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Spring in AZ

Posted by Jeremy Schultz on April 20, 2007

Hunka Chocolate cookies
Hunka Chocolate Cookies

Kimberly and I were in Chandler last weekend, which means indulgence in family visiting, home-cooked food, and some great cycling. It’s now been exactly one year since we moved to Portland. Sorry for those of you still in AZ, but for us, there’s no turning back. The contrast between Phoenix and Portland seems obvious from a weather standpoint, but the incongruity grows increasingly vast with every visit I make. But that’s another long story.

What a great trip. I caught up with old friends, did some great riding, spent Easter hanging out with the core Schultz team, and even got some work done. Kimberly arrived and the indulgence really began. We went back to some of our favorite restaurants, and of course had a hearty batch of Mom’s sausage bread. I should’ve taken a picture of that. But I did take a handful of photos you can check out at this flickr set.

I’m hoping to keep blogging more regularly, I swear! I’ve always got tons of ideas, but I don’t take the time to put things down. I want to finish the sabbatical tales, but I think that’s a big task that’s keeping me from writing quicker blogs. So, hopefully you’ll occasionally see those long stories pop up interspersed with more regular entries.

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Cernobbio

Posted by Jeremy Schultz on January 19, 2007

Ok, take a breath, the trip now continues.

It’s Tuesday, October 3rd. We hop on a mid-day train to Como, Italy. We have 1st class tickets and the train isn’t too shabby. Short moments after we leave the main station we are rolling through open, grassy farmland. The first thing that strikes me is the fact that every little farm building I see has a cluster of solar panels on top. This is one thing that Europe is getting right. I remember home owners’ associations in the Phoenix area that tried to ban solar panels & water heaters because they deemed them an eyesore. Now we’re talking about complacent ignorance! We need to get better about making long-term investments, not only financially, but for the sustainability of our planet. But I’ll save more on that for another post.

We learned another thing shortly into our train ride: our AAA travel agent was not very thorough. When you buy a Eurail pass, you have to specify the countries you will be traveling within, and how many days you will be on the train. Add more to either, and it costs more money. We had 6 days and Germany, Italy, France, and Benelux. The gentleman checking our ticket informed us that this train travels through Switzerland. Arrggh. Twenty-odd euros later, we’re still in our seats.

Le Alps

The train slithers along the landscape, teasing our eyes with majestic towns nestled along the sky islands of the Swiss Alps. I love the Alps. I fell in love in July during the Tour: humid green valleys are the troughs, tight knight communities surf the lower slopes, trees climb near the top, and bare peaks reach 2 miles/3.2 kilometers high. Ah, I’m losing the story again.

We arrive in Como at around 10pm. Travel agent failure number 2: Cernobbio is about 10km from Como, and we have no ride. Lucky for us, there’s a lady in the same predicament, and she speaks both English and Italian. She calls for a taxi and orders another for us! Cheers long lost friend! Ok, this is equally our fault, but it’s the kind of detail you work with a travel agent to figure out. We arrive at the hotel, The Hotel Regina Olga. The agent had picked this one out, and it was pretty nice. It had an old feel to it, almost a bit of a Shining feeling, sort of a tacky elegance. Travel agent failure 3: we check in, and the girl at the desk as for our confirmation papers. Eh? She lets us check in anyway, and I end up being able to get our agent on the phone. Luckily she responds quickly and faxes over everything we need. Time to enjoy Cernobbio.

So where the hell is Cernobbio? When we were planning the trip, we decided that a quiet stay on Lake Como sounded elegant. Comically enough, we had first heard of it while watching Ocean’s 12. I unfortunately didn’t do much research or reading until I cracked open the Lombardia section of Rick Steves’ Italy on the train over. Rick, I came to read, most recommends Varenna among the towns that encircle Lake Como. Rats, but too late for that. We “picked” Cernobbio through the whims of our travel “agent.”

