Église Saint-Paul de Strasbourg


If you’ve been to Strasbourg, then you know how it is. The cathedral is big and imposing and it stands in the center of the city and you can visit it. It’s surrounded by outdoor coffee shops where you can sit and look up at it, and if you can manage to hail a waiter you can drink coffee and smell the strong cigarette smell coming from other patrons who sit and drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. But you can’t watch the carabinieri stroll by because this is France not Italy.

OK, I’m not Hemingway, and this is not that cathedral. This is the Church of St. Paul. In any other city, this would would be the cathedral – but here it lives among the ranks of the SCHNN (smaller churches hardly nobody notices) because it is eclipsed by the much bigger cathedral.


The Grande Île of Petite-France in Strasbourg


This is a picture of a Strasbourg canal, taken from the Grande Île in the Petite-France neighborhood. With all the bridges and blacktop you’d never realize this was an island – and I never realized it either until I looked it up on Wikipedia.

This is also a “best kept secret” of Strasbourg, since it is only just a few blocks from the main train station (Gare Central) in Strasbourg, but in a direction opposite to where most tourists head when they descend upon the city. It is amazing what things you can miss – or find – by simply walking in the wrong direction.


Vacations when nobody else wants to


I think it is known as “the shot” of the Taj Mahal, which I took in high summer. You can’t see it here, but it was over 40 C (100 F), and this was the time of year that tourists stay away.

Whether it is the desert in mid-summer or Warsaw in mid-Winter . . . you don’t just save money, but also you get an interesting (or even better) view of touristy places when you travel during the off-season.

The Zen of Polished Chrome

A guest blog, by Arlene Ritley

We all want to be rich.  Being rich means living the good life.  Being rich gives us the freedom to go where we want to go and buy what we want to buy.  Being rich can and often does create a feeling of happiness or euphoria.

Sooner or later, however, we come to realize, whether consciously or subconsciously, that happiness and contentment is fleeting.  Happiness doesn’t last long.  We want this feeling to last a life-time but it truly is short lived.

Pearl S. Buck once said, “Many people lose the small joys in the hope for big happiness”.  How true.

I have found the small joy in my life that brings me continual happiness.

You are probably sitting on the edge of your seat, waiting to read what this small joy is.

I will gladly share it with you now.

New Faucets


You laugh.  You think I am a crazy old woman.  How can you find happiness in a new faucet?  But I do!

Keep in mind the last thing I see before going to bed is my new faucet.  I stand there admiring the newness, the shine and the sleek sensual look.  My spirits soar, joy bubbles up, and my outlook for tomorrow becomes positive.  I go to bed knowing that in the morning my friend the faucet will still be there shining light on a new day.

Day after day, night after night, for a short period of time I’ll feel rich and, yes, happy.


This guest blog was submitted by Arlene Ritley, an editor with the Island Moon Newspaper – one of South Texas’s largest community newspapers.


Barry Eisler was here


This is the restaurant Auberge de la Reine Blanche (or White Queen’s Hotel) on the Île Saint-Louis in Paris, the location of the terrific short story “Paris is a Bitch” by Barry Eisler.  Of all Eisler’s books, I always thought this story was very aptly named as a double or even triple entendre: it concerns the unrelated trouble and violence encountered in Paris by an assassin, just prior to him terminating a long-time romance.

When backs are better than fronts


We take it for granted that buildings have frontsides – and that the front façades are somehow meant to be the most impressive.  But this is the backside of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, and in my opinion it is far more impressive and enjoyable to look at than the front side.  And what’s more: this great view is perhaps rarely seen or enjoyed by the armies of tourists that stop briefly to visit then move on.

I have a few more examples where the hidden backsides of things are more stunning than the visible front sides, which I’ll post as time permits.


Cable ferry across the Rhein


You’ve heard of cable cars and cable bridges and cable TV – but have you heard of a cable ferry?

This is something I have not encountered very often: a car-carrying ferry across a river, which itself is pulled by a cable that runs high above the river, rather than pushed by a motor. What you see here is located on the Rhein river, between Germany and France, in the small town of Plittersdorf.  I discovered this quite by accident during my first year in Germany, by taking the Rastatt exit off the autobahn then driving towards the river. (Very embarrassing admission: I exited the Autobahn here in need of gasoline, and it seems I confused the village name with the German word for the Autobahn rest area, or Raststätte! I wonder if anyone else makes this mistake?)

It is amazing just how little known this is – but during the summer, and especially on bicycle, it is a wonderful old-time way to cross the river.

Learning from the ants


I’ve always been fascinated by termite mounds as an example of emergent behavior – but as far as I can tell (mainly by the millions of little black ants swarming all over it), this is a true ant mound, not a termite mound.  I took this picture in Tamil Nadu, not too far outside of Tiruchirappali, in the far south of India.

An unresolved mystery I want to clear up one of these days: when I talk to the village locals, they invariably refer to these structures as “snake houses” and not “termite houses.”  I think we both agree snakes live here – but I’ve never really understood if the villagers know these structures are created by insects, not reptiles.

If anyone has any links to the termites and ants of southern India, please do share them with me!  I’ve seen some very exotic architectures, and I’ll post more pictures as time permits.

Eiger Chopper search continues…


The search for an upgrade for the Eiger Chopper continues.  I spent about 500 km on a Honda CTX1300A this weekend – here it is shown parked on the south shore of the Bodensee, also known as Lake Constance, between Germany and Switzerland.

