. Unfortunately, I haven't found CD ripping and transcoding software for OS X that I like as much as EAC and foobar2000, so I use VMware Fusion to run Windows XP in a VM when I need to rip a CD. Even running in a VM (and only allowing the VM to use a single core), the process of transcoding from FLAC to AAC is roughly 10 - 15% faster than it was when running XP natively on my Windows machine that had an Athlon 64 3200 and 1 GB of memory. I no longer have any computers natively running Windows at my house and I doubt I ever will again.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

How To Rip A CD

This might seem like one of the most mundane and obvious tasks, right? You just stick the disc in your computer and let iTunes or Windows Media Player do the rest. Sure, you can do that... if you don't care at all about the quality of what you put into your ears. I don't consider myself to be an audiophile, but I am very concerned about making sure the song I'm listening to via my iPhone, iPod or computer is indistinguishable (to me) from the way it was intended to be heard directly from the CD. This is not as simple of a goal as it may seem.

Here is a nice description of the problem. If you want a bit perfect copy of a track (meaning, exactly the same data that makes up the song on the disc) as starting material for whatever compression format you choose, you have to use software like CD Paranoia or EAC to rip the track to a file. I use EAC v0.95 beta 4 as my ripping application of choice. It, when combined with AccurateRip, virtually guarantees an exact duplication of the audio data. Basically, EAC reads the data from the disc as reliably as possible and then compares the result on a track-by-track basis with the version obtained from other AccurateRip users. If the version of the file you obtain compares exactly to the version obtained by someone else using a different computer and different disc, it is safe to say that file truly is an exact duplication of the data from the disc.

Okay, so now that I have an application to use to rip the data, what do I do with it? I rip the tracks from the CD to FLAC files. If you think about it, ripping the track is the most important part of the process. Once you've extracted the song from the CD and are confident it is a perfect version of the source material, you can convert it in any way you want later on. If you rip directly to a lossy format, like AAC or MP3, you are counting on the fact that you never damage or lose your original CD. I prefer to have the FLAC files as a backup. It also makes it MUCH easier if I should decide to re-encode to a different lossy format or better version of the same lossy format down the road.

I don't just encode directly to a lossy format from the FLAC source. This article summarizes the problem nicely. First, I use foobar2000 to perform a ReplayGain analysis of the files. It stores both track and album gain adjustments to the metadata in each of the FLAC files. I then apply the album gain adjustment to each track when finally encoding it to a lossy format. The reason for applying the album gain is that some tracks are meant to be quieter or louder in relation to the other tracks from the same album.

I have tried both MP3 and AAC compression. I originally decided upon MP3 since that format is virtually universally playable and if you use LAME as the encoder at one of its transparent settings, the result is virtually indistinguishable from the original recording. However, I have found problems with MP3 concerning the way various applications (Windows Media Player) can mess with the tags in the file. The problem stems from the fact that the tag format has multiple versions and not every application seems to play nicely when it comes to using them. Furthermore, MP3 is an aging format. Even with an encoder as good as LAME, there are technical limitations to the standard. I performed my own ABX listening test using a variety of source material with my Shure E2c earphones (the best "speakers" I have). I have found, for my own purposes, that I cannot tell the difference among the original FLAC file, a 160 kbps VBR AAC version of the file or a 225 kbps VBR MP3 version of the file. What does that mean? I now use AAC since it sounds identical to the original recording and doesn't take up much space. Again, not just any old AAC encoder will do. I have done some research on the topic and it seems that the free Nero Digital Audio Codec does the best job of producing high quality AAC tracks.

The last step in this process is to obtain high quality album art and embed it in each file. I have found that the iTunes store is generally one of the best places to get art. Most of the art obtained from there is 600x600 pixels in size and suffers from very few compression artifacts. The problem with iTunes, however, is that it doesn't actually embed the image in the file. This is fine if you only use Apple software or hardware to listen to the music since it will move a copy of the image with the songs for you, but I tend to prefer to have the art actually contained within the metadata of each track. I use iTunes to retrieve the art; then I extract the art from iTunes and save it off as a separate image file. I then use iTunes to embed the art directly into the metadata. If iTunes doesn't have the art, I have found that Amazon is the next best place to look. They offer 500x500 size images at the highest resolution, but they can still be of very good quality.

