July 26 – Bourg-Saint-Maurice – Lanslebourg – Briancon – Barcelonette

The next morning we had breakfast and headed out to Lanslebourg.  Along the way we passed through Col de l’Iseran which is the highest mountain pass in the Alps.

july25-1 july26-2 july26-3

We stopped for a coffee in Lanslebourg and spotted a bunch of people in parachutes drifting off the winds from the mountain face.

july26-5 july26-4

From Lanslebourg we were off to Briançon, the second highest city in Europe.

july26-6 july26-7 july27-8 july26-9 july26-10

july26-11

We had a delightful lunch but we could see clouds gathering so the usual long lunch was a bit more rushed.  That said, the food was outstanding — especially the crepes for dessert.

After lunch we were off to Barcelonette.  After escaping the rain for most of the day, it finally caught up with us and Peter had to don his rain gear since his car didn’t have a top to close.  The rain finally passed as we neared Barcelonette.

july26-12 july26-13

We arrived at our hotel, had drinks at the bar and had another excellent meal amongst the locals.

My summer 2008 travels in Europe – Part 2: July 25 – Frankfurt/St.Tropez – Annecy – Le Grand-Bornand – Bourg-Saint-Maurice

Having made my way through St. Tropez, I was off to the French Alps to meet up with my Microsoft colleagues driving down from Frankfurt.  We arrived in Annecy, a beautiful town in the French Alps with a clear blue lake at its center.

annecy

annecy2

We enjoyed a lazy lunch and ran quite a bit over our scheduled time that Ralph so carefully put into our itinerary.  Gotta love the Germans!  From Annecy we headed over to Le Grand-Bornand for a short break.

july25-2

july25-1

And finally to Bourg-Saint-Maurice to end our first day of driving.  Despite spending more time in Annecy thanks to that lunch, we arrived at our lodge in Bourg-Saint-Maurice much earlier than planned, allowing for some time to unwind, make calls and enjoy some drinks before dinner.

july25-3

We gathered for dinner in the hotel restaurant and Peter had the first of many meals of steak and fries.

july25-4

After dinner, the chef treated us to a round of Génépi which is a regional herbal liqueur similar in aroma and taste to Chartreuse.  Since Ralph didn’t like it, I had to make sure his didn’t go to waste since I’m a big Chartreuse fan.

My summer 2008 travels in Europe – Part 1

This blog post was written while I was in transit in Europe but I couldn’t post it to my site until now.  After being overdue for both a new car and a long vacation, I decided summer 2008 would be my time to take European Delivery of a new BMW 335i hard-top convertible.

I arrived in Munich and headed to my hotel which was located in Munich’s Olympic Park, just next to BMW Welt – BMW’s new center for visitors and new car pick-up.  The building was incredible though somewhat out of place with the largely 70s Olympics development nearby.

bmw-welt1

I explored the area a bit and visited the new BMW Museum but due to jet lag I didn’t have a very big day.  After all, the next morning I had to pick up my new car first thing.

Friday morning I awoke bright and early, had breakfast, and headed to BMW Welt.  I arrived, got signed in to go to the new owners lounge on the top floor and after a short wait I was briefed on my car.  I took care of some paperwork and then enjoyed some of the yummy snacks they had up in the lounge.  That’s one benefit of Euro delivery – free BMW food (with purchase of expensive car).

After some more wifi time and snacks, I headed out to an overlook to check out the building.  Just before my scheduled pick up time, I finally saw it – my new car!!

bmw-welt2

I met my BMW rep and we went through a detailed introduction to the car’s features which included driving in a simulator.  It’s a good thing the simulator wasn’t very accurate because I managed to crash the car several times.

After the orientation, we went down to the big turntable to get the car.  We spent time in the car going over the features some more and then I finally got the keys.  With that, I was told I could drive off.  It’s a little weird driving a car around in a big open building but I think I could get the hang of it after a few times.

bmw-welt3

With that, I drove out through the garage and was on my way . . to a parking lot nearby so I could load in my luggage and go out and drive . . . to the BMW Welt parking lot so I could do my factory tour.  After the tour, I was finally ready to head out of Munich.  Unfortunately, it was drizzly that day so there was no convertible time on the maiden voyage.