Lake Como

Lake Como is shaped like an inverted Y. The city of Como is situated in the lower left corner and Cernobbio is the adjacent town to the north. Cernobbio was pretty quaint, overall. The city is fairly narrow from south to north, and is bordered by the lake in the east and heads steeply up the adjacent hill to the west. Within Cernobbio, we spent most of our time walking around and enjoying the lake, looking for interesting eats and drinks (didn’t make it to Tom & Jerry’s Pizzeria), and hiking up the surrounding hills. We did have some really fantastic pizze (yes, with an E) at just about every restaurant we went to. The pizze there reminds me of sushi in Tokyo: elegantly simple. There are no Mexican or everything or burger pizzes. At the most, a pizze might have two toppings. They use sauce moderately, and the crust is very thin. Altogether, it’s a much lighter bite than even your foldable New York slice. For a light dinner at one point, we ordered a pizza and a huge salad. We saw a table of old folks who each ordered a pizza as their main dish. Whatever happened to that Mediterranean diet? I guess we are in northern Italy.

Speaking of diets, obesity seems to be a rarity around here. On top of that, people are really well dressed. You’d think they all had their clothes tailored. I suppose it was a fairly affluent area, but you couldn’t deny all the well-fitted clothing going around. Speaking of which, my clothes definitely grew tighter over the course of the trip. I made the mistake of not really planning fitness into the trip. As the person who hates to go a day without at least a short workout, this was not smart. To try and get some exercise, why tried to hike a bit in the surrounding hills. I could not believe how steep it was. I can’t imagine those “trails” get used very often. Going up was kinda fun, but coming down most definitely was not. But as you can see, the view was fantastic.

Still with me? Probably not, but in any case, time to wrap it up. Another cool thing we did around Lake Como was to hop on the water taxi over to Bellagio. Nope, not the Vegas hotel, it’s the 2500+ year-old commune that inspired the hotel. Bellagio sits on the joint of the inverted Y, providing a 270-degree view of the lake. We visited an old church, walked among overpriced jewelry and souvenir shops, and had one of the best meals of the entire trip, straight out of the Rick Steves’ book. Don’t travel without it!

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Recent movies

Posted by Jeremy Schultz on January 14, 2007

Before I go back to the sabbatical, I’ll tell you what’s on my mind of late. For one thing, Kimberly and I have been renting quite a few movies lately. The reasons for this are many: way cheaper (our awesome local video shop lets you buy a block of 10 rentals for $30), convenient (no driving, no gas burned, more money saved!), pause, fridge, and on and on. Some of our recent rentals include:

  • Memoirs of a Geisha – much better than I expected, awesome soundtrack, recommended – Japanese culture is fascinating, all they’ve accomplished from that small island, a history to be explored further….
  • Equilibrium – kinda Matrix/1984, a bit cheesy filming, but good story, recommended
  • An Inconvenient Truth – a little more about Al Gore than I expected (guy would’ve been elected easily if this had been made before the “election“), but this is a must see for everyone on Earth
  • Who Killed the Electric Car? – documentary about the death of the GM EV1 electric car, good view into the power of the oil/corporate lobby, very good
  • Tsotsi – story of a troubled gangster in South Africa, pretty gripping and a good insight into the juxtaposition of the rich and poor in that country, great stuff
  • Hotel Rwanda – story of the uprising that occurred in Rwanda in 1994 where an extremist group of Hutus kills the president and proceeds to kill 1 million Tutsis and others in one of the worst (the worst?) genocides of recent history, barely covered here in the U.S. – gives you an insight into the results of the ravaging endured by Africa from Europe, the US and other powers over the last few centuries – must see

There have definitely been more; we’re on our fourth block of movies! But these are the ones that left some kind of an imprint in my mind.

In any case, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about globalism, sustainability, urban planning and history. As I’m in the middle of my inward career search, it’ll be interesting to see where this goes.

