Thursday, July 31, 2003

Today's entry comes to you from the Frankfurt office. I arrived this morning after the usual uneventful flight. I think I slept for about an hour, though I can't be sure. I don't feel quite as tired right now as I did at the same time in London a few weeks ago. You can check out my hotel's web site if you like, so you can see my luxurious accommodations.

My hotel is a few blocks from the office. My colleague and I found the office by my remembering the street name and our knowledge that the office is in one of Frankfurt's newest and largest office towers (specifically, the Main Tower). We're sitting in the IT director's office here, with a beautiful view of the city laid out below us. I'm so jealous of the IT staff here: everyone gets a window with a view. Meanwhile, I get stuck in a cube in the server room back in New York.

This afternoon, one of the IT staff took us to a biergarten restaurant just outside downtown Frankfurt. I had a mug of the restaurant's dark beer and a giant skillet filled with bacon, sausage, pork, steak, peppers, green beans, kidney beans, and potatoes. If not for the copious amounts of caffeine I'm now consuming, I'd be passed out on the desk. I can't let every meal be like that one or I'll have a heart attack by Monday. I haven't seen too many overweight Germans so far, so there must be something in the beer that keeps the metabolism up and processing the fat.

Monday, July 28, 2003

I've taken the plunge and turned on Earthlink's advanced spam blocker feature. This action makes me a hypocrite, as I posted on Slashdot a few months back that I'd never use a feature like this, because of the adverse effect on unknown senders (they get a link to an "add me to your contacts" form, and I get a daily notice of unknown senders). I've been using Mozilla's advanced spam filter, and that blocks about 80% of the spam I receive. But that only works when I check my e-mail from my home PC or work laptop. Lately I've been traveling and reading my e-mail on my Blackberry, which doesn't have any spam filters. So I spend about 25% of my Blackberry time deleting spam, especially while I'm on the road. It's become too much of a pain in the ass to ignore any longer. Since I'm leaving for Frankfurt on Wednesday, this seems like the perfect time to give the feature a week-long trial. So if you're e-mailing me and I don't know you, you'll get a strange response but I'll add you to my contacts if you're legit. Otherwise, screw you, spammer!

I wish I'd had my camera when I visited with my buddy Jon "Bear Magnet" Amato on Saturday. Jon has been walking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine since the spring. He hasn't shaved or had a haircut in over three months. I didn't know this, so when I saw him for the first time since he started his hike, I was shocked by the mountain man who greeted me. The clean-shaven Amato is no more; he has been replaced by Grizzly Adams, Jr. He says he won't cut his hair or shave until he returns to Washington, DC in October, so I'll get a picture of him then.
Photos from London and Mississippi are now available at my Webshots site. I need to update my web site with the new link.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

I haven't posted anything for a week, but I've got a good excuse. I've been on the road again. Liz and I just got back from a week in Mississippi for her grandmother's 90th birthday. She was surprised by all the people who showed up for the weekend, including us and her youngest daughter. We had a great time catching up with her family and eating delicious food from Little Dooey, Harvey's, and other Starkville restaurants. It's good to be back in New York, if only for a week before my next trip out of town. I picked up Liz's German phrasebook while we were at home. I'm looking forward to gorging myself on knockwurst, schnitzel, spaetzel, and who knows what else for a week. I'm sure that by the end of the trip I'll be sorry to leave, but I'd prefer to spend most of my summer at home where I belong.

Pictures from London and Mississippi will be posted whenever I think about it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Despite my planning, I woke this morning at 5:45 AM and couldn't get back to sleep. I scheduled myself for the later flight today (12:45 PM) so I wouldn't have to get up at the crack of dawn, but it seems my body had other ideas. I've been up for a while now, and I don't have anything to do until at least 8 AM, when Tesco opens and I can buy more Cadbury's chocolates to take home for Liz. So I've been surfing and planning the next two days, which promise to be busy as I get home and have only a few hours tomorrow to finish arrangements for our trip to Mississippi on Thursday.

On Sunday I went to Broadstairs to visit my grandmother and cousin. I had a good time seeing them, and it was a refreshing change of pace to get out of the city for a few hours and see rural England again. My grandmother is still in good health and looking forward to coming to California in a few weeks. I had hoped to get some work done or at least play around on my laptop on the train, but the train was crowded in both directions with beachgoers and the seats were far too cramped for me to do anything, even read comfortably. Amtrak it was not -- more like a commuter train. At least I had a seat both ways. After I got back to London I had to walk around Leicester Square for a while to stretch my legs out. I remembered Rob Truhn's comment about taking the bus from Washington, DC, to New York ("it's the train for my ass") and wondered how he would handle this particular train.

