Europe

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.

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...

TV in Europe vs. the US - amazing culture/technology shock

In addition to a visit to the European headquarters of Altova GmbH in Vienna earlier this week, I'm also spending 2 days with my folks in Linz, Austria. Its good to be back home for a bit and we are having a great time here - despite the nasty cold that I caught earlier in the week.

But when we watched a bit of TV after dinner, the huge cultural and technology differences between TV in Europe (in particular in Austria) vs. TV in the US became quite apparent...

Positive things first: we watched a German movie adaption of a Donna Leon novel about Commissario Brunetti, and it was done quite nicely. I was especially delighted to watch 2h of movie on a regular TV station with no commercial breaks whatsoever. It's much harder to do e-mail or Twitter on your iPhone while watching TV if you have to pay attention all the time due to a lack of commercial breaks. :)

Issue #1: there is still no HDTV programming. Yes, there maye be one or two satellite providers who provide HDTV over a dish, but the normal cable TV that is in 90% of households does not include a single HDTV channel. Compare that to a minimum of at least 10-15 high-def channels in the US by now.

Issue #2: when I looked at the TV guide and also did a bit of channel-surfing, I was astounded that I was (a) unable to find a single channel that would broadcast the World Series game tonight (but I could watch soccer on 5 channels - thanks, but not thanks!); and (b) the total number of channels was 34. No, I'm not saying that my folks only paid for the 34 standard cable channels at the lowest price - the brutal reality is that there is only a maximum of 34 channels total. That's it.

I would have thought that over the past 6-7 years Europe would have caught up wih the US a bit with respect to TV technology and avalable selections, but that doesn't seem to be the case at all.

Smoke gets in your eyes...

You know, it's really strange: it has only been a little over 6 years since we relocated from Europe to the US, and yet certain customs over here are by now totally alien to me. For example, take smoking: I cannot remember the last time that I was bothered by smoking in the US (not even in Las Vegas last week). Today I met with Alexander Schaelss, an old friend of mine, at a Kaffeehaus (i.e. cafe) and we later went to have dinner at a Beisl (i.e. local restaurant) in the first district. The amazing thing was that both in the cafe and at the restaurant people at the next table were smoking numerous cigarettes and it was totally acceptable to everybody. Never mind that I found it offensive and it impacted my enjoyment of the Einspaenner (i.e. a strong black coffee with whipped cream on top) or the Schweinsbraten (i.e. pork roast)...
I hear that in Italy that have already passed a law (similar to the US) banning smoking in public places, offices, and restaurants. I can't wait for that to happen in Austria, too!

Update: it appears that our discussion yesterday has inspired my dear friend - Alexander Schaelss is now on Twitter, too.