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Welcome to 2007

Posted by Jeremy Schultz on January 14, 2007

Yikes, I allowed two months to pass since I last posted! Please accept my apologies, riders. I still do intend to continue to chronicle the sabbatical, for no better reason than to relive it again in my own mind. As you might guess, I struggle with repetitive tasks. I need a “straight from the brain” blog editor. Actually, that’d probably be a bad idea. There’s already too much blog-noise out there to be able to manage!

Is this blog just blog noise? That’s debatable. My point with it is simply to capture the goings-on of my life. That might include some tips and how-to’s, maybe a little commentary, but mostly not. How do I make this a habit?

Those last two months have treated me exceptionally well. But more on that later, I swear. Until then, I wish you and yours the best year of existence yet! Cheers to your health and balanced well-being. See your future with new eyes:

Open Your Eyes

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Oktoberfest

Posted by Jeremy Schultz on November 13, 2006

Alright, back to topic.

Oktoberfest, first of all, is only what English-speakers call it; Germans refer to it as “die Wiesn,” which translates as “field,” short for Theresienwiese, the field where it all happens. (Side thought: Why does there have to be an english version of things titled originally in other languages? There’s no Munich on a German map: it’s München. Venice? Venezia. Rome? Roma. So, I don’t live in Portland, I live in Hafenland, or Terra di Orificio? This practice stops now.)

First thing I found out, die Wiesn isn’t exactly obvious to find. The field where it lies is a couple miles from the main city center. As you can kinda see, there’s quite a crowd. We had been to the Hofbräuhaus as part of our impromptu city center tour, and I figured that die Wiesn must be a close walk around. So one of the days, we walked all over the place. I don’t know how, but we didn’t get anywhere. We finally asked somebody, and found we needed to hop on the subway. So, after a long bout of trying to figure how/where to buy a ticket (amazing how some cities make this easy, others, not so easy), we rode one train, transferred, and arrived to one of the two stops that arrives nearby.

We follow the flow of people from the subway exit, through a neighborhood, and finally to the field, er, die Wiesn. On one hand, it looks like your typical state fair. Lots of places to buy munchies, souvenir stands, and a collection of bolted-together-rides-on-a-big-trailer. You can see from the picture above that there are quite a few people there: all ages, families, and groups of teenagers, nobody left out. But that’s just the outside the tents. According to the official website, there are 14 large tents. A friend of mine from work, who we were supposed to meet up with, had done some research and found that there were a couple tents where you could arrive without reservations and have some luck getting seated. Being on the last couple days of the event, and arriving in the early afternoon, I was feeling confident. And as you might guess, I was dead wrong. Every tent we went into was packed, with dozens of people standing around vulturing or waiting in line.

It’s an interesting scene. There really isn’t that much going on. Essentially, each tent is just a giant temporary pub with long tables, 1-liter mugs of beer flying around, big plates of food being served, various types of music filling the air, and a healthy cloud of smoke hovering overhead. But I’d have to say, I was impressed with number of folks who sported their Dirndls and Lederhosen (great Halloween idea, hmmm). In the end, we went to die Wiesn without going to Oktoberfest. We followed another flow of people back to subway, across to the city center to an outdoor bar at Viktualienmarkt, where we enjoyed a couple of modest 1/2-liter beers and one big breze.

Almost forgot, we never hooked up with my friend. I forgot to chat with him before he left and never got his hotel. He had mine. When we check out, the person at the desk hands us a piece a paper, says “You got a message, sorry.” Oh well, I hope he had better luck than we did. And off to Como we go….

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Why do used car salesmen get all the credit?

Posted by Jeremy Schultz on November 8, 2006

Big chain gym membership salespeople are just as sleazy. I’ve belonged to quite a few different gyms over the years, and I’ve always favored the mom-and-pop gym over the big chain. Unfortunately, there isn’t one near us here in Portland. I have a “gym” at work, but it’s really just a handful machines that they call a “fitness center” that the company likely uses to lower their insurance costs. Plus, it’s just not convenient. So, that lead us to a nearby Gold’s Gym. Maybe I was being naive, but we have a couple friends who work out there, and it is Portland, so maybe they’d be a little more open and friendly.

