Geek Guide to Aachen.

Oh glorious days between friday and monday. Days we look forward to, days we enjoy, and days we mourn when monday comes and takes them away. So this weekend was a little different. Belgium celebrated 'Truce Day' where we remember the end of the first world war in 1918. Suffice the fact that the weather sucked, on saturday Belgium was drenched in autumn rain and devote of any economical activity, cause all the shops where closed. So we skipped the border and went for a little daytrip to Aachen. 

One of the nice things of living in the nook of the country is that one is very very close to the "aussland" as we could say. 30 km's is the distance that devides us from one of the major Dutch cities of Maastricht, and a small 80 kilometers seperate us from the German city of Aachen. So we pop over regularly. Aachen USED to be the one stop shop place for all my hardware needs. Back in those days the VAT in Germany on computer parts was a only 16% (as opposed to 21% in .Be) and they had some excellent cash-and-carry computer shops to get ones hardware. So we used to order on line, take the car at 9am in the morning , drive to Aachen , arrive at 10, pick and pay our order and be back before dinner. (actually we had dinner in Vaals, in holland, before we came back home) What was nice was the whole international flavor, carrying three kinds of currency and having to speak Dutch, German and occasionally some French before the Saturday afternoon had started. 

But these days things are different. The VAT in Germany went up , making it no longer interesting to buy computerparts, OEM systems are soooo cheap it isn't worth the while and of course the Euro has chased away the Gulden and the Demark. But i'm going to give you a little overview of where we went , so if you ever feel like going .. you know where to go.

MMWhen going to the city of aachen. The best place to park is probably beneath the Media Markett in the town centre. It offers safe and cheap underground parking ,but the cool stuff is , the general multimedia geek-out-paradise is right above you. So no need to "shlepp" around that 50" plasma cross town.  

 

 

 If you exit the parking lott , go to the main "AlexanderGraben" and turn right to stroll down to the center of the town. By then you have probably gotten hungry you can endulge yourself in BratWurst and stuff , but for us a great place to eat is the LOUISIANNA. This very American restaurant offers great ribs, chicken wings , all in a southern flavour. Downright excellent food. But the shop is strategically placed between 2 major points of interests for geeks like us.

 

 

tftAt the entrance of the gallery there is the DATEC computer shop . A very small shop that sports a wide aray of hardware, but is very well known for the MIRAI screens they sell. Getting ones hands on one of their wopping widescreen displays (1440*900 resolution) for 257 Dollars US is a bargain. I personally have bought two over the last two months and absolutely LOVE Them. Looking at an apple cinema display (20" widescreen) for more then double the price, its not worth the hassle.

saturn

But at the end of the gallery, you walk straight into the SATURN MEDIA STORE . When it comes to getting a cheap bargain and a lot of hardware, software, dvd's, music and what have you to browse through , this is sheer heaven. When going shopping for your geeky gear, be sure to COMPARE the prices from the Media Market and the Saturn shop. These two shops are regularly at each others throats and that results in getting a price difference of 80 euro's or more , just by strolling through town. 

glascubus

 And of course, no geek is complete without his dose of coffee. 2 excellent locations pop to mind. First of all , the spectacular "Glass Cubus" A coffeehouse on the top of Aachens major shopping street. Sporting a wide variety of coffee's and Java's its a bit on the pricy side, but worth the while. Where it only to be sitting inside , watch the world go by and having the comforting thought that nobody can look IN.  (but be careful not to walk past it just like that. As you can see on the picture .. it can appear quite invisible.) There is also a Vodaphone shop inside the building, you'll find directions on their site

But if you are into American Coffee , be sure to walk up to the town square and (walk by the LUST FOR LIFE store ) and  visit the local Starbucks . Since we don't have one of those here and we are big big Java sluts, you can mostly find the Knights perched up behind one fracking big cappuccino to round up the day. Mac 

So next time you go over to the German side of the border, you might be interested in our little tourist tour. For all I know , we surely had a swell day. 🙂

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Google buys Youtube .. And even the real world looks up.

It was the most funny thing yesterday morning. I was (as usual) listening to my daily dose of podcasts on my way to work, podcasts about technology and the latest news on the edge of real and cyberspace and beyond. At about seven AM I turned my Ipod off for a minute to tune into the regular news on the radio ( yep , i'm THAT kind of information junkie ). Since we had regional elections last sunday my interest was a little tickled just to know what some of these lame ass parties had come up with in order to work together , run the local towns and not loose face.  Then suddenly I heard something very odd. It even made me check the play button on my Ipod, just to be sure I was not tuned into another podcast. But no : Clear as day, at seven AM in the (mainstream) headline news  they announced Google had just bought You-tube.

