Archive for the 'travel' Category


Ridiculous AT&T Commercials

Over the last few months, AT&T has aired a series of commercials trying to convince the American public that they should use AT&T as their wireless carriers so they can avoid having “no bars” in Belgium, Finland, France, Spain, and, presumably, by extension, Europe in general (and Hong Kong). When I first saw these ads, I couldn’t help wonder how effective these ads could be given that the average American doesn’t go to Europe very often. Any person who decides to go with AT&T on the off chance they wind up in Europe and want to use their American cell phone there has just made a very foolish decision.

Continue reading ‘Ridiculous AT&T Commercials’


Back online

If you’re one of my, say, 3 regular readers, you probably noticed that the blog was down for the last few days.  On Thursday morning I flew to Pittsburgh for some meetings but before I left, I checked my server machine to see if it seemed safe to leave on for about 5 days with no one home.

Upon inspection, I discovered that the power supply fan had died.  The computer was still working but the fan in the power supply had given up the ghost.  It wasn’t too surprising, actually, since it had been chirping on and off for probably 2 years.  In fact, I had bought 2 replacement power supplies in July of 2006 just in case the existing power supply would fail – an occurrence that actually took a lot longer than I expected.  In any case, I discovered this problem about 15 minutes before the taxi was supposed to pick me up, so I had to just shut everything down.  After returning late on Monday night, I spent some time on Tuesday trying to get things fixed.  However, things weren’t quite as easy as I expected. Continue reading ‘Back online’


Things you don’t learn in German class

I was just going through some old papers of mine and I found a little scrap of paper in amongst all the other papers with 4 German words written on it. I’m not quite sure what I had in mind when I wrote them down, but they are a few of my favorite German words, so I thought I would write about them here. I first heard them while I lived in Germany and I came to like them and be very amused by them. I think when you learn words like this in a non-native tongue, you start to see the personality of the language and really enjoy speaking it. Anyway, without further ado:

  1. Zack!” (Interjection) This was used often by my coworkers as a sort of onomatopoeia when something happened quickly or unexpectedly, not unlike “Boom!” My German dictionary translates it as “just like that” or “before you knew it”, but “Zack!” is much succinct and expressive, so I like it much better.
  2. Ratzfatz” (Adverb) This word is used to denote that something is or should be done quickly. I like the fact that its two syllables rhyme.
  3. Schwuppdiwupp!” (also just “Schwupp”) (interjection) This is similar to “Zack!”, although it carries with it more of sense of the unexpected or out of control. So, while I could say “… and then I punched him in the face. Zack!”, “Schwuppdiwupp” would not be appropriate here. Instead, it could be used like this: “I stepped out the door and schwuppdiwupp, I was on the ground thanks to the ice on the step.”
  4. Dingsbums” (noun) This roughly means “thingamajiggy” or “doodad”. It’s a word you use when you can’t think of the correct name for something. This word is becoming less popular in polite society because of the “bums” part, which is reminiscent of the verb “bumsen” which literally means “to bump”, but which has become a vulgar slang word for sex. In order to get past this problem, people often use “Dingsda” instead.

Fellow German speakers, what are you favorite German words?


Unusual modes of transportation

Since I can remember, I’ve been interested in antiquated or unique modes of transportation. Generally, my exposure to such transportation has come as a result of traveling to some new place where said transportation is or had been used.

Upon moving to Pittsburgh, I became interested in the inclines, which are technically known as funiculars. These are basically railways that go up the side of a mountain at a steep angle. Not to be confused with cog railways, funiculars are drawn by cables and generally include two cars which counter-balance one another, one going up while the other goes down. There are two left in Pittsburgh: the Monongahela Incline and the Duquesne Incline, both of which are on the south shore of the Monongahela River and take passengers from river level up to the top of Mt. Washington, a bluff on the south side of the city. While there are only 2 left today, 19 inclines have called Pittsburgh home over the years. Furthermore, though my exposure to inclines has been limited to those in Pittsburgh, there are inclines all over the world, including all continents except Antarctica.

Another form of transportation that captured my imagination during a trip is the system of canals in England. Obviously, I had seen boats and rivers before, but I was fascinated by the man-made features of the canals that enabled them to negotiate difficult terrain. During our trip to England, I saw plenty of locks in person and read about other interesting parts of canals elsewhere, including canal tunnels, navigable aqueducts, boat lifts, canal inclined planes, and marine railways. A number of years later, during my year in Germany, I saw a boat lift in person: the Henrichenburg Boat Lift on the Dortmund-Ems Canal. Shortly thereafter, I decided that when I retired, I would build an elaborate model of the British countryside, including railroads and canals, with particular emphasis on including the interesting features listed above. I’m less committed to this plan now than I was at the time, so we’ll just have to see if this works out or not. I’ll let you know in 40 years or so.

A third form of transportation to which I was introduced during a trip is what might be called a cable car or aerial tramway. During a trip to Germany with my parents in 2000, we rode up to the top of the Zugspitze in a cable car. The Zugspitze is interesting because it’s right on the border between Germany and Austria and you can actually go back and forth between Germany and Austria on the observation deck at the top. Not only that, getting to the top involves taking a cable car or a cog railway, so it offers two unique transportation options. While the cable car was interesting, it didn’t really capture my imagination in the same way as the canals or even the inclines had. Perhaps this is due to it being more modern and not seeming to belong to a different era.

The last form of transportation to which I was exposed on a trip involves much shorter range transport than the others. The year I lived in Germany I got to take a tour of the WDR studios in Cologne. In their main building, they had a crazy elevator-type contraption called a paternoster. Basically, it’s like an elevator with no doors that never stops. There are two shafts side by side and a series of cars on a continuous loop travel up one shaft and then down the other. This means that you simply step in on one floor and step out when you reach your desired destination. If it’s not clear what I’m talking about, check here. These really fascinated me for a while because they’re unique, very efficient, belong to an earlier era and are disappearing. Right now, there aren’t many of these left in existence and those that survive seem to be getting phased out as buildings are renovated or demolished, since they’re more dangerous than normal elevators and they’re not handicapped-accessible.

The 4 modes of transportation mentioned above fall into two categories for me: those that I have used and those that I have not. I have been in inclines in Pittsburgh and I rode a cable car in Austria. However, I have never been on a canal boat, much less on a boat while it went through a lock or some other interesting canal feature. In addition, I have never been on a paternoster. I hope that I’ll get the chance to take both of these modes of transportation in the not-too-distant future.  If I do, I’ll let you know.


June 2022

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