We walk in, and the gym looks pretty nice. They have us fill out an information card, which includes cheesy questions such as “how serious are you about accomplishing your fitness goals?” and “how long have you been thinking about your fitness goals?” In other words, “how hard are our salesmen going to have to lean on you?” We get a quick tour, and then are sat down to the salesman’s desk.

First thing he does is ask a bunch of questions straight from a questionnaire on his desk. When was the last time you were in shape? Would you be happy in 5 years with your current regimen? Uggh. Then, he whips out his spiral notebook and shows us a page entitled something like “Dis-Illusion the Gym Membership,” a cute little laminated pamphlet in Gold’s colors that explains that they are completely honest and open, and won’t charge any hidden costs (aside from the $69 initiation fee imposed by Gold’s, we have no control over that).

Finally, he turns to the rates. First thing I notice is a new column called “processing fee” with a charge of $100. Hmmm, must’ve missed that on the “dis-illusion” page. He explains the overall rates, and how you naturally save with a longer commitment. Then he pauses for like 2 minutes, not sure what has happening there. Made me think of a recent “Scrubs” where Zach Braff says something, then thinks to himself, “pause for effect, pause for effect, pause for effect.” I guess we were supposed to say, “$169 up front, $64/month for a year, GREAT! Sign me up now!” Then he tries the old you-weren’t-expecting-so-now-you’re-gonna-love-me technique by saying, “we had this special, I know we’re not supposed to do it anymore, but you could do $20 down and $44/month for a year.” We explain that we really just wanted to check it out and see what else is out there, and then they really start to belittle us. “When are you thinking of joining? End of this month? Ah, it’s not hot for you right now, I see, we won’t bother with the passes then.”

This just kills me. What is with the “golly gee, I just don’t know how I’ll go on if you don’t join our gym” BS sales attitude?  How does it persist? I felt pity for the people I saw in the gym. Each person sat through that in some form or another, poor souls. In 2006, I’d hope for a no BS, open, friendly kind of human interaction. But I guess that only happens at the mom-and-pops.

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Munich

Posted by Jeremy Schultz on November 7, 2006

Marienplatz

I didn’t expect to like Munich as much as I did. We chose it as a destination simply for Oktoberfest. So I really didn’t read about Munich at all as far as food or city attractions. Munich was quite clean, and had the sign of all the truly great cities of the world: thousands of bicycles everywhere. Virtually all the main drags we walked along had a sidewalk and a bikeway that were totally separate from the street. I’ve read that traffic experts differ on whether a separated path is safer or not, but I thought it was nice. Further, Munich has an abundance of public transport, including a subway system, trams and buses. Traffic never *seemed* bad, from a pedestrian’s perspective.

Another pleasant surprise was how nice people were there. The first example occurred minutes after we arrived. The main train station was titanic, which means that each exit takes you to a different street corner. I had a printout of our a hotel’s address and a small map of the area. Our hotel appeared pretty close to the train station so I figured it would be easy to find. After a little eeny, meeny, miny, mo, we picked an exit and got out on the street. I made a futile attempt to ascertain the street name and intersection, and then decided to head, uh, that way. We walk along a bit and stop again to figure out where we are on the map. At this point, a man about our age walks up and asks if we need a hand. I show him our map and he tries to figure it out, then says, “I’ve got a bigger map in my car, let’s go check that out and figure out where you need to go.” Great! I’m guessing his car must be close, but no, it’s probably 150 yards away. He whips out the map, apparently he’s German but is visiting Munich also, and we figure out we needed to in the opposite direction that we started. Thank you, dear citizen! I have no idea what the guy was doing before he helped us, but was damn impressed that he walked way over and spent 10 minutes helping out two completely foreign strangers. Awesome!