 Now rumors where flying around all over the cyber-place about the business model of Youtube, the Future of Youtube and about the lame sod who was going to BUY Youtube someday. Even in the latest edition of the Global Geek Podcast , talk was cheap and speculation was high about this very issue.  But I never thought an event in Cyberspace would hit the mainstream news like that. A small smile of surprise crept along my face as I heard the crunching boot of cyberspace advance yet another pace in the world of the average off-line John. 

Untill a few years ago (i'm talking "95, "96) the internet was this obscure thing for geeks. These days everybody has an email address, every product features his or their website on the package and most people have an internet connection. Although it is still the case that those with their finger on the cyberpulse are a minute few in contrast to the big dumb mass, one cannot help but revel at the phenomenon how the digital world is slowly but surely seeping into the dry desert of the real world. 

Just to let the boys at Google know what they bought and what it's for .. I want to give you this little video.

 
This wonderfull little flick was part of a cabaret show Here is the original scene and shows the true power of You-tube. Take some good content , let loose the creative geeks of the globe to make something completely different out of it and then give them a medium to post it on. 

 

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The Office 2.0

livingYes yes , its the time of the year(s) again that the Knights in the Knightcastle get a little uneasy with the colors they painted on the walls , get bored with the arrangement of furniture and get overdosed by all the 'home improvement' programs on the tv. We dash out to the DIY store and go looking for paint. Now I must say I'm blessed with the fact that Nyana has excellent taste in colors. She picks out two shades of gray (that to me are not even different colors) and says.. 'This will go good together. ' As we left the store I remember grumbling and fretting that we did not go for some cappuccino like shades, and turning the room into one big Starbucks.  But when the paint went on .. the result was amazing.The rooms we did so far are the bedroom and the office / small living room upstairs. Now in our bedroom we obviously sleep. (get your brains out of the gutter). But the office / living room is a different matter. This room used to be my office. But because I had room to spare we shoved in an extra couch and a tv so Nyana could hang out while I was behind my beloved workspace. It worked out so well that we spend the most part of the winter upstairs. Nice and cocoon-y. The wife in front of the tube, the resident geek on you-tube.  But the mutter was in the clutter. Soon enough Mr geek thought it was needed to overstock the room with computer books, extra systems, a sound-mixer, microphone, main boards and cables lying around etc. To be honest , it sometimes looked like the lovechild of an overturned dumpster truck and a main board factory. This was neither relaxing nor efficient. Thus : The new office. Or could I say : The office 2.0.

 

office

 

We started out with a ruthless philosophy. This place had to be clutter free. Asides from the absolute essentials this room would have to breath out calm and efficient vibes. In order to achieve a TV-room / loungeroom / workspace we made sure to check some markers.

cables

  • Relaxing colors. Shades of gray replaced the beige and blue on the walls. The colors of the room should reflect calm-and-easy and by far attract any attention to themselves.
  • Furniture : As little as possible. My big office (the biggest one Ikea had) was sized down to its smallest by removing some extentions. Every bit of furniture is color coordinated .. well thats more something of a coincidence since we buy everything at Ikea and it matches nicely.
  • Cables : The lovely misses had an absolute zero tolerance policy for ANY cabling that was exposed to the naked eye. Also : NONE of the cables , power plugs or power supply's was allowed to hit the floor. A downpour of black power cables in front of an exposed office ? No way. Don't get me wrong. The girl is as geeky as can be .. But the place should not look like a fishing trawlers , nets included.
  • No clutter : Books, ornaments and what-have-you's that where otherwise crammed in our cabinets where removed. Just a little plant here, and a model of my  Enterprise NCC 1701 there. (and some nice starship diagrams nicely framed on the wall).Division bell ! : But probably the most important redesign was dividing the OFFICE (where you work) from the Lab / Studio / library part of a geeks room. Now 10 years of research have given us the conclusion that you cannot keep the geek out of the living room. And you cannot keep the clutter out of the geeks setup. So unless you want a TV room / IT-ground-zero.. You have to seperate the working geek , from the tinkering geek.  Our conclusion ? Move the books / spare parts / lab equiptment of the resident geek to the hobby room upstairs. This meant that podcasting- studio setup went upstairs and is now safely out of direct sight.

