I use Windows Home Server as my primary backup solution, but since the server sits in my apartment, I also needed some kind of off-site solution, preferably cloud-based. Since I already use a bunch of Microsoft software, Windows Live SkyDrive seemed the natural way to go. It also offers a whopping 25GB of free cloud storage and it will integrate nicely with the upcoming Office 2010.
My only beef with SkyDrive was that it didn’t integrate easily with Windows, I needed to use a browser to upload files to the service or install a third-party utility. Fortunately, this is no longer necessary, as it is now possible to hook up a SkyDrive folder as a network drive in Windows Explorer. This makes things so much easier. Paul Thurrott has the details in his Windows 7 Tip Of The Week.
Now I can use my documents folder on SkyDrive just like any other drive in Explorer. Of course, since the data is not cached locally, there is a small delay every time one switches folders as Explorer has to retrieve the folder contents from the cloud. When using this only to backup a bunch of files every once in a while like I do, this shouldn’t be an issue, though.
Regardless of all my TV watching, I still set aside half an hour every night for reading. I started From Beirut to Jerusalem back in March when traveling to Israel. I have all of Friedman’s books, but this one was different than those I had read before. While the things Friedman has to say are always very interesting, he starts to repeat himself after about one third of the book and make the same point over and over again. Consequently, I haven’t finished any of the other books, but always given up about halfway through.
Not so with From Beirut to Jerusalem. Literally from the first to the last page, I felt it gave a good deal of background information, for me to put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into perspective. Seeing pictures from Hebron and other places where Palestinians and Israelis live side by side and still throw junk, paint or other nasty stuff at each other, has always made me wonder how people that are next-door neighbors can feel so much hatred for one another. Having read Friedman’s book, I still can’t fully comprehend their continued hatred for one another, but I now know a little better how this situation came about and how it got to this. It’s definitely worth reading, even though it was written back in the late 1980s and not all information may still be current. The underlying tribal instincts that drive both sides in this conflict seem to be unchanged though. Unfortunately.
On to the next book…
The next book on my reading list is The Jungle. I bought it a while back after reading a newspaper article about it being made required reading for the students of some high schools in the United States. These were schools in affluent neighborhoods where families have maids and other domestic employees. Students should read it and then discuss how it related to their own lives, in order to make them aware of the social inequalities that have persisted to this day. While I don’t have domestic employees (I prefer robots) and despite the fact that this book was sponsored by a socialist newspaper, I figured it could provide an interesting perspective.
So far, I am only on the seventh chapter, but already the book has made me think how the exploitation of workers back at the turn of the century relates to the current financial crisis. It may be a little far fetched, but I think the common theme in both cases is that of one group getting rich at the expense of another. In the book, it’s immigrants like Jurgis and his family who, optimistic and naive as they are, are forced to work under terrible conditions and are exploited left and right as the try to make a living. Today, it’s naive and trusting bank customers who some financial institutions (not all of them of course) exploit by selling them products that the originators knew were going to be worthless a few months later (see Goldman Sachs and the Paulson & Co hedge fund).
Of course, the methods are different, more humane one might say: instead of slave-labor-like working conditions that more often than not ended up killing people, this time people are merely cheated out of their money by being lied to about the risks of financial products (maybe to some extent, it’s partially their own fault, they could have been more careful). The end result, however, is the same: some small group is getting rich at the expense of another.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against complex financial products or capitalism in general. I think it’s the best thing that ever happened to mankind. Also, I am a firm believer in personal responsibility. Still, I like Stephen Green’s take on the current crisis as presented in Good Value. in the interest of full disclosure: Stephen Green is the chairman of my corporate overlord and copies of his book have been distributed by management throughout the group; that’s how one ended up being my travel reading last fall.
I’m not a critic, so I’ll keep my comments brief, but I must say that the book is not what one would normally expect from a banking executive these days. I really like how Green provides an overview of not just the current crisis, but also several issues that have been there for a while but now seem more urgent than ever: global warming, poverty, ways developing countries (and developed ones, too) can evolve in a less carbon-intensive manner, and the personal consequences this has for every one of us.
The most important take-away for me, however, was his warning of what he calls compartmentalization: When one treats one’s personal and work lives as two very different things with different rules and moral standards applying to each. This way one ends up doing things in business one might never do in personal dealing, because “it’s just business”. I’ve always wondered how people who ruthlessly seek out their advantage in business apparently can just turn a switch and then be extremely nice and caring people in personal matters. I can only second Green’s argument that without this dangerous compartmentalization the world of business might be a more civil one. One were people have respect for their fellow man and exploitation as described above would not occur.