Our tour guide

But hold on, I’ve got an example that blows that one away. It was either later that same day, or sometime on the next, but we went exploring the Marienplatz area, which is essentially the city center of Munich. Tons of shops, some car-free walking streets, just a fantastic place. (Why don’t have more of these in the states? We have like one per coast, while I think every city I’ve been to in Europe has many. No wonder we’re fatter, we’re too lazy even to walk.) So we’re walking along, and we stop on a street corner to figure out where we are. Moments later, a lady of about 60 years rolls up on her bike and asks if we need help. “Ah, we’re just trying to figure out where we are,” we tell her. She ends up giving us a 3-hour+ private tour of Munich’s city center. She showed us some hidden courtyards in the Residenz, snuck us past the huge line into a side entrance to Hofbräuhaus, down to Maximilianstrasse, and finally led us to a restaurant in the bowels of a building right on Marienplatz. Rick Steves couldn’t have planned it better himself. Oktoberfest, well, that’s another story.

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Sabbatical recap

Posted by Jeremy Schultz on November 6, 2006

Kimberly and I have been back home for a week now. In her words, the trip was “amazing, beautiful, just unbelievable.” As a reminder, the trip went:

  • Munich – 3 nights
  • Cernobbio, Italy – 5 nights
  • Venice – 3 nights
  • Rome – 3 nights
  • overnight train to …
  • Amsterdam – 3 nights
  • Brussels – 2 nights
  • Taste of Ireland tour – 4 nights
  • Dublin – 3 nights

I’ve got a lot to say about it, and a lot of different thoughts. The trip made more interested in history than ever, gave me some perspective on world power, taught me a helluva lot about what to/not-to do for the next trip, and more. But those are all forth coming posts….

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The beauty of the world grows…

Posted by Jeremy Schultz on August 28, 2006

… proportionally with one’s knowledge of it. Wisdom of the day, for ya. I find it interesting how much life I’ve lived to learn who it is I am. It’s one of those things you don’t really ever complete, but I’ve found you have to be able to stand upon your own two feet. It sounds so trivial when I write it now, but it’s a realization I’ve only recently discovered. I have been bored as hell at work for way too long now, and I think the biggest cause is the lack of learning needed in my current job. BizTalk and integration were new to me, but the underlying technologies, .NET and SQL Server, are old hat. In the end, development is a formula to be applied. There’s some room for creativity in tiny details, but overall, there’s a pattern you can apply to solve a lot of problems. Worse, I can’t believe how much time I spend solving problems that were caused by someone else’s lack of the basic, minimum practices required for quality software. Give me a NEW problem to solve so I can LEARN something and DEVELOP a better methodology. Ack.

Funny how my mind went here. The title sprung into my mind when I was thinking back to a television show about albino animals. There was an alligator, monkey, hippo, lion, porcypine, and more if I remember right. The fascinating part of it was the fact the albinism created a pretty serious survival challenge for each animal. In almost all cases, the animal had evolved to it’s “common” color as a step in evolution. For example, the lion is normally colored like golden wheat, allowing it to stalk unseen within tall grasslands of Africa. In most of the cases, the animal learned to atone for the weakness of its color and developed unique talents. The alligator, for instance, learned patience and to approach it’s prey from a deeper angle.

So there you have it. Embrace the obscure, there is much to be learned from it! Bellittle your weaknesses by embracing your strengths!

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Podium Champagne Spray

Posted by Jeremy Schultz on August 24, 2006

I was writing a quick how-to for deploying a piece of code today, and along the way I decided I’d throw in some instructions for celebration:

Find nearest bottle of Moët et Chandon, shake well, pop the cork, and spray onto anyone within a 15 foot radius.

To construct this fine piece of teaching, I had to do a little research. I discovered that the champagne spray originated at Le Mans in 1967 in an act of spontaneity by American racing legend Dan Gurney. He had just teamed up with A.J. Foyt in a Ford to smash the highly-advanced Ferrari team. Great story. Within that story, I noted the reference to MOËT ET CHANDON, so of course I had to look that up. That Wikipedia is just filled with good stuff.

Until next time, POP!

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