Back from a short trip to Korbach

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.

Cemetery 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).

Panorama Stechbahn Kings

Nikolaikirche 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.

Korbach Goldrichtig

Goldspur

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.

Panorama Brilon Wald

Advertisements

Too bad: Microsoft Courier canceled

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.

Pictures from Israel, part 2

Now that I’m back again, here are a couple more pictures from my recent Israel trip. Part 1 is here. I should note that all these pictures are courtesy of M.

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.

Pictures from Israel, part 1

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.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

Amazing new Photoshop feature: Content-Aware Fill

As you can probably tell from the quality of the pictures on this site, I’m not really into photography. I have a 100 Euro camera and only rarely take pictures with it and rely on Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 for all my picture editing needs. As I lack the experience and/or talent necessary for more advanced photo editing, I don’t do much with it, just some simple touching up, color correction, cropping, maybe removing some unwanted items from the picture. In short, I let Photoshop and its magic do most of the work.

Enter Content-Aware Fill which is a new feature Adobe is developing for Photoshop that would be perfect for me. It’s basically like the existing tools for cleaning up pictures, only it’s a lot smarter about how it removes items from a picture and fills the area formerly occupied by those items. Best to see for yourself over on CrunchGear:

http://www.crunchgear.com/2010/03/29/fun-with-photoshop-cs5s-content-aware-fill/

In Israel for a week

If all goes well I’ll be in Israel for a week to visit a certain someone there. If she let’s me use her computer, I’ll try to post pictures while I’m there. Look for posts tagged Israel.

It’s kind of sad I can’t bring my own computer, but my current 15-inch laptop is just not the right size to bring along on a trip like that. Even though I’ve repeatedly said that they occupy a weird stuck-in-the-middle position, I was actually thinking about buying a netbook for such travel. However, since I don’t get to travel that much, that is a bit too expensive.

If only the Microsoft Courier was already available. That thing would be perfect for what I had in mind: light and with a small form factor to take it everywhere I go, yet big enough to check my mail occasionally, do some web browsing, look at pictures and watch video on the plane. Ok, the booklet form factor might not be that well-suited for video, but it would be so much better than having to go without a computer for a week.

Reading material for the trip: From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas L. Friedman; seems fitting.

More great Windows Phone 7 Series stuff

WindowsPhone7YouAreAmazing

The above is from a Windows Phone 7 series newsletter. “Wow. You’re amazing.” is a pretty nice sentence to open an email with. Why can’t more of you people that email me be like that :) Anyhow…

Microsoft put up an interesting hands-on demo on Channel 9, showing off some of the new Windows Phone 7 goodness. I really like the attention to detail that Microsoft is demonstrating with Windows Phone 7 Series. It has always been the hallmark of Apple to really put great thought into the tiniest detail of the product (cf. Inside Steve’s Brain by Leander Kahney), but as I said before, Microsoft is really showing Apple with this one.

A lot of that design stuff was shown off at MIX10, Microsoft’s conference for designers and web developers. For anyone who couldn’t be there in person (like myself), the videos of the sessions are available online at http://live.visitmix.com/videos. Among the things announced at MIX was the availability of an SDK and other tools for developers wishing to write software for Windows Phones. A version of Visual Studio and XNA is available for download from http://developer.windowsphone.com/. It comes complete with an emulator to test run your Windows Phone 7 applications.

I downloaded and installed the bits the other day and was kind of hoping one could get a sneak peek at the new OS or some of the bundled applications using the emulator. Unfortunately, the only thing that is on the emulator image is Internet Explorer and of course one’s own applications. These turn out to be pretty easy to develop, actually. Silverlight has developed into quite a nice development platform over the past few years and Microsoft has a long history of providing excellent developer tools. Anyone remember Steve Ballmer’sDevelopers, Developers, Developers…” act? He was not kidding about the company’s commitment to developers. Anyway, I don’t have a lot of experience with Visual Studio, C# or .NET per se, but still I was able to put together a little app, compile, deploy to the emulator and live debug it there within no time.

I’ve always said that one of the advantages of Windows Mobile over a closed environment like say the iPhone is that I as a developer get to write and use my own software on my device without having to ask anybody for permission. I haven’t used this opportunity with my current Windows Mobile device, but with Windows Phone 7, I actually might. However, Microsoft has announced that their Windows Marketplace for Mobile will be the only way to get apps for a Windows Phone. Paul Thurrott discusses why this is the right decision, along with some good points regarding copy&paste and multitasking. I just hope that Microsoft allows developers to put their apps on their own devices; that is without any registration or the 99 $/year fees that Apple charges iPhone developers who want to do that. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Microsoft will be more reasonable than that and not forget that third-party developers are the lifeblood of their platforms.