The results.

 
cablessWhat can I say : The results are great. Allthough  reluctant to give up my 'matrix style' surroundings of screens and keyboards piled up together. i'm honestly impressed by this new approach. My main desk now consists of my Macbook (docked) and one 19'' widescreen display. When in need of dual screen work , i just flip it open and am able to use my isight camera and more. Instead of using speakers and amplifiers I just routed the audio to either my headphones or the internal speakers of the monitor and thus having less clutter around.  Next to this setup resides my Ubuntu machine hooked up to another 19” display. Because the resolution matches up to the resolutions of two other systems I have around the house (my TV computer and my test system) it can run remote desktop sessions to these machines full screen. Its like having them around.. Without having them around.  Next , instead of using yet another computer to run Windows , i've opted to use virtual machine to emulate and run any other system I required. This all works fine on my AMD XP 3200 machine that has enough ram to run a nice little Windows XP either in Vmware  Player or Paralells. So you see : More machines at my fingertips without taking up space.

 

And then there is the matter of the home server / media TV machine.

http://static.flickr.com/57/254610991_919af0e7d5.jpg?v=1159416879Instead of having a big ass tv in our little office/loungeroom we use a mac mini with a 19” screen and a TV tunercard. This whole setup (along with the main router) is compactly crammed into the little TV cabinet that we use. Having all that gear installed in that little space and just one cable leaving the setup makes up for serenity and no clutter whatsoever. To be on the safe side I did mount a smokedetector INSIDE the cabinet. Since the server keeps running at night, I want to be sure we are alerted should anything go wrong. This is a tip I give to all of you geeks who have machines running at night. Smokedetectors are cheap so , mount them over your “beyond midnight” machines.Epilogue.Allthough I did not expect it … the results are quite fab. Keeping the clutter out of the room has given us a very relaxing inviting room to be in. The screens are still the main focalpoints of attention, but due to the lack of crap around them, it works out just great.  My main desk is this minimalistic fortress occupied only by 2 screens and two sets of keyboards. I thought this was going to bugg me. No extra stuff to twiddle and fiddle with seamed cumbersome. No pheripherals piled up around the setup was something to get used to . But imagine my surprise when I actually found out that I was much more focussed on my systems and could work in a concentraded manner. Also the lack of phisical devices makes one use the virtual possibilities of ones computer more. Less craptime = more screentime. The wife is very happy with all this having a couch strategicly posted in the middle of the room , facing the tv. I can look over her shoulder and peer along to the mainstream mayhem withouth having to leave my chair.  All in all .. its a match in heaven.

 

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The Knightcast Episode 36 : The epiphany of simplicity.

The Knightcast episode 36 : The Epiphany of Simplicity.

Direct link to the show :

http://www.knightwise.com/podcasts/kc_3102006.mp3

 

Summary.

After a little hiatus , we are back. More then anyone we know how busy life on the edge of real and cyberspace can be. With information overloading us and hectic schedules its time for some tips for your cyber-lifestyle. So stand by as we turn into the digital Martha Steward and give you “the epiphany of simplicity”. Practical tips in organising your lifestyle and finding out how to chill out and relax from time to time.

Shownotes.

{mos_sb_discuss:5}

 

 

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Why you never see me outside on a saturday morning.

 

geek

 

This is my idea of an average Saturday morning. 

Time 

About Half past nine.

up and at this since 5 30 am. 

Systems.

One Mac G3 running Ubuntu Linux (command line only)

One Mac Mini running Mac OSX (controlled through the macbook via a remote secure shell)

One Macbook remote controlling 2 secure shell sessions on the G3 and one on the mini.

Project

Testing remote sync software to securely backup files off site without eating all my bandwith.

Number of tasks running.

About four , File transfer, setting up IRC client on remote machine, Listening to music, Writing article for the site. 

Literature

About 12 browser windows with information and one book "Linux for Windows System Administrators" by Mike Minasi

Music :

Itunes streaming MP3's from central server over encrypted wifi connection. Cygnus X : Collected works.

Drink :

Earl Grey tea , two lumps of sugar.

Means of communication :

Skype : Online MSN: Online Mail :Online. 

Learned :

A lot about the Rsync Command , About public and private keys in encryption and that I no longer need a graphical user interface on my Ubuntu machine.

State :

Hyped up because its working and yet wonderfully relaxed because this is my idea of fun. 

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The new lords of the Media.

video

The New lords of the Media. 

