Podcast Recommendation: SPARK - The philosophical side of Technology

Publisher: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)
Moderator: Nora Young
Language: English
URL: www.cbc.ca/spark

Fascinating and entertaining look at the cultural and philosophical side of current technology.

And now, for something completely different...

Experiencing CeBIT Eurasia (Oct. 7-11) at Istanbul’s Bilişim conference center was quite interesting - as well as productive.
We exhibited with our Partner in Turkey, Trios A.S. at the Germany booth.

I’m a seasoned exhibition goer, both as an exhibitor as well as a visitor. I’ve been to many trade fairs in Germany, I’ve been to CES in Las Vegas. Heck, I’ve been doing CeBIT in Germany - with very few exceptions - every year since 1992.

Especially as an exhibitor, you tend to get a detailed view of the trade fair that a visitor never gets: setting up and tearing down. This is always fascinating to me, as you rarely get to see such order generated out of chaos within a very short period of time. Anyone that has been part of the setting-up process at the world’s largest trade fair, CeBIT in Hannover, Germany, knows this.

Unfortunately, trade fairs like CeBIT and DMS are becoming more and more of a “drag” to exhibitors, at least the ones in the ECM market. The reason for this is dwindling numbers of visitors and exhibition concepts so far removed from reality that it hurts.

CeBIT Eurasia in Istanbul was a real eye-opener for me, in that it took me back to the good days of CeBIT: here, many visitors are seeing technologies and solutions “live” for the first time, with the associated buzz. Hallways are packed, booths are swamped.

The whole thing has a touch of “wild west”, but in a good sense: where organisation of most aspects of an event are hugely overdone in Germany (have you ever filled out the forms required to get even a tiny booth at CeBIT?), here things are “self-organising”. Sure, if you need something specific (such as ADSL access), you get the “pass around”.

People seemed to be even more specialized than usual: The cleaning people passing by our booth weren’t able to lend us a cleaning rag for a minute to wipe our table off, as they weren’t instructed to do so...

But in the end, you get what you came for: new contacts and business leads.

Since business in Turkey is much more relationship-based than in Germany, CeBIT Eurasia is a good first step towards building business here in the region!

These Elevators are BIG!

Ever see an Elevator able to transport 120 people at once?

You can - three of them - at Dubai’s new Emirates Terminal. I shot a short movie with my travel camera, because seeing these things go up and down is really something.

There is a “water-wall” right behind the elevators - unfortunately, getting an angle to capture both the elevators and the water-wall with a small point-and-shoot is almost impossible, but if you stand between the two, its quite an impressive sight.


Podcast Recommendation: Quirks and Quarks - Science on your iPod

Publisher: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)
Moderator: Bob McDonald
Language: English
URL: www.cbc.ca/quirks

This is one of my all-time favorites.
If you’re interested in Science, then you need to subscribe to Quirks and Quarks.
The host interviews scientists (and sometimes book authors) on their very current discoveries.
Topics are very varied, covering all forms of Science.

Podcast Recommendation: Definitely not the Opera - DNTO

Publisher: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)
Moderator: Sook-Yin Lee
Language: English
URL: www.cbc.ca/dnto

Very entertaining philosophical look at a new topic each show by one of the most entertaining english-language moderators I‘ve heard, Suk-Yen Lee. Approximately 1h per podcast, very little Canada-specific content. I listen to every episode.

First experiences with the iRobot scooba

What had originally been intended as a birthday gift is now under common ownership in our household: the iRobot Scooba. We have a lot of tile flooring (most of the ground floor as well as the bathroom upstairs), and mopping it is a real pain in the you-know-what.

So I took a chance and, after reading a couple of reviews on Amazon, ordered the unit.

A couple of insights after some first use:
  • the device is definitely NOT usable for wood flooring (despite indication of such on the manufacturer‘s website) unless the wood and especially the cracks between the panels are 100% sealed and water-tight.
  • the battery lasts long enough for about 15 square meters (approx. 150 sq. ft.) - enough to do a bathroom every couple of days, but certainly not if you have a lot of tiled floors (like we do). In the latter case, you‘ll have to split up the floor into sections using either rolled-up carpets and/or the virtual wall sender delivered with the system. To do this properly, you‘d have to purchase at least another virtual wall unit (about 30€). The 80 sq. meter coverage promoted with the product is clearly not attainable on one charge.
  • the unit is very thorough in cleaning and low enough to get under most of our furniture (something we probably haven‘t done with a mop in years) - definite plus points there
  • even the added difficulty of our semi-island cooking bay didn‘t phase the Scooba while cleaning the kitchen and next room section (the cooking island juts right into the middle of the two areas)

"Odd Hours" by Dean Koontz

I thoroughly enjoyed the first Odd Thomas book, the 2nd and 3rd were also quite ok. After reading the 4th book, there is some criticism to be put to paper. Something that has annoyed me throughout the series, but especially in the 4th book, has been the blatant placement of advertising.