Monday was a mostly normal work day for me, albeit in a different city. I had lunch at a Japanese restaurant, Wagamama, where I had a chicken and rice dish with a thick broth of mushrooms and vegetables and some duck gyoza dumplings. After work we went to the Bishop of Norrich pub near the office for some Old Wallop, and then to a Thai restaurant for dinner. I had pork and prawn dumplings and a seafood stir-fry, plus some pad thai-style noodles. I also enjoyed enormous quantities of wine, so I'm glad that I don't have much of a hangover this morning. I don't think it would be too pleasant to get on a plane feeling queasy. But I did accomplish my goal of getting drunk on my firm's dime.

One other bit of news: my travel schedule has changed. One of my co-workers isn't able to go to Frankfurt at the end of July for that upgrade, so I'm going in his place. It wasn't entirely unexpected, though I wish it were Rome instead. Aside from the beer, I don't think there's much to see or do in Frankfurt. And I don't speak a word of German anymore (I had learned a little when I was in preschool, many years ago). Maybe now is a good time to go to the Heidelburg Restaurant at 86th and 2nd so I can get a preview of the cuisine I'll be eating for a week. At least I'll be done with my work on this project one week earlier, I won't have to go to DC for their upgrade, and I get the rest of August to enjoy the new apartment and prep for the NYC Century ride.

That's it for me until I get back to New York. Time to pack my stuff and get outta here.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

The London office server upgrade went better than I expected today. We only had a few minor hiccups along the way, and though it took about 15 hours to complete, I think we've done an excellent job and the users here shouldn't have any problems on Monday morning. So tomorrow (Sunday) I'm off to visit my grandmother in Broadstairs. Hopefully no one will call me in a panic, since I'll be over two hours away.

I'm not sure if I'm souring on the hotel bar here, or if I'm just not interested in drinking alone and making a spectacle of myself. I had one drink there tonight and after twenty minutes, that was all I needed. There was a DJ working tonight so the music was extra loud, but the crowd wasn't as big as the previous two nights have been. While I still think it's the greatest bar in the world that will allow me in to drink, I realize now that I had a great time here three years ago because of the people I was here with, not because of the bar or this hotel in and of itself. I can have a great time at really crappy bars and restaurants if I'm in good company. And I'm not enjoying this bar anymore, mostly because of my lack of company. And I don't think there should be anything wrong with that opinion. I guess I don't want to admit that I'm maturing and I'd rather spend my free time sitting in my room listening to music or reading than at the bar drinking by myself. I still think my office owes me a drunken evening. Maybe that's what I'll do on Monday night. It doesn't matter much if I'm hung over for my flight back.

Friday, July 11, 2003

I got plenty of sleep last night, after a delicious dinner from the Asia de Cuba restaurant at the hotel and a few drinks at the Light Bar. I drank alone, which isn't my favorite activitity, but since no one was around to drink with me, I wasn't going to let my singleness keep me out of my favorite bar in the world. I'm sure I looked pathetic, standing around by myself while others partied with huge groups, but I didn't care as much as I used to. Back in college, if I was alone at a party, I worried about what everyone else thought of me. This time, I didn't care so much. I'll be back there tonight, but I can't allow myself more than one drink. I have to get up early Saturday morning for the upgrade, the reason I came to London in the first place. It would be a good idea for me to be responsible and make sure I get to the office on time.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

I've arrived safely in London, gotten settled at my hotel, and spent most of the day at the office, getting reacquainted (I was here three years ago). I haven't slept since Tuesday night, since I can't ever sleep on planes, so I'm keeping myself going with crappy coffee and water. If the caffeine doesn't keep me running, the constant trips to the bathroom should do the trick. I had a bit of an adventure this morning, getting to a Citibank ATM a few blocks from my hotel, then finding my way on the Underground to the office. Before that, I had a two-hour car ride in from the airport. Next time, I'm taking the shuttle train from Gatwick to Victoria Station: it's quicker and cheaper. Not that the cost matters when the office pays, but I like the convenience of the train.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