I sit here in the darkness, broken only by the light of my monitor typing away the morning dawn. My fingers huddle around the warm cup of cappuccino i just made myself , to avoid cramping up in the cold. I could turn the heater on but I refuse. Outside the drizzle marches on for the fourth day in a row , Its presence only occasionally broken by an outright downpour or the faintest illusion of a clearing of the clouds.  It does sound like an autumn tale .. But its actually mid August.
This summer has been a truly weird one. Having frozen  our preverbal behinds off in ‘the winter that would not end’ giving us the chance to fire up the boilers until may, the brief glimpse of summer we had was like looking into the exhaust of a launching space-shuttle with temperatures of 36 degrees and more for days and days straight.

Binary Weather system.

And now .. plunk : Rain-season has been bestowed on us ! Incredible but true. Its like we have a binary climate system here. Summer / autumn / summer / autumn etc etc .. Not that I mind the latter weather. I mean , OK , its drowsy and cold .. but one must admit, the drizzle brings the chisel to the geek. What better excuse to spend hours behind the computer then a never ending monsoon season outside. And thats what I have done yesterday all afternoon. With my wife (still sounds weird) having a cold in the midd of summer and feeling poorly, stretched out on the couch underneath a pile of pillows.. I was hammering away on one of the most time consuming varieties of computer use : Video editing. The down part of having 400 pictures, 2 hours of video and 3 hours of audio recorded on your wedding day .. Is the fact that you have to edit it all ! Wanting to make something special for our guests I am going with the ‘video’ approach and am pouring everything into my own ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ epic wedding video-with-more-pictures-then-actual-video. All-tough fascinatingly interesting to do, peaking all of ones creative hairs .. its actually quite amazing if you think of it. With a 1200 euro laptop and the enclosed software one is able to edit pictures, organize them, turn them into movies, arrange the movies, edit the movies, add effects to the movies, add menu’s to the movies, animate the menu’s to the movies, add titles and scores to the movies and utterly come up with a completely ready to play DVD.

99% Crap.
Ok , 99 % of what people make is utter crap , (possibly including mine) but the fact is that its incredible that this kind of multimedia editing power is at the fingertips of the average computer user. Add a pinch of talent and one does get a dangerous alternative to the crap thats on TV.  In the span of 5 years , from the analogue linear editing consoles to the completely computerized home video studio , a lot of power has been put into the hands of the average joe and I'm utterly fascinated at what people do with it. Where places like Youtube are piled up to the rim with crap, the occasional gem does sparkle in the form of some beautiful contribution to the meld.

We become the media.
The conclusion : WE have become the media. And as the power to create is bestowed on us , I hope the big time media conglomerates are finally seeing that : Maybe they should get their act together. As PVR’s and Portable media players free us from the linear consumption of media we are no longer shackled by the bounds of ‘what’s on now’. We have become not only the kings of the realm of ‘anytime anyplace and on any device’ when it comes to consuming media .. We are also the ones that say : If its crap  ? We’ll make our own.

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Its not what you add .. its what you leave out . Practical pointers in simplicty.

Does your office look like a Borg hive ? 

 One of the biggest challenges in the daily life of a cyber-citizen must be .. Simplicity. Simplicity in using technology , simplicity in integrating technology , simplicity in hardware and software .. and most importantly : Simplicity in thought.
Just think of the classic example. Somewhere along the way it happened. Your ever so tidy laptop bag seams to have been impregnated by the lords of chaos them selves. What started out as a slim shiny Dell laptop-bag has now become an atrocity. Like a grotesque pregnant elephant its innards have now swollen up with meters of cables , extra floppy drives, cd’s, extension cords , paper, books and so forth. As you watch the heaving husk that , due to being terribly overweight, drags your left shoulder to the ground and makes you look like Quasimodo, you think .. Where did it all start ?
But when you look at the mess that is your office , you see a reoccurring pattern, Your office, once setup with the help of your girlfriend to be a place of fen shue , now has the characteristics of a Borg cube after a high speed collision with a scrap barge. Cables , monitors, paper , books, post it notes.. keyboards overlapping keyboards, mouse-cables in suffocating deadlocks, flashing hubs and switches.. and loads of empty coffee-cups.
The big drawback of being on the edge of real an cyberspace is that you learn a lot of new things everyday. There is so much to see, to find out, to try , to test, to use .. Everyday something comes along that takes your fancy and you add it to the list .. stick it in your bag , add it to your start menu. And pretty soon you have an immense collection of tools and toys that by no means contribute to your effectivity.

 Techno-Reset.