The end result is a portable, album gain adjusted, virtually indistinguishable from the original version of each track from a given album that contains the highest possible quality album art I could find. Here is a summary of the process in stepwise form:

Using EAC with AccurateRip:
1) Rip CD to a collection of FLAC files.

Using foobar2000:
2) Perform ReplayGain analysis of FLAC files.
3) Apply album gain and encode to AAC using the Nero Digital Audio encoder.

Using iTunes:
4) Find the album art and embed the art in each file.
5) Enjoy the music.

If you want to know more about any of the settings you should use for EAC, foobar2000, Nero, LAME, etc. I suggest first reading the forums at Hydrogenaudio. It is an excellent source of information and many of the developers that work on this software actively participate in discussions there.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Coffee Time

I bought a French press when I was in Germany. I have considered buying one for a while and noticed this one in a window while walking to dinner. This one liter model was less expensive than I was able to find similar, smaller presses for on Amazon. The press is just one piece of the coffee making puzzle. I didn't have a coffee grinder or a thermal carafe to hold the coffee after brewing, so I went out yesterday on a hunt for the appropriate equipment. I wanted a red coffee grinder since I use red as the primary accent color in my kitchen. Yes, it's all about the color. I found this KitchenAid model at BrandsMart USA. While there I also picked up this black thermal carafe. They only had black, white and steel carafes, but I'll keep an eye out for a decent red one at a good price.

This morning was my first occasion to put all of the equipment to use. I don't doubt that the placebo effect had something to do with it, but I found the coffee I brewed to taste much better than the coffee produced with my automatic drip coffee maker. I enjoyed several cups along with my breakfast of multi-grain bread and butter, and a bowl of mixed fruit. While dining I listened to Fiona Apple's Extraordinary Machine. I picked it up yesterday along with a few other discs from Rowan's while I was on my expedition for equipment.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Whirly Ball

We had a company outing of sorts yesterday evening. Several of us from work went to play Whirly Ball. I didn't really have high expectations; in fact, I thought it wouldn't be much fun at all, but I went along anyway since I didn't have anything else particularly interesting to do. It turns out that Whirly Ball can be a lot of fun, but the game is more difficult than one may at first think. I was pleased to be the first person in the group to actually score a goal, but my athletic performance really only had nowhere but down to go from there. Near the end of the evening we were forced to change courts due to a technical difficulty concerning a broken floor. We took a vote and decided that Squeak probably did it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Pictures From Karlsruhe And Athens

After working through two days of Comcast cable modem problems, I was finally able to post some pictures to my Flickr account. Curtis has some photos of me taking some of these photos. Namely, this one and that one.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Athens - Day 2

I woke up this morning to see that they seem to have the fire mostly under control now. The helicopters are still dropping water on it, but I think that may just be cleanup work to keep it from flaring up again. Yay!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Athens - Day 1 (Update)

Aside from the burning mountain, all is well at the end of Day 1 in Athens. As you can see from the picture above, I was able to visit the Acropolis before dinner. I think the site seeing helped to lift my colleague's spirits as well. It was very, very hot walking amongst the ruins, but it was worth the effort.

On a more serious note, at dinner we learned that our Greek host actually lives on the burning mountain. She had to evacuate her family this afternoon, but she still found the time to meet with us. We are very grateful for her generosity as I think it would be difficult for anyone to entertain guests when their home may be at risk for a disaster. We also learned from our hosts that there was another large fire a few weeks ago on a different mountain. These fires have been consuming large portions of the forest land remaining in Greece. Let's all try to pitch in a few prayers (or thoughts, if prayers aren't your thing) that the fire is contained soon.

Athens - Day 1

We just arrived in Athens and were greeted by quite a bit of adventure. The adventure actually started on the plane ride. It was one of the bumpier rides I've been on recently. It almost reminded me of the plane ride one takes when getting up to altitude for skydiving. Getting through the airport was actually quite easy as we were arriving from another EU country. Instead of taking the train system, we opted for a taxi to take us to the hotel. He wasn't really sure where it was (and I don't blame him now that I'm here), but fortunately I had multiple maps. On the way we noticed a fire on the mountainside. The picture above is from the balcony outside my room at the Hotel Nafsika. You can see a fire fighting helicopter in the scene. It's really, really windy here. I hope they have some luck containing it.

