Sunday, June 29, 2008


Somewhere in Sweden, near Stockholm, there is this deep man-made cave. About 100 meters below the surface (well, maybe not that much, but it's gotta be deep!) I have had to spend my days this past week. The data center in which I am installing this new equipment is deep in the heart of a rocky hill in Sweden. I am doing this work as a part of PROJECT TITAN.

As much as an adventure as this may sound... This actually sucks. It has been a beautiful weather here. We spend the whole day underground where there are no windows. The room in which we are installing the equipment is deafeningly loud with the white noise of air conditioning units, computers. I wear industrial ear-plugs to reduce the noise, but it still has an effect after a day on your feet diagnosing and solving problems with the software installation, configurations, connections and so forth.

We emerge twice a day, climbing our way through a circular ramp to the outdoors. Once to break for lunch, once to end the day's work. As I emerge, not unlike a Neanderthal emerging from his cave, the sunlight blinds and shocks our group, reminding us that it is a beautiful day -- another lovely day lost to the cave.

Like all of these other trips, they lave little time for fun. The lone benefit of this site trip over Amsterdam, is that our escort has a life outside of work, and would also rather not babysit us in the cave for the whole day. We get a reprieve as our hosts usually cry for mercy around 6 PM.

Like all of these other trips, I eat too much. Faced with the prospect that there is a long day of work ahead of me, I dare not go the mission without the sustenance of breakfast. And when presented with the option of "FAT AMERICAN BUFFET" I must yield to its magical power of crepes, scrambled eggs, and endless coffee.

The flight over here went through München (Munich), and flew right over the Bodensee -- I could clearly see the city of Konstanz, Hard and Bregenz. I strained to see the farm we stayed back in April, but we were flying so directly over it, that it was not able to be seen. I took some pictures, which may have gotten a better angle than my face pressed across the window could muster.

As Murphy would have his way, the camera battery decided to start complaining of low charge, while I snapped aerial shots of the Bodensee. Unfortunately, this camera is not powered by a set of AA batteries, but instead by a flat Canon LiON battery. I did not pack a charger. By the time my flight was over, there was not enough juice to take another shot. So no pictures of Stockholm for you! (or me)

The Swedes clearly did not attend to perfecting their cuisines to the foreign palate, as all restaurants are based on foreign themes. Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, American, etc. No Swedish food. Stockholm has many of the American chain restaurants that I have not been exposed to since I left the US. We have attended the Hard Rock Café (twice). It has been a long time since I have had good Nachos.

Another favorite of my coworkers is this fast-food restaurant called "Tasty Thai", which really isn't the Thai food I've been used to in the past; but sort of a Chinese food restaurant with vague Thainess.

With each of our daily emergences from the bunker/cave, we found ourselves at a nice little lunch buffet, which was also enjoyed by the locals. I managed to avoid the "Fisk". It was reasonably priced, at 90 SEK for a hot meal. I guess that is reasonably priced; the currencies here are all difficult to calculate in your head.

Next Steps
Due to logistics, and timing issues, I had my trip here extended by a few days. Since the family is now back in the US, and the neighbors are watching over the house, I will extend my trip to Lithuania, to work on one of our Project Titan sites. The work should take about a day. Hopefully, I will find some sort of solution for my camera battery problems before I go to Lithuania. I may never get to go back to that country any time soon.

Back to America
The other 5 members of the family have returned to the US for several weeks. Stacy stepped off the plane and immediately was reminded that Virginia is a very unpleasant place in the summer. "I want to go back to Switzerland" she quickly announced. I am considering a trip back to America in the end of July, but I am not really be looking forward to it. The Summer is the most excellent time in Switzerland, and wasting it by going back to the US is .. well... a waste of precious Summer.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Day in Amsterdam

My company is notorious for scheduling trips to foreign countries where it is an active holiday. We almost scheduled a week in Stockholm where it is a "ghost town" -- their second most important holiday of the year after Christmas. "midsommardagen" -- Not really a big deal, except that we need their staff to be attentive to our needs on these trips. So scheduling this trip to Stockholm on this week would have been disastrous. I can imagine a conversation sounding like this, if the roles were reversed:

"Yes, we need you to help us work; we have some people showing up in your office on the last Thursday of November. They will be working only on Thursday and Friday. Yes, they will probably be working 12 to 14 hour work days. Yes, we need your staff on-hand during that time. That would be great. Thanks. "

Thankfully, we were forewarned by a clueful Swede, and the trip postponed. But unfortunately, that means that my trip to Stockholm is being delayed until the 22nd of June, and it isn't really that incredibly convenient a time for me.

My recent trip to Amsterdam also happened to be on a public holiday. It was not only a holiday for me while I was in Switzerland (Another holiday here I have missed! I'll rant about that in a second) . In addition, you may recall that my co-workers coming from America had their flight canceled. So stuck in Amsterdam on a holiday with all the stores closed on a hot summer's day -- what was I to do? The delay of me asking that question and this post is mostly because I had no way to get the pictures off of my camera while I was on business in Amsterdam. Now that I have uploaded and sorted the pictures, this story comes to you.

How to spend a day in a city I don't know much about. Oh! I know! Go walking and try to get lost in this foreign city. This has been a stragey to serve me well -- I found the Tokyo Dome once when I was in Japan wandering around (and watched a way-cool baseball game too). I have found wonderful places to go jogging in Stockholm. I have found the most delicious Indian food in Singapore. Why not Amsterdam, too. This is one of my favorite past-times. Along people-watching. What better way to do both at the same time.