What i regularly do is a ‘technological reset” where I look at all the things I have and think about ways to work more effective. For example : My 4 old test computers that served as my loyal test-battery (and drove my fiancé AND our electrical bill up the walls) have now been replaced by 4 virtual machines running on one computer, My entire collection of Windows versions have been scaled down to fit on one single dvd. My overweight software collection bag has been reduced to one portable USB hard drive and so on. Its very important to find the balance between keeping up with what is new , and being overwhelmed by hardware, software, information and more. The challenge is to analise what you have , and try to distill it into a workable simple concept. This means letting some things go , or combining tools, hardware or work-methods, but this is the only way to let technology work for you .. instead of the other way around. Take for example my current podcasting setup. It started out with one computer and a microphone , but due to the demands of my podcast, has grown into : A microphone stand , A microphone, A pop screen , headphones, a Mixer , My Macbook for show-notes and skype conversations , a second computer to play music or background tracks (using a USB DJ console) and finally a Linux system to record everything on.  I must say its very versatile BUT also very complex. I am momentarily contemplating how to simplify the whole project. This will not only get me a cleaner office , it must also give me a cleaner way to do my thing : thus simplifying technology.  The “how to record skype conversation” issue has been solved as I found this little gem for my macbook  and as a replacement (or quite probably an “addition” to my studio setup I was looking at the Samson C01u microphone with a table stand .  Together with my Macbook it will give me a portable high quality studio, that can be put away at a moments notice. Using Garageband and open source software like Audacity this wil greatly simplify my podcast production.

So you see my friends, Living with technology is not about what you add .. but what you leave out in order to be as effective as possible. This will help you in working faster, thinking clearer, have more time to think and respond to creative challenges. Downloading tool after tool , installing pc after pc is easy , its looking THROUGH the technology in order to see how you can destil it, simplify it .. and tune it into your way of life. 

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Early Adopter syndrome.

Early adopter syndrome.

If there is one thing that can really get under my skin, then its an end-user or cyber – illiterate waltzing up to me and lecturing me about a peace of technology that I have already filed under obsolete months ago. “ Hey dude “ he mumbles “ have you heard about this thing called ‘podcasting’ Its like the next big thing man. When I heard it, I thought of you right away .. You Earlygotta try this out.” I sigh and roll my eyes as he tries to (inaccurately) explain the “new gig” he found out. When he is finally done I gently try do deflate his ego-balloon by pointing out that A : this new technology has been in existence for about five months, and B : I’ve been using it for a prolonged period of time in a more advanced way then his little brain can fathom and C : The next generation of this gadget is already out and i’ve been testing it for 2 weeks.
Whatever the next step is , its all a no-win scenario. Either you brake their little techno-spearheading soul (you can hear its little kernel crash right then and there)  OR they insist on clinging to their  ignorance and actually stick to their malformed arguments and delusions of knowledge.

Thank you captain obvious.

Its the curse of early adoptor syndrome. First you crawl the night night and day, beta test software untill you see as blue-screen in the face. Next you twist and turn to tune the tech into your way of life. Then, when you finally have it down and its becoming more of yesterdays news then a force of habit… te rest of the world catches up. Sigh… It just makes me want to scream ‘ I KNOW all this already ‘ and biting back “ And my information is a little more correct” .. And finally you have to sit through the weeks that everybody is clumsily adopting this new technology and is so exited about it you think your at the special olympics.

The new cosmopolitan. 

For example, today : Skype + cellphone + Skype forwarding + conference call = Telling your girlfriend who is 20 km’s away , that you’ll be a tad later using your Australian friend as a relay. And afterwards , while driving the call calling in to a VOIP phone conference with you (on the cellphone), your girlfriend (behind her pc) and your thunder down under dude (on his pc).  If you tell this to a “normal” person , they are about ready to put you in a mental institution. As my aunt thinks i’ve betrayed my roots just for moving 20 km’s away, she must think i’m the Omen for talking about friends in Chicago, Sacremento, Leeds, Australia and so forth like its the most normal think in the world. They always say : The internet is the death to distance, and the then the early adopter has surely become the cosmopolitan. So when the rest of the world finally catches up .. and starts calling us on skype too.. We are soooo gonna have a bad case of “early adopter syndrome”.

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The Knightcast Episode 31 : Tips for the mobile Geek.

 

Ep31

 

The Knightcast episode 31 : Tips for the mobile geek.

Direct link to the show : http://www.knightwise.com/podcasts/kc290506.mp3

Summary.

An episode jam packs with tips for the mobile geek. How to carry and organize your tech equiptment as easy, light, convinient and efficient as possible. What to take with you, where and how to store all your geeky goods. Furthermore we talk about the Ubuntu-Granny incident and let you hear ' The Knightcast Signal".

Shownotes