I'm just about ready for my trip to London. I leave Wednesday evening for six days in the greatest city in Europe (my biased opinion, but hey, it's my blog). I'm working on a major network server upgrade for my job, and the upgrade requires some of us to travel to the overseas offices to do the work. I'm only going to London; one guy from New York is going to Paris, Rome, and Frankfurt. If I'd thought about it, I would have requested Paris and tried to schedule the upgrade so that it was the same weekend as the end of the Tour de France. But I'm happy with London. I know the city, I speak the language, and the people in that office are friendly and fun to hang out with. I get to fly business class and stay in the same fancy hotel I stayed in the last time I was in London, the St. Martin's Lane Hotel. You can check out the entire Ian Schrager group of hotels on their web site. Aside from its location in Leicester Square and its comfortable rooms, the hotel features the best hotel bar I've ever seen. The Light Bar is (or at least was in 2000) a hip hangout for models, celebrities, and hotel guests. Basically it was a swanky club that would never let me in, except that they have to allow hotel guests. So I got to drink and drool over attractive models and the occasional celebrity partygoer (John McEnroe walked right by me several times). I hope it's still as popular as it was then. If not, at least the drinks are good and my firm is buying.

Liz and I saw Finding Nemo on July 4, in the small multiplex at 86th and 3rd. The movie was wonderful: great for little kids who will like the story and the colorful fish, but entertaining for adults who will appreciate the celebrity voices and more sophisticated gags. Liz pointed out that the lobsters who walk through one scene speak with New England accents. I missed that one, but there are many other such jokes. I liked it even more than I enjoyed Monsters, Inc.. It's another triumph for Pixar and Disney, which makes me wonder how Disney's bottom line would look without the Pixar films on the ledger. IIRC, the last few Disney-produced animated movies have not been so successful, but everything Pixar does is cinematic gold.

Last night, we attended the New York Philharmonic's free concert in Central Park. I think the threat of rain kept people away, because we arrived in the park around 6:30 and found a good spot underneath a tree about 150 yards from the stage. Usually showing up that late means you're forced to squeeze in between early arrivers or find a spot far away from the stage, where you can't hear anything. Also, the audience listened to the announcements from the stage to please keep quiet so that we could all enjoy the music. The first time we went to one of the free concerts we were far from the stage and surrounded by noisy groups, so we hardly heard any music. This time, every note was clear, and the music was fantastic. It was an all-Russian composers program: Borodin, Tchaikovsky, and Moussorgsky. The Tchaikovsky violin concerto was exceptional: the soloist, playing on a 1715 Stradivarius, had a clear tone and total command of this difficult work, and the orchestra was excellent as always. I know every note of this concerto, as it's one of my favorites, and this performance was energetic and compelling. I don't know about anyone else, but I was hanging on every note. The second half of the concert was Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, another of my all-time favorites. Listening to this piece brought back memories from my childhood of my brother and I trying to play it on the piano and studying the orchestral score, comparing it with the piano original. For the record, my brother had more success at the piano than I did, to my eternal chagrin. What I love about this work is that it's so chordal: since it's originally for piano, it's full of great chords for brass, winds, and even strings in some places. There are huge, booming chorales for brass, quiet harmonies for winds, lumbering marches for strings. For about a half hour, I was 14 again, sitting in front of the stereo in my room with the score, discovering the finer points of orchestration.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

I finished Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix last night. It's a great book, full of adventure, mystery, and humor, but Goblet of Fire is still my favorite in the series. I don't want to give away any spoilers, so I won't post any sort of review here. But for those interested in parallels between Harry Potter and another great sci-fi universe, please see this detailed list over at I'm ashamed to say that I didn't notice most of them.

For my next book, I'm continuing to broaden my literary horizons and read classics that my wife has always loved. So I've started Dickens' Great Expectations. I saw the 1997 movie with Ethan Hawke, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Robert DeNiro, but I'm trying not to imagine those people in the key roles. Besides, Liz tells me that the movie is not an accurate representation of the book. My last experience with Dickens was A Tale of Two Cities in high school, of which I read little. Instead, I'm not proud to say that I used the Cliffs Notes and got an A on the exam anyway. I couldn't get into that book, and I was extremely busy with other work at the time. But so far, GE is more approachable that I would have expected, and I'm already absorbed in the story.

After this book, if I can stand another tough one, I'm hoping to tackle Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita. I've read some great reviews of that novel, so despite warnings of its difficulty, I've got to see what all the fuss is about.