Very nice bike. Very comfortable upright touring position. Center of mass very low to the ground. Terrific power. Windscreen very effective. Saddlebags and top case made of cheap plastic, could scratch easily. Handgrip heating system very nice.

I couldn’t go wrong with this one, but I’m still looking.

Visiting Israel during the crisis in Gaza

This is the so-called "Western Wall" in the old city of Jerusalem. It was amazing, both because it was smaller than I expected, and because essentially no one was visiting on this day.
This is the so-called “Western Wall” in the old city of Jerusalem. It was amazing, both because it was smaller than I expected, and because essentially no one was visiting on this day.

I just returned from my first trip to Israel, where I had a fabulous time. What is happening in Gaza is of course a tragedy, but away from Gaza in Israel – as elsewhere – life goes on.  I wanted to share a few pictures and observations and thoughts after my first visit to this country.


The Gaza conflict has devastated the travel industry. Airline tickets and hotel prices are ridiculously low, sites visited by thousands of tourists are empty, and as as long as you are not in Gaza Israel is statistically safer than your own country, no matter what your country may be. But also, this is a region it seems, unfortunately, of perpetual conflict – and I wanted to see and feel for myself a bit of what life is like in Israel.

Getting there

A few things disappointed me. I had read that the security is so high, even at the airport you’ll be “approached” by other passengers who are really secret Mossad operatives trying to size you up as a terrorist threat. Or that the security in Ben Gurion airport is so high, they will open your luggage and inspect each item. I was really looking forward to this!  Sadly, none of this was true in my case. Our jumbo jet was filled with 30 passengers at most, so we could sit where we wanted. And at the Ben Gurien airport I never saw a guard or a gun. The only difficulty was getting through customs: the customs officer spoke with me (and I am not making this up!) about 10 minutes before he finally let me through.

Finally, I was looking forward to having my passport stamped with “a visa stamp so damaging, other Arab countries may put you in jail.” Sadly, this never happened either. My passport was not stamped; instead I got a little printed paper with a barcode and was told to keep it in my passport. So after returning home, I taped the printout to my passport instead of throwing it away – just to give me that diabolical feeling!


5 days is not nearly enough to take in this fabulous country.  Europe is “brand spanking new” in comparison to the history you’ll find here. Fabulous food. Very friendly people in all Quarters of Jerusalem. Fabulous weather. Economically, lots of shopkeepers seem very worried about their immediate future – since the city is of devoid of tourists, but at this time there should be thousands.

As time permits I’ll share a few other pictures I took.

ACM – The best kept secret in IT?

I was recently asked: how do I keep current on the latest trends and developments in IT?  The short answer: ACM.


Technical folks can be the worst marketers, and that’s probably why the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) is not as well known in the general IT community as it should be.  This is the best professional society to support IT that I know of, and membership brings you lots of benefits:

To be fair, I think the organization struggles with one challenge: it tries to reach the complete IT audience, from the academic scholars that research if P=NP, to the compiler designers, to everyday IT guys like me.  This shows in their monthly magazine, which might have little to appeal to your tastes. But this is more than compensated for, by the library and specific topical newsletters.

Summary: If you want to stay current in IT topics, I highly recommend you consider membership in the ACM.

You can find out more about the ACM at their webpage.

It’s hard to take good photos of big cathedrals


This photo of the Saint-Étienne de Metz cathedral in Metz isn’t too bad – but it’s not great either. It’s just darned hard to take good photos of big buildings using mobile phones. I wonder if this is something modern architects are aware of and try to account for in their designs?

Of all the cathedrals in Europe, I think this is one of the most impressive I’ve seen. They all have flying buttresses and ornate features, but this one – and others like it in the region – are all made of a very light-colored stone that comes from this part of France. Apparently, the yellow color is due to a high iron content in the stone.

Another pretty view of Metz


When it’s summer and the sun is shining, it is hard to find prettier villages than those in Europe.  But as you’ll probably see in a few months, when it’s cold and rainy, those same views become quite dreary and depressing.

Thionville – normal city, tourists need not apply


Thionville (pronounced “tee-own-vee”) is a French village along the Moselle river and just on the border with Belgium. It’s a small village, and because there are no tourist attractions, you’re not likely to find any tourists here. There was some heavy fighting and a lot of casualties during WWII, so there are a lot of historical markers everywhere – but that’s it.

Is it just me, or do other people also enjoy spending time in normal places, without any tourist attractions, where everyday people grow up and spend their lives?

You can find more information about Thionville in Wikipedia – but it’s so boring, even Google won’t return this link on the first page when you search for it!

Metz – Birthplace of the Gregorian chant


Metz (pronounced “mess”) is a wonderful old city in the northeast corner of France, in the part of France known as Lorraine. It was here that, in the 8th century, the famous religious chanting of the monks – known as Gregorian Chant  – was developed.

One thing I find so wonderful about this magnificent city is that the only tourists you will find here are French tourists. It’s generally off-the-beaten-path for world travelers, so the only people you’ll see enjoying the sights are likely to be other people from France.

Another thing I find so wonderful are the buses, which I think are among the most unusual buses in the world. They are very long and composed of many cars and they look just like trains, but they move on rubber wheels.

You can find more information about Metz in Wikipedia.