Sunday, December 30, 2007

Snowbike

Most gadgets that I blog about are somewhat electronic in nature, and often connectivity plays an important role. Today's gadget has no electronics, isn't connected to any network, and still beats most other gadgets in its design, usability, and ingenious concept.

I am talking about the Brenter Snowbike, which is somewhat of a cross between a mountain bike and skis. I had the opportunity today to try the snowbike for 2 hours and enjoyed the experience greatly:

AlfSnowbike

As a matter of fact, I had so much fun, that I am going to rent a snowbike all day tomorrow and have some more fun on the slopes. Driving a snowbike is incredibly easy to learn - provided you already have mastered two other skills previously: skiing and riding a bike.

After two test runs on the beginner slope we went up the mountain and on the regular slopes and had a blast. In a timed run, I was skiing downhill on the bike at a speed of 48 km/h (30 mph).

More photos of our lesson today are on my SmugMug photo web site.

Here is another cool tidbit: the owner of the ski school that we rented the snowbike from is Hermann Koch, and I chatted with him after dinner at the hotel tonight. Turns out that he just recently set a Guinness world record: on March 22, 2007, Hermann Koch and Harald Brenter (the inventor of the snowbike) skied downhill 107,400 vertical feet in 11 hours.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Holidays and a prosperous New Year

It is this time of the year again. After a very busy fall season with several trade shows, product launches, and musical adventures we are finally finding some peaceful days to enjoy the holidays, spend time with the family, and enjoy a few vacation days in Vienna, Austria.

We greatly enjoyed watching the Nutcracker at the Staatsoper (State Opera) last week, and while I could not take any photos inside, the Opera building looks quite spectacular from the outside, too:

Opera

 

Yesterday we packed our suitcases again and continued our journey towards Salzburg and the small village of Obertauern in the Alps. The flight to Salzburg was just fantastic with a thick blanket of fog covering many of the smaller valleys and low foothills.

1X5F0140

 

And the approach to Salzburg airport was quite impressive, too. Is there really an airport somewhere underneath those clouds?

SalzburgApproach

 

Upon arrival in Salzburg we were greeted by frigid temperatures and copious amounts of snow on the ground. Even the luggage carts at the airport had a beautiful icicle display to offer:

Icicles

 

The drive from the airport into the Alps to the village of Obertauern was great. The landscape is just so pretty and the mountains left and right got steeper and steeper the closer we came to our final destination.

Trees 

After checking into the hotel, we immediately went to rent skis and poles and were on the slopes in the afternoon already. The ski area here is indeed one of the best places on the planet. Tons of lifts and trails, perfect slopes, well groomed every night, and not too many people. We are going to enjoy the next 10 days here, no doubt!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2008!

Swanee, Calvin, Nora, and Alexander Falk

 

P.S. You can find more photos from 2007 on my personal photo web site on SmugMug...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Atomic Clocks, Street Views, and Flash Disks

A few random things caught my eye today:

GPS has brought atomic precision time to us in the form of small portable GPS devices, as well as network time-servers that sync with the GPS data. The time from the GPS satellites comes to us with such precision, because the satellites carry cesium atomic clocks on board and are synchronized with ground-based clocks and being corrected for relativistic effects.
But for some folks getting the atomic time from GPS is not enough - they call themselves "Time Nuts" and have atomic clocks (such as the 5071A) at home as a hobby. See also this nice article in Wired today. Wow! I've always loved time, clocks, calendar calculations, leap seconds, and physics. I guess that's a hobby that I could get into, too....

From atomic clocks and GPS it is only a small leap to navigation, which brings us to cartography, which brings us to Google Maps - and the second item of interest today: Google has launched Street View in eight new cities in the US, including Boston. Very cool.