I didn’t really have a particular destination in mind so I checked the weather and decided I needed to head towards sun so that meant France.  However, I wanted to go by (Lake) Bodensee and Constance.  Unfortunately, it was still raining so I didn’t get any photos of the incredible scenery.  On my way from Constance to Geneva it got dark and I saw a sudden flash from a box in the median.  One thing about Switzerland is that their speed limits are slow (120 kph) and they have speed cameras everywhere.  So I thought I might have had a souvenir photo taken on the first day driving my car.  Fortunately, I haven’t (yet) received the printed version of that photo if that’s indeed what it was.

After spending the night in Geneva, it was off to France for a short stay in Lyon where I had a friend.  After Lyon, I was off to explore southern France.  The great thing about having GPS in the car is that I could just find little towns on the map or “wander” in search of something interesting and then simply navigate back to a hotel or highway.  One revealing thing about food in France vs. the US is the portion size.  In the US, we have “Big Mac,” “Grand Slam,” “Whopper,” etc.  We love our food for its size and low cost more so than its taste.  In France, breakfast is a “petit dejeuner.”  Can you imagine anything in a US restaurant with “small” in its name?

After France, it was off to Barcelona, one of my favorite cities in the world.  I stayed at the Barcelona Princess hotel which is a fairly new, very modern design hotel near the waterfront in a newly-developed area at the end of Diagonal Mar.  In addition to the excellent decor and swanky pool, the Princess had a Bat Cave-like parking entrance/exit underneath, a free mini-bar, free Internet and a great view. Below are two photos from my hotel window.

barcelona1

barcelona2

After hitting the beach for the few remaining hours of sunlight, I grabbed a great dinner in a small cafe in an older neighborhood not far from the beach.  I explored the city in my car that night and retired to my bed early for Barcelona standards since I was still fighting jetlag.

The next morning, I was greeted by a wakeup call from a woman who sounded remarkably similar to Penelope Cruz.  I really need to see if I can get her to call me here at home though I’d probably dream more if she did.  After a small breakfast I was off to explore the neighborhood some more and then the beach at the Olympic Port.

The beach in Barcelona has an excellent clientele and little bars/cafes along the rim so you can not only work on your tan but do so with a cocktail, a live DJ and beautiful people all around you.  I was in heaven and managed to play my “I’m a slightly buzzed American trying to speak Spanish” card a few times.

barcelona3

After a jog and a shower, it was time to catch up on email and investigate my next port of call online.  I hit up a great place for paella that night, walked around the Ramblas a bit and then went for another cruise around the city and up to Mirablau – a cool little lounge at the top of the Tibidabo mountain.  I made the big mistake of forgetting my camera.

The next morning I explored the gothic quarter, got my Gaudi fix and headed up to the Costa Brava for a more natural beach scene.

The weather was sunny on the drive up but after I grabbed lunch and some sangria near the beach the clouds started rolling in and I only got a little beach time before it started raining.  That was my hint that it was time to go back to the south of France.  I stopped off in a little town near the coast there for the night, got up early, hit a cafe for breakfast and was on the road so I could spend the day in St. Tropez.

I arrived in St. Tropez early enough to get parking, which I didn’t fully appreciate until later.  I grabbed a coffee and tried to figure out where the famous beach was.  After all, I had to find Brigitte Bardot.  It turns out the major beaches are actually in a small town next to St. Tropez called Pampellone.  The beaches there each had their sections that were run by a bar/restaurant and had chairs and umbrellas to rent.  I decided I deserved another beach day with food and drinks served to me and soaked it up.

