Sunday, August 13, 2006

Friday 8/11/06 (Pt 1 - Regensburg)

Friday morning we woke up to Regensberg (Rain-town, it should be a Seattle sister city), one of the oldest cities in Bavaria. There are remains here of the Roman occupation, including walls and arches from the time of Caesar Marcus Aurelius in AD 179. The city was wealthy throughout most of its history, largely from the salt trade, and contains many homes and churches from the 12th and 13th centuries, including the 1000-foot Stone Bridge. It is a beautiful city, with the perfect blend of the modern cosmopolitan tastes surrounded by medieval architecture. Of all the cities visited so far on this trip, I have felt most at home here. We visited St. Peter’s Cathedral (the first non-St. Stephen’s so far) which was built in the Gothic style in the 13th-15th centuries – most other churches we’ve seen so far were baroque, so this was a dramatic and welcome change.

Photos at

Thursday 8/10/2006 (Passau)

This morning we arrived at last in Germany. Passau’s history goes back 2000 years, and has seen the Romans, Charlemagne, and Napoleon come through. Its strategic location is on the border with Austria, at the confluence of the Danube, Inn and Illz rivers.

Our first trip of the day was to visit their church (our third St. Stephen’s) to hear a magnificent organ concert – 5 pieces, one from each of the last 5 centuries. Definitely interesting to hear the progression, especially the dramatic (some might say jarring) change in the 20th century.
After lunch, we had a walking tour through the city to learn about its history. Our guide was a woman who was a native New Yorker who came here in the 1960s and ended up staying. Nice to have a tour guide who understands both cultures so well!

In the evening, the crew of the Viking Europe put on a show for us – the highlight at the end was our maitre d’hotel Rocky – who is Indian, moved to Austria – singing “Country Roads” while in full Reggae garb. Quite the show.

Wednesday 8/9/06 (Melk)

After passing through Vienna and a series of locks on the Danube, we arrived in the town of Melk. The most prominent feature and the focus of our visit is the famous Abbey, founded by the Benedictines in the 13th century and rebuilt several times, most recently in the 18th. It is thus a prime example of Baroque architecture and is more ornate than most people’s expectations of a monastery. However, it was a favorite visiting location for kings and queens and is large enough to house their entourage.

We visited the magnificent gardens and Baroque house, and then entered the abbey. What was most remarkable to me about the abbey was the artwork – because it is a working school and monastery, not merely a museum, they have kept their artwork current with the times, including some very modern sculptures. Inside, the main exhibit describing the Benedictines was a strikingly modern one, using light, shapes and poetry. We saw some rather old pieces, too, including a 600-year-old copy of The Rule of St. Benedict and a 13th century full-size crucifix. At the end of the tour were the two highlights – the magnificent library (used in the film The Name of the Rose) and the enormous church in the center of the complex.

We then took a walk through the quaint town, and my brother Josh and I played Frisbee for a while before heading back to the bus. From there we set sail for Passau, Germany – auf wiedersehen, Osterreich!

Tuesday 8/8/06 (Vienna) part 2

In the evening we all went to a concert of Mozart and Strauss music performed by the Wiener Rezident Orchestra, in the Auesburg Palace, where Mozart debuted many of his works for the Austrian royalty. It was a small chamber group, all very talented and made for a wonderful authentic Viennese experience. Robin and I waltzed when we returned to the boat. The return included some welcome news – the rain had stopped, and we would be setting sail in the night.

A linguistic note – just as a “Frankfurter” is a resident of Frankfurt, a “Wiener” is a resident of Wien – the true German spelling of “Vienna”.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Tuesday 8/8/06 Vienna (day 1 of ?)

We woke up to interesting news today – it has rained so much in Southern Germany and Austria in the last day that the Danube has been rising 9cm every hour! So – for now, all traffic on the Danube is closed. We’re stuck in Vienna indefinitely Truly, I can think of worse predicaments…

Anyway, we went into town and got a tour of the Mozart 250th birthday museum exhibit. Very cool to see musical scores written in his own hand! Quite interesting political times – learning a lot about the Hapsburgs…I didn’t know that they were in power for 650 years.

At this point my family shunned the tourist fare to find an “authentic” place – which we did…very little English spoken, and no credit cards! We had a lovely lunch of schnitzel, wurst, Viennese coffee (I had a Kleine Mokka – black espresso) and then went to the premier Schokolader (chocolatier) in town to sample some lovely treats.

And then, as expected, my family broke down into tourist mode; they couldn’t decide where to go and started scouring the map. I took my cue and decided to wander the city, which allowed me to get lost on purpose (one of my favorite pastimes) and dig my way out without a map. Found my 2nd internet café so far, which has allowed to make this posting! Pictures coming soon…

Monday 8/7/06 – Budapest Pt 2

This morning began with an early driving & walking tour of Budapest. The first half was spent on the Pest side, driving through the main areas of town and learning about the history of the city. We ended up at the main Square of the city, constructed for the Millenium celebration in 1896. The central statuary reflects the history of the Hungarian nation, with the middle column surrounded by the 7 tribal chiefs (from 896 AD) with the angel Gabriel atop.
After visiting Pest, we drove over the Chain Bridge (the first to connect the cities) to the Buda side. Buda is built on hills, unlike Pest – and there is a faultline under the Danube, which we suspect has a part in the creation of the different land structures. The heart of Buda is the Castle district, which was been both home to royalty and middle-class alike at different times in its long history. The view is simply amazing – one can see all of Pest from one side (reminding me of Paris from the Eiffel Tower) and the hills of Buda from the other. The Castle district is also home to the Mathias church (named for a significant king who restored the church) and the Fisherman’s Bastion, a lookout precipice. We also visited the Ruszwurm, the favorite pastry shop of the Austrian queen who visited often in the 19th century.

In the afternoon, we set sail for Vienna. Along the way we got an explanation of Viennese Coffee culture (not unfamiliar for Seattle folks) and a demonstration of how to make apple strudel!

Tonight we will pass Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, and pass through the first of 25 locks!

Sunday 8/6/06 – Intro, & Budapest Day 1

It’s been my parents’ dream – for probably 20 years at least – to take our family to Europe, without small children and without breaking the bank. At long last, this Christmas the dream was realized. They decided to take all 3 of us and our spouses on a river cruise up the Danube, beginning in Budapest, Hungary, through Vienna, Austria, to Nuremberg, Germany over the course of a week.

Today the adventure began – we arrived in Budapest after spending the entirety of Saturday traveling (Seattle -> Chicago -> Frankfurt -> Budapest, plus 9 hours lost due to time zones). After taking a bus through the city, we arrived at our boat and had several hours of free time to walk around the city.

One note: Budapest is the result of the merging of the cities Buda and Pest, on either side of the Danube, connected by bridge in the 19th century. I will be referring to them separately from time to time.

While my folks went touring, Robin and I met up with one of her cousins who lives and works in Budapest as a missionary – in fact, teaching at a school for missionary kids. She and her husband both grew up as MKs and are striving to help these “3rd culture” kids to survive the lifestyle that results from their parents’ work.

After lunch in a wonderful Greek restaurant, Robin and I went down to the Vaci Ucta (pedestrian street), which is a walking-only street surrounded by shops & cafes. We saw some wonderful local craftwork and got some neat souvenirs for the folks back home. At the south end of the street is the vast Central Market.

We had a relaxing evening and captured a few nice photos of Budapest by night. The evening’s entertainment was a group of Hungarian folk musicians and dancers. Due to jet lag we didn’t last through very many songs…

Photos at !!!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

i be edumacated

The activity that has undoubtedly consumed me the most for the last two 1/2 years has been graduate school. After being out of college for 6 years and in the IT industry for 4, I got inspired (by a radio ad, as I recall) to go back to graduate school. I chose the Master of Science in Information Systems program at the University of Washington. This program was a hybrid of a technology degree and an MBA - specifically targeting both audiences; half the class (including me) was from a technical background looking to strengthen their skills and expand/apply them to business concepts as well, while the other half were from the business side doing the opposite. About 2/3 of the class work for The Boeing Company, which was footing 90% of the bill. I, on the other hand, am having to foot the bill almost entirely myself. Hello, Federal Direct Loans.

The program went well (I graduated in June 2005) and it felt fantastic to make it through and put that diploma up on my wall. I really did learn a ton about finance, strategy, marketing, etc, as well as object-oriented programming and pattern-based development, and how to integrate them.

Then the school threw us an offer - come back for another 2 quarters, and let your existing credits transfer to an MBA program. 2 quarters, 6 classes, 5 months...that's it, and another master's degree. Shoot...what's another $15K in student loans?? Pretty hard to pass up the opportunity.

So now I'm in it, once again...and our class mantra is "it seemed like a good idea at the time". We can't wait to finish. It's still an amazing opportunity to get the MBA - I'm sure some employer will be impressed by it - but it's sure grueling so far. 2 months down, 3 to go. It really is passing pretty quickly. Doesn't really make the studying any easier, though.

Can't wait for June. I miss playing bass.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Land o' Lakes

So, now that I've gone a year and a half without posting, let's talk about bass.

Most of the basses I play are made by Lakland Basses in Chicago. The concept behind Lakland's designs is to take a classic design (Fender Precision, Jazz, MusicMan, Guild Starfire) and update it to modern standards of playability, reliability, and flexibility.

Back in 1997, my wedding present from my wife was a Ken Smith BSR5J 5-string fretted bass. It had fantastic tone and playability, but for some reason it would just NOT sit well in a mix - it always got lost, and I could never hear myself on stage. Great upper register, but the low end just wasn't there. Sounded great by itself, but you couldn't hear it with a band. (Another friend of mine has one too, and I couldn't hear him either.) Never exactly figured out why - some function of an all-maple body and odd midrange voicing. It seemed to do better with a super-active preamp after it (like a Sadowsky or SansAmp).

After too many gigs where I couldn't hear myself, I set out on the quest for new tone - specifically for a bass that would punch through the mix and be undeniable. I looked at a MusicMan Stingray, but the string spacing was too narrow for my taste. (I later grew a distaste for the inflexibility of the tone, although they've improved.)

Around that time, Bass Player Magazine ran a legendary 5-string "shootout" where they reviewed 40+ models in different price ranges. One of their favorites was the Lakland 55-94, a fairly new bass on the market. It had a revolutionary (at that time) combination of a Jazz-style neck pickup and a MusicMan-style bridge pickup, all with Bartolini electronics. Moreover, the string spacing was wider than MusicMan's. I had played one at Bass Northwest earlier that year and was fairly impressed. However, they didn't carry them as a line, so I went to the Internet - and found a used one for sale (for $1600) on Harmony Central. Bought it sight-unseen, ear-unheard, hand-unplayed. It was a beautiful deep burgundy with a maple fingerboard.

That bass has gone with me on 85% of my gigs since 1998. (That's 8 years now...) I took it with me to the Bass Collective in NYC, and Patitucci used it for demos during our classes. I've loaned it out and used it on a number of recording sessions - it just sits right in the mix, not too strong or too soft. Live, it punches a hole right through the low end...when I listen to live recordings, it reminds me most of Flea's tone with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Since then, I've owned a 5-string fretless 55-94, a Bob Glaub Precision, a Skyline Hollowbody, a Skyline Jerry Scheff signature, and should be receiving my 5-string Joe Osborn fretless Jazz here in the next month. I still have my '77 Fender Jazz, and I had to go elsewhere for a 12-string bass, but other than that my stock is Lakland-exclusive, and likely will stay that way for a long time. The workmanship is exquisite, the customer service is legendary (Dan Lakin still answers the phone), and reliability has been second to none. There are a number of other similar builders (Sadowsky, Mike Lull, Fodera's NYC series) but I am more than satisfied with Lakland's place in my bass arsenal. I have been a proud endorser since 2000, and have successfully recommended them to a good number of friends who are now equally happy owners.

Monday, September 27, 2004

OS Wars

Let's just get this out there: I simply don't care about the OS wars between MS and Linux. My living is made from MS technologies, and I've had a little exposure to Linux, which I found difficult. (I can't imagine the average home user trying it...yikes.) I guess my hope is that the Linux movement will push MS into making their products better. I just can't see getting religious about this sort of thing...I have better things to think about.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

clustered and nonclustered indexes

Okay, so I finally got a metaphor for the two types of indexes which even a lay person can understand.

You're looking for information on wallabies. You decide to go to the university library. Picture these two scenarios for reference books:

a) You find a book on animals. You flip back to the index at the back, look in W, then Wallaby, then it gives you a page number. Then you flip to the page number and look for the information there.

b) You go to an encyclopedia. No need for an index. Just go to the W book, and turn straight to Wallaby. The information is there.

The former is a non-clustered index, and the latter is a clustered index. Clustered indexes store the actual data in sorted order, so when you follow the sorting path, you actually get to the data itself - no need to "flip" to another page. Non-clustered indexes only contain references to the location of the data, much like a generic reference book's index.

Hope that helps any of you out there like me for whom this isn't inherently obvious....

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


I did an amazing thing in the year 2003. I gave up caffeine. From March 2003 through December 2003, I didn't have any coffee, tea, chai, Diet Coke, nuthin'. And I slept well and functioned just fine, and lived happily ever after.

And then I started grad school. Suddenly I discovered new meaning behind "freaking exhausted". And the coffee has flowed freely until the present time.

The problem is that I'm really sensitive to it. I'm aware that decaf coffee still has 3% of the caffeine left, and my body has wonderful ways of finding it, and proceeds to keep me up at night. So right now I'm in a vicious cycle where I'm tired in the morning, so I have coffee, so I get no sleep, so I'm tired the next morning, etc. That's how it works.

Today? Peppermint tea. Still has a stimulant property but it's more herbal. I'm trying to cut back on the coffee but it ain't easy. I have an addictive personality so I suffer more from "coffee compulsion" than actual physical withdrawal symptoms.

Will the office go out to Starbucks this afternoon? Probably. Will I join them? Probably, like a big idiot. I did decline the morning coffee run, though - big step! Good thing I had my tea.

Oh, and my favorite espresso drink? The Starbucks caramel macchiato. (These days, decaf & nonfat.)