I just came back from two days at the Theaterwoche Korbach, a one-week theater festival in the quaint town of Korbach. In spite of its small size (approx. 25,000 residents) the town has community center where the festival takes place every year. Since 1999 my old school’s drama-group has been attending almost every year. I hadn’t been there since 2002, but when I was asked if I wanted to come along and help with the preparations for our play, I figured why not pay Korbach a visit again after so many years.
One advantage of no longer being a student is that I was accommodated at Hotel Touric, while the kids had to sleep on camp beds in a gym. Normally, everybody stays at Korbach’s youth hostel (which would have been fine by me), only this time, they decided to schedule some major renovations there right around the time they are the most crowded. Another advantage is that I didn’t have to take part in one of the workshops for festival participants. In these workshops, participants can learn about things like Japanese dance or pantomime, which is fine if you’re an actor, but for someone from the technical crew, this is an impertinence.
Anyway, this gave me some time to walk around Korbach and enjoy its beautiful old city. The city was (and in part still is) surrounded by two rings of walls. The area between these walls is now part park, part cemetery. The cemetery doesn’t have any street lights, but since it was the shortest route from the community center to the hostel, we would often walk through on our way home after the plays at night. It’s not actually that frightening, except for one time, when a bunch of us ran ahead of the group, hid in the bushes and as the others walked by, jumped out and scared them.
Inside the town wall one still finds many fachwerk (timber-framed) houses and a couple of small, but very beautiful churches. On the old city’s central square, there is even a pranger. Although it is probably no longer in use, it looks fully functional (no picture, though, sorry).
From the architecture and institutions found in Korbach, it’s evident that it must have once been a very prosperous city. Indeed, Korbach was a major gold mining site, after gold-bearing ore was found there. Today, there is a “gold-trail” running by and explaining important gold mining sites through-out the city. It originates at this lorry located behind the main train station.
As I have to study for the CFA level III exam in June, I went home before the rest of group by train. I don’t have a good reason for including this picture, but here is a shot of the Brilon Wald train station anyway. Unfortunately, many smaller train stations in Germany look like this one. Nonetheless, I find train travel the best choice for getting around the country, if you want to see something of the country-side as you pass through. That is, if you have some time and money to spare, as air travel is often faster and also cheaper when going between two major cities that have airports.
Even though Microsoft never publicly confirmed that the Courier would actually ship, I was very excited about the prospect of them releasing such an innovative piece of technology. Unfortunately, they have just confirmed that the Courier is canceled.
But maybe some of the technology will live on in Surface. This video shows some of the things around improving touch interfaces that they have been working on. When I first used an iPod touch, I fell in love with touch interfaces and they are so easy, even a child can figure them out.
Nonetheless, as companies like Apple use not only what I would call the basic, intuitive gestures such as tapping, pinching to zoom, swiping and maybe one or two more, but more complex ones (swiping with two or three fingers for more advanced operations), I think touch’s inherent intuitiveness is lost.
So I really liked how in the video above they are taking touch on the Surface to the next level by combining it with other input devices like the pen. Or other on-screen objects like when they cut one photo along the side of another. This seems to be the right direction for touch to be going. Too bad it won’t be available in as nice a form factor as the Courier.
This is the view from one end of the Yad Vashem holocaust museum towards Jerusalem. The museum is quite spectacular: Like the Met in New York City it’s one of those museums, where the museum building and surrounding park are as much worth the visit as the actual exhibition.
The following two are from Caesarea, a port city built in Roman times. In each of the following periods of settlement (Byzantine, Crusader…), some parts of the city have been rebuilt. For instance, as can be seen in the second picture, during the Byzantine period the interior of the hippodrome was built up with houses on the left while the right was converted into a amphitheater.
The next one is from Beit She’an. This ancient Roman town had once a population of 40,000 people and was thus larger than Jerusalem at the time. Again, the original Roman town has been heavily modified in the Byzantine period and there are several relicts visible from both periods. Alas, as you can see in the picture, many pieces are still lying around, awaiting proper reconstruction. Nonetheless, walking through the streets there, one does get an idea of how monumental this city must have been once.
This last one is a view from Masada down towards the Dead Sea. Unfortunately, this pictures doesn’t do justice to the magnificent view one has from this fortress atop a mountain.
I promised some pictures and here they are. I have plenty more – among others from Masada – but in order to capture the stunning scenery they are mostly panoramic pictures. Unfortunately, I could not get them stitched together properly using Photoshop CS 4. Maybe I have more luck at home with Photoshop Elements which is better suited to my particular photo editing talents (or rather the lack thereof).
These are two pictures from yesterday’s trip to Jerusalem, Yad Vashem and the Holy Sepulchre.