sttropez

I took a shower and then headed back to St. Tropez to explore some more and get dinner.  Once in the city limits I drove around to look for a parking space.  I checked the parking lots . . . full . . . and the on-street parking . . . full on every street . . . and circled around again . . . and again.  For a while the traffic just stopped and there was some commotion ahead.  I suddenly saw a bunch of camera flashes and figured I’d whip out my camera in case there was a celebrity walking by.  The crowd starting coming closer and the celeb starlet walked right by my car where I got a quick photo of her walking by.  I’ll bet that’s the first time she was accosted by an amateur paparazzo in a convertible.

sttropez3

sttropez4

After about an hour trying to find parking and my token celebrity sighting I decided I would cut my losses and head out of town to try and find dinner.  I found a wonderful windy road up into the mountains as the dusk set in.  Towards the top of the mountain I found La Garde-Freinet, a small town with a bunch of restaurants just off the main square.  I had a great dinner, a glass of champagne to top it off and some interesting conversation with a bunch of drunk UK girls who were staying at one of the girls’ parents’ house there.

sttropez5

lagarde

After dinner I found a hotel not far from the highway and spent the night.  The next morning, I was off to Annecy to meet up with Ralph, Peter and Michael – colleagues of mine from Microsoft who worked in Frankfurt.

More to come…

New Vista Machine

I just got a new Dell XPS 420 with Vista and I’m putting together a post that outlines the software and config things I do to a new Windows machine.  This post will be updated as I refine it.

Install

OS:

Download Apps:

Vista Gadgets:

  • Callwave Visual Voicemail
  • Callwave SMS Sender
  • Weather Underground
  • Systran language converter

Outlook accessories:

  • Hotmail Outlook Connector (now part of Windows Live install)
  • Plaxo

Windows Live:

Personal items:

Hardware Support:

Disk Apps:

  • Microsoft Office
  • Microsoft Money
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe Premiere

Configure

Internet Explorer:

  • Turn on Inline Autocomplete
  • Turn on the option for pop-ups to always display in a new tab
  • Change the registry to allow more simultaneous connections
  • Turn off click sound (Windows Sounds –> Navigate)

Windows Live Messenger

Media Center

  • Migrate scheduled recordings and setup Webguide

800 messages processed per day

Over the past few days I’ve held off on emptying my deleted items folder in Outlook to get a better sense of the number of messages I “process” per day.  The average over the past three days with very little varyance per day was 800 per day.  Granted this does include RSS feed posts I go through but it is still several hundred without them.


This doesn’t include IM, voice mail, meeting requests, personal email or text messages.


The bad news is that I am not getting to zero in my inbox each day either so there is some “carry” from one day to the next.


I’ve got to come up with a better way to handle this.  I’ve read various GTD-esque things but at some point, the incoming flow and accumulation of tasks and meetings just doesn’t average out to zero per day.


Stay tuned…

Apple, don’t try to fool your users

It really annoys me when a software vendor tries to bundle other applications with the one you downloaded and installed.  It’s even worse when they try to do it through their crapware auto update mechanism.  Adobe is guilty of this and so now is Apple.

image001

 

The problem here is that I only want QuickTime on my Windows PC.  I have never installed iTunes on it nor have I installed Safari.  Given recent security news about Safari, I’m glad I haven’t installed it.  The nice Apple Software Update app not only checks off all three applications by default but it also doesn’t give you a way to only update QuickTime.  For those wondering, you can do it but you have to ignore the Apple updater and go to the QuickTime site to download the patched installer again.

I wonder how many of the non-technical iPod users on Windows have been duped into installing Safari.

No software is bug free or perfectly secure but trustworthiness is a combination of security by design, being up front with your users when installing and updating and responding to exploits proactively, not just after a bunch of them have made the news.  On this measure, Microsoft clearly beats Apple, despite the lack of cool advertising we do.

When a product with promise disappoints…

In mid-May I bought an Argus Bean 5 MP camera from Best Buy.  I was captivated by the industrial design and ruggedness of the camera.  It can clip like a carabiner to a bag or belt loop, is weather resistant and has pretty simple controls.  Though it is designed for kids, I thought it would make for a great knock-around camera for those times when I didn’t want to lug my DSLR with me.  At $60, the price was definitely right as well. 