I'm quite certain Mr. Koontz earns more than a generous living; why he has to defile his writing with adverts for a variety of brands is beyond me. Okay, perhaps he didn't notice the small-print clause in the publisher's contract when he signed it that would permit a fiendish editor to change every reference to Cola to a well-known soft drink brand, every mention of an antacid to a specific reference to that yucky pink stuff you see in commercials.

I've noticed this trend in some other books, but generally, you'll only get one or two "sponsored words" in a novel. I haven't read much other material from Mr. Koontz, but it seems to me its gone from mildly annoying in "Odd Thomas" to absolutely unacceptable in "Odd Hours". 

The use of advertising in novels annoys me on several levels. For one, a brand is hardly going to spend money on sponsored words with an unknown author (who could probably really use the money) - rather, they have a benefit from broad distribution through books by the top 20.

I'm not sure what the cost of a sponsored word in a bestseller novel is, but it must be huge for someone with a beachside mansion to allow the prostitution of his work. Another reason I get irked is: it distracts me. Okay, this might be a personal issue, but whenever I come across branding in a story, it pulls me out of the "magic moment", which is the reason I'm reading the book in the first place. Thirdly, I get annoyed because, folks, I've PAID for the book.

We're not talking about private television that has its sole income via commercial advertising sales. Books aren't cheap these days, and for the premium paid, absolutely expect advertising-free literature!

On the book itself, the story is entertaining enough. A factor that I found enjoyable especially in the first book, the ardent use of linguistic tools such as alliteration, metaphor, etc., to add an unusual twist to the books language and flow, has increasingly become overpowering.

In this fourth book, I find some passages difficult to read as the language is so intwined within itself that you need to fully concentrate on the language itself, which causes the story to suffer. It gives the impression of the author going through the manuscript several times, looking for ways to convolute the language. 

Planes, Trains and Automobiles - from Paris to Utrecht

I really prefer traveling by train to taking a car everywhere. Most of Europe is so heavily congested on the roads, that you spend a lot of your time in traffic jams. On a train, you can work, read, relax... or can you?

It all started with a slight error in using the German Rail website to get connection information from Massy in the south of Paris to Charles de Gaulle airport. Type in "Charles de Gaulle" and the system assumes you mean "Place Charles de Gaulle  Etoile" for some reason. I hadn't made sure it had registered the airport but merely printed out the three connections that would get me in between 3PM and 3:30PM to make my 4:50PM flight.

It *could* have registered that the trip to Charles de Gaulle took only marginally longer than the trip from Gare del Norte to Massy and would require one change of train even though the RER B line goes straight from Massy to CDG (that, my friends, is the Charles de Gaulle airport abbreviation). But it didn't register.
When I started putting one and one together while in the 40th minute of riding the 15-odd stops of the RER-B northward, I realized it would be a really close call. Luckily, the last 5 stops before getting to Terminal 1 of CDG were skipped altogether, a sort of "airport express" function. It didn't help.
By the time I finally arrived at Terminal 2 and started running, it was 4:15PM. No problem, I thought - wheezing my way up the escalator's left side - but it was. The distance from the train terminal to Terminal 2 position C37 is about the length of four football fields. At least it seems that way.

I was drenched and completely out of breath when I got to the check-in counter, only to be told that the flight had been closed. At a normal airport, I would have understood. Check in takes a couple of minutes, getting to the security line another couple, going through security can take its time and then the final leg to the gate - well, at an airport like Frankfurt, that can take care of your 3-mile run for that day. Here, however, the security line was 5 people deep and right behind checkin - the gate was right behind security. What the *&%!?
So I went across the way to the ticket sales office (ever wonder why they position them handy like that?) to see what my options were. After waiting a good 15 minutes while the girl behind the desk typed a novel or two into the terminal, trying to change a group of four's tickets, I was assisted by a gentleman that had apparently decided the line of 4 people waiting for service would warrant him to come off break.
This was the British Airways ticket sales agent booth - keep that in mind for what is about to transpire. After typing a short story on his terminal keyboard, he informed me that the only option I had was to purchase a business class upgrade, at a cost of more than €600. Just a few seconds later, he tried to sell me on a KLM ticket, which at 540€ came in cheaper than the BA upgrade, and would be a direct flight (not via London, as my BA ticket). Strange - the official BA ticket sales office trying to sell me on a KLM ticket? Ah, yes - there would be a 30€ service charge, of course.