And this is a view of my room. The beds are a bit firm and I have yet to find a way to turn on the air conditioner, but the view is nice and they offer free WiFi. I don't think my colleague is too pleased with the environment just yet, but I'm sure she'll suck it up and adjust. I'm going to head out to get some pictures of the Acropolis, Parthenon, etc. I think she'll enjoy Athens much more after a little scouting. Maybe I'll find a way to turn on the AC, too. That should help.

Karlsruhe - Day 2

This picture gives you some idea of what downtown Karlsruhe is like at night. Sidewalk cafes line many of the streets and the lights invoke a warm and inviting atmosphere. I think everyone dines outside since apparently there is NO AIR CONDITIONING. Sure, some places have it, but in general it isn't very common. Now I understand why when our German colleagues visit us in Atlanta, they think the office is too cold.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Karlsruhe - Day 1

Our first day in Karlsruhe turned out well. I have many, many more pictures but I'll post those to my Flickr account next week. We arrived in Frankfurt at roughly 7:30 AM on Tuesday morning. Unfortunately for me, I did not sleep even for a little bit on the flight. This was very odd for me as I can usually sleep anywhere at almost any time. I think the problem was that I had the LCD on the bulkhead directly in front of me and movies played most of the night. The constant change in lighting was a distraction.

After arriving in Frankfurt we took the train to Karlsruhe. I was impressed by the scenery. I first noticed from the plane on the approach to the airport that Germany, at least this area of it, is much more heavily forested than I had imagined. This impression was reinforced by the train ride; we passed through what seemed like tens of miles of sparsely populated forest land.

As impressed as I was with the "green-ness" of the countryside, I was even more impressed by the city of Karlsruhe. It is clean, feels safe, has a diversity of appealing architecture and sustains a bustling feeling of life and exuberance well into the night. The city is filled with restaurants sporting outdoor dining, good beer and excellent food. The people are friendly and I just have an overall good feeling about the place. Perhaps it would be different if I lived here every day, but with the eyes of a foreigner it seems like a great place to be.

The picture above is of the centrally located palace. Most of the roads lead to this structure. It is surrounded by parks and fountains. I will spend much more time strolling its grounds should I find myself here again.

As an aside, Rich was singing "The Final Countdown" at work prior to our departure on Monday. He suggested I continue to hum / sing the song to make it stick in my traveling companion's head (we are kind to each other at work). Well, the FIRST song that came on the radio in the taxi when we arrived in Karlsruhe was "The Final Countdown". The odds of that happening have to be amazingly small. I love when stuff like that happens.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Pool Party 2007

Yesterday was a coworker's annual pool party. Drinks, fun, heat and sun were all had in abundance. Unlike for some of the other previous parties this summer, I restricted myself to mixing one type of drink: the Blue Hawaiian. It seems to be one of the more popular libations that I have offered, although I found Grant's Wai Niu to be more refreshing in the hot sun. By limiting myself to a single cocktail I was able to premix. This relieved me of the need to stay sober enough to be able to accurately measure and remember any recipes. I managed to keep my wits about me against my best efforts, but I was rewarded by the opportunity to view two new (to me) games. First, we see the illusive game Cornhole played in all its glory. Yes, Dave brought it for us all to enjoy.

Cornhole looked like it would be easy to play; it wasn't. I played twice and both times I was on the losing team. I think I may have been mostly responsible for those losses. And next, after he was much more intoxicated, we see a crowd enjoying Basket Grant.

There didn't seem to be a shortage of folks waiting to throw things at his head.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Advice From A Squirrel

Kim brought in a shirt for me this morning. As you might be able to tell, my friends at work feel the need to keep me well stocked with squirrel related paraphernalia. And what is the advice from a squirrel?
  • Look both ways when you cross the road.
  • Plan ahead.
  • Stay active.
  • Eat plenty of fiber.
  • Spend time in the woods.
  • Go out on a limb.
  • It's OK to be a little nuts!
I'd say that is all sound advice.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Quick Work

The professional wallpaper installer / remover has been here for less than 1 hour and already she has both of the largest walls done. Yes, removing wallpaper is definitely something best left done for people that really know what they're doing.

As a side note, never try to move a dryer without shoes on. I tried it. I dropped it on my foot. Ouch!!!!!