Last, but not least, here is something I want in my next laptop: Toshiba announced a 128GB Flash HDD yesterday. My current laptop has a 80GB conventional disk drive, and it looks like the form factor of that Toshiba drive would allow for an actual replacement.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Best Christmas Present Ever

The holiday season is upon us and today we did a little Christmas (and Hanukkah) celebration in the office. I got the Best Christmas Present Ever from the entire staff here at Altova, Inc.:

Fenway Park Bleacher Seats

These are authentic Fenway Park Bleacher Seats, removed in November 2007, and they come complete with certificate of authenticity, holographic authentication stickers, and - most important of all - some chewing gum still stuck on the bottom.

As part of their renovation program for Fenway Park, the Red Sox did apparently sell the old seats to fans, and the gang here at Altova managed to pull off the impossible and get me a pair.

IMG_2943

For the time being I am keeping them in my office - until the new house is ready in a few years - and we've rearranged the furniture to make them part of the seating area. That way they will actually be used for our weekly team meetings and are also available for visitors.

If you want to know how happy I am about these seats, just look at the grin on my face in this picture to the left.

Thank you guys! You've really made my day!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

XML 2007 (or not), IE8, and Google on the iPhone

XML 2007 ended in Boston today and despite planning to go to the conference today, I unfortunately missed the event due to some time constraints at work. Elliotte Rusty Harold blogged from the conference (thank you!), and he was asking if nobody else was reporting live from the event. Well, I was planning to do so, but couldn't. Sorry.

The one talk that I had really wanted to go to was by Irina Kogan (IBM) and Dr. Nick Nagel (Altova) who spoke on "XML-Driven Database Design and Information Retrieval" this afternoon - fortunately the presentation slides can be found here so I can read up on what I missed.

In other interesting news today:

I've already played with the Google interface on the iPhone and it is really nicely done. I get Google search, GMail, and Reader all nicely integrated and with a slick iPhone like UI.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

OOXML Resolutions to ISO Comments - a closed process to create an open standard?

It appears that Microsoft has now provided 662 responses to the ISO comments on DIS29500 (Office Open XML) through Ecma, but those responses are presently only available to members of the ISO voting organizations through password-protected access. This move is already gathering much criticism from the ODF camp.

Guess what: those responses are neither provided in ODF format nor in OOXML. They are 662 individual PDF files. How ironic is that...?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Fortune Cookie

With a snow storm approaching the Boston area we decided to gas up the car (it was almost empty) and get Chinese takeout tonight. Apparently a lot of other folks had the same idea, because there was a huge line both at the gas station and at the Chinese restaurant.

After dinner, my son found this in his fortune cookie:

If your cookie is in 2 pieces, the answer is yes.

It doesn't get any better than that...

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Golden Compass Movie Sneak Preview

We got to see a sneak preview of the upcoming Golden Compass movie today - six days before it opens nationwide in cinemas. The movie is certainly beautiful to watch - the renditions of some of the technological marvels of that other universe are elaborate and impressive. And the acting isn't bad either. However, the shape-shifting of the kids' dæmons was quite disappointing (they shift so fast that you don't get to see any nice CGI-transitions at all). And the story has been brutally mangled as it was turned into a screenplay: important aspects of character-development are missing, entire sections of certain chapters are missing (e.g. the ambassador of the witches), the sequence of events has been overturned (e.g. Bolvangar vs. fight of the bears for the throne), and the end has been turned from a breath-taking, earth-shattering, and tearing-the-sky-open cliff-hanger into a mediocre happy ending, Hollywood-style.

Furthermore it appears that the Authority still has a strong grip on affairs in our universe: the movie doesn't dare to criticize the Church and only calls it the "Magisterium" and even the church buildings in the movie have only a fleeting resemblance to cathedrals and look more like a cross between Metropolis and greenhouses.

Nonetheless, one of the positive things about the movie is that you can visit the movie website and do a quick test to meet your own dæmon - here is a picture of mine, and her name is Hypatia:

GoldenCompass_Hypatia_Cropped

I really like that tiger - I think I'm going to keep my dæmon.

So what it all boils down to is this: I recently read the entire His Dark Materials trilogy on the Sony Reader (a few months before the Kindle came out) and the Golden Compass book is just so much better than the movie. If you haven't read it yet, do yourself a favor and get the book before you watch the movie!