I told the guy I'd think about it and headed back a couple of football fields to where I had entered the terminal, and where the TGV train station was located. Some searching by the ticket agent showed that I would at least be able to get to Rotterdam that evening. Oddly enough, I was able to get a complete connection listed on Deutsche Bahn, showing a connection from Rotterdam to Utrecht as well. As the agent told me: that's Europe, not even able to get a complete through connection to show when trying to take a train from a major french train station.

I bought the ticket (€140 for a first-class trip) and headed down to the TGV platform. Now, the French demonstrate a strange combination of trying to be high-tech with a touch of class. Take current Renault models, for example (my wife has had two Renault cars in the last 5 years, a Megane CC cabriolet and a Scenic XXL. If you ask me, too much focus on design and not enough on getting it right. If you've taken a TGV anywhere, chances are good you know what I mean.

Can you believe being on one of the fastest trains in the world (going in excess of 300km/h) and stopping in the middle of nowhere between Strasbourg and Paris. Would you believe a deja-vu experience of the most important hand signal in the (Windows) world, the ol' Control-Alt-Delete? Yep: this train stopping in the middle of nowhere and having to be rebooted!

Well, something nearly as freaky happened on the way from CDG to Rotterdam, just across the border into the Netherlands. After the TGV was late getting into Brussels due to some issue with the train, the Dutch train from Brussels to Rotterdam broke down due to engine failure. Luckily, there was another train waiting across the platform that - according to the conductor - would leave earlier than the original one. 

So everyone sprinted across the platform and headed to Rotterdam, where I had but three minutes to change from Platform 3 to Platform 8 to catch my final connection into Utrecht.

"Written in Bone" by Simon Beckett

Two stars for this book, no more. Where do they come from? Well, one star is for a good story idea; based on the old "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" concept (here a "double whammy"), it has quite a bit of potential. The other star is for a fluid read.

From a technical viewpoint, the book is well written; the characters feel well developed and, for the most part quite believable. Towards the end of the book, this feeling is successfully removed beyond redemption, of course.

Unfortunately, the buck stops here. Mr. Beckett takes the concept of overstatement to a new level. Without wanting to mention too many details, the story contains too much ridiculous plot to warrant more than two stars.

A large portion of the plot takes place during an Atlantic storm; having experienced one of these first-hand, I can tell you that the central characters of the novel must likely be superheroes to physically do what is described - any normal person, even a physically fit one, would be drenched to the bone after 15 minutes and rendered a shivering nincompoop after 30 in this type of weather, wearing the type of clothes described. Conversation during a pounding rain with 70km/h winds? Not in real life - in the book, this doesn't seem to be a problem. The list goes on.

Furthermore, you get the idea that the author learned only a few facts about the anthropological aspects of fire death, as he beats you around the head with them repeatedly, almost like a mantra. If you're expecting an entertaining and interesting medical discourse of the likes of "Kay Scarpetta" et al, look elsewhere.

The story could have been made into an excellent book, unfortunately Beckett uses the plot as a blunt instrument, with which he tries to pound reading enjoyment into your head.

The story becomes more unbelievable as it nears the end, with two final twists that are so badly put together it hurts. You get the feeling that after reading the first half of his manuscript, Mr. Beckett - or more likely his editor - felt that more zest was needed to keep the story alive. A bad decision - the story would have been fine without all the gore and superfluous action.

The last chapter is the final straw. It is completely ridiculous and utterly superfluous. If you've received this book as a gift or actually purchased it, do yourself a favor: tear the pages of the last chapter carefully out of the book and either deposit them in that happily crackling fire in your hearth or put them in the recycling bin. You'll give that paper a purpose that way and save yourself some pretty painful reading. Am I exaggerating just a bit here? No I'm not.

To summarize, if you're looking for good, believable forensic anthropology fiction, don't buy this book. There are other authors that do a much better job. I certainly won't be reading any more books by this author, I can tell you. If you're looking to give this book as a gift, then please do so only to people you'd like to annoy.