It got a lot of looks for its design but I found out after taking numerous pictures that it must have a strange image sensor that scans somewhat slowly to acquire the image.  I found this out because many of the pictures I took had wavy images likely caused by movement of my body when taking them.  The images also had the “video” look to them rather than the nice still images you would get from a higher end camera.


If you don’t care about pictures that look a little like the fun house mirror, this camera is great.  However, I like my pictures a bit more than that.


It is disappointing when the feature list and industrial design of product is so promising yet the core functionality and reliability betrays that design.  Perhaps I just had a lemon (or maybe a lime given the color) but I hope somebody can make an inexpensive SD card capable knock-around camera like this that takes decent pictures.  I may just have to accept my cell phone as that device though I would certainly hesitate to use it in dusty, sandy or wet conditions.


Moral of the story:  When you design a product to stand out in price, features and industrial design, make sure it doesn’t disappoint when people use it. 


Verdict: Returned.

Bay to Breakers 2008

I can’t remember my time for the last two years, but this year I managed to finish at 1:20 which meant I finished probably in the middle of the runners, before the walkers, most naked people and all drunks.


After finishing, I walked back to the 5 mile mark and met up with some coworkers who were walking as the running of the bulls to finish the race for a second time.  Of course, I think the people in Pamplona probably had as much alcohol but a bit more running speed.


After finishing we walked back again to find food around 19th and Irving and then walked further to try and find a taxi or way back.  After a long and very entertaining Muni bus ride, we made it back home where we gorged on falafel we bought at Sunrise Deli (excellent!) and wine.


I’m the one in black without the horns and with the impromptu red sash.

First post from my xo

I wanted to try out a scenario I have been desiring for a while now so I took my new xo to yerba buena gardens, got on the free wifi and did a little browsing, capped off by this post. One of the reasons I got the xo was that it has a screen with great outdoor readability.


Aside from the screen, it also is small, has great battery life, strong wifi reception and is designed to take some abuse. Of course, olpc is a great idea so I hope the recipient of my donor laptop is enjoying it somewhere in the world.


More on the xo once I get to use it a bit more.


Finally, a Windows Mobile phone that excites me

I’ve had a few WM phones and while they have all done a decent job in the utility department, they have always lacked a few key features which kept them from mobile phone perfection.  The iPhone is probably the device that is closest to my perfect cellphone but it too lacks key features that I need and ultimately the Blackjack wins for the corporate scenarios.  My dream phone would have:



  • A regular headphone jack with no adapter needed
  • Charging and syncing via mini-usb
  • Wifi
  • Bluetooth – The usual Bluetooth profiles plus A2DP & AVRCP
  • GPS
  • A touch screen that doesn’t require a stylus
  • Physical keys – ideally QWERTY text entry or tactile touch screen
  • Good high resolution screen that is visible in daylight
  • Quad band GSM w/ HSDPA or HSUPA (UMTS extra credit)
  • A 3MP camera
  • microSD
  • Exchange ActiveSync with all the corporate IT functionality
  • A music playback experience that doesn’t suck

This basically amounts to a work hard + play hard phone.


Today Microsoft and Sony-Ericsson announced a partnership resulting in the Xperia X1 which has all of the above.  Engadget Mobile did a quick review and I am pretty impressed.  We’ll have to see what the build quality and form factor is like when held in my hand but I am officially holding off on my prospective purchase of a new WM device until I have a chance to play with one of these.



Previous WM phones I have owned are the Audiovox SMT 5600 and the Samsung Blackjack.  The SMT 5600 was a great device for its time but times have changed.  The Blackjack has a nice feature set but it has a really poorly-designed proprietary connector for headphones/sync/charging, bad audio quality, bad build quality (I’m on my 3rd and it is having problems), flaky Bluetooth and barely sufficient battery life.  Its saving graces are the compact QWERTY keyboard, HSDPA support, rubberized skin and scroll wheel.