I wandered into the big central-park equivalent of Amsterdam, and discovered that not only is it a holiday, but all the young people are out in their bikinis. Of course, I am walking around like a nerd with a pair of jeans, but this doesn't matter much to me. It is a nice park, and I'm going on a walkabout, darn it!

Slideshow of the few pictures I took

Unfortunately, the only fun I had was the first day, when my co-workers hadn't yet shown up. We continually worked 12, 13 even 15 hour days after that. There never was time for lunch. Fortunately, we filled up on a large expensive buffet breakfast first, worked the whole day through, and had a nice dinner.

My business trip's departure had been delayed twice, once with a 3 day extension, once with a one day extension. When I asked the hotel clerk for that one day extension, he managed to find room for me. But oh by the way, the rate is now a hundred Euros more than before! Oy! I was being charged the weekend rate, now this was the weekday rate. No matter. On the last night of my work day there, that was a 16 or 17 hour day. We showed up around 10:00 am, and did not leave until 2 am. I had an early flight the next morning. I asked the man behind the desk what time I had to get a cab to get to the airport on time to get my flight. 4:30. Ugh. That means I will need a wake up call at 04:00. So for two hours, I slept in the bed. I did not want to do the math that at 300 Euros a night, for 2 hours of sleeping, that works out to about 150 Euros an hour. Ouch.

Friday, June 13, 2008

It is Gardening Season!

One of the great things about the new house is that we have

Sommerrodelbahn bei Kandersteg

(Summer sledding in the city of Kandersteg)

Stacy had enough. Sitting in the house every weekend had reached a peak of "unacceptableness". We were doing something this weekend; I don't care what. We're getting out of this house.

She scoured the Internet for the greatest of the Summer available adventures. The kids whimpered that they needed to stay home to play video games and be sloth-like. Stacy would have none of it. Many trips were presented to Captain Grouch-meister himself: Jake. All were summarily rejected save one. Kandersteg.

Jake had just previously spent a week with school in the town of Kandersteg. The school's program is called "Landschulwoche" which really means "getting out of the classroom for a week so that the kids can have fun together in a class-like setting. This seems almost unheard of in America.

We set out of the house around 9-10'ish, and got on a train from Gümligen to Münsigen, where we changed to a train to Spiez. Once at Spiez, we travelled direct to Kandersteg. We arrived around 10:30. After walking around for a short while, we found a restaurant that was empty. In my stay here in Switzerland, I have learned that the Swiss are many things:

  • Punctual
  • Very sensitive to noise
  • Have a very narrow time in which they must eat lunch. If you stray outside of this time, you will go hungry or end up waiting until it is the correct time.
It would seem that we violated all of these Swiss tenets at once. We showed up before the lunch rush; expecting to be fed at 11:00AM. Since there are four kids, they are definitely loud. And we show up at a restaurant on a Sunday when it is not the right time to eat. It is a wonder the Swiss haven't extradited us yet.

The waiter started speaking German with us, Stacy and I spoke back in German. Once the waiter heard our kids speaking to each other in English, they decided to switch the language to English. (OK with me!) I enjoyed the Lötschbergerröschti: potato pancake with grilled veggies, and two slabs of cheese not unlike Raclette cheese. Jake enjoyed the expensive steak (he has figured out that we will always buy him steak. We should stop buying him steak). Stacy had a sandwich with too much mayo, and the three younger kids all shared a large bowl of sauce-less spaghetti.

Our tummies full, the kids played in the playground right next to the restaurant while I paid the bill. After a short pause, time enough for a few pictures of the mountains and the kids playing, we were off to the hills. Just in time: The Swiss all punctually showed up hungry for lunch precisely at noon.

We rode a chair-lift to the top of the local hill and marveled at the sights to be seen. There were mountains that were still snowy. One of the local peaks had a glacier that looked like it was ready to break off to the hills below. I enjoyed the ride up with Joey, who asked constant questions about the chair lift, scenery, etc. He pointed out trees ,rocks, and cows along the way. Below the chair lift I noticed a path for the cheap-skates to walk up for free. Since the ascent is a non-trivial 450-500 meter climb, I think the chair-lift was a better idea. Each time we do some sort of hike, I end up carrying Joey.

Finally: The destination we had been looking for: The summer sledding. Since there was no more snow at this altitude, there was no way to do the sledding on snow. This was a small park with metal tracks, kind of like what you expect to see with Olympic bob-sledding. We purchased one ride to make sure that the kids would like to do the trip. After an enthusiastic first run, the kids begged for us to buy the 10-pack.

The minimum age for a rider was 8, but you could have two go through if the riders doubled-up together. We ended up getting more trips for everbody, by having Cecilia go with somebody. I usually went with Josh or Cecilia; Joey usually went with Stacy. Oftentimes Josh would go with Jake.

The trip was like most roller-coaster rides, a slow trip to the top of the hill, and gravity took you the rest of the way down. At the end of the ride, you woudl take a ride half-way back up the hill to exit the ride.

Here is a video of the ride:

Here is a slideshow of the day:

(Slideshow: click to view the pictures more closely)

On the train ride home, a pair of Americans got on-board the train. We didn't talk to them, but we did overhear their conversation. Judging by their awful twang and broken grammar, there was doubt, they were from the southern United States. I had almost forgotten how horribly southern accents grate my nerves. Now I really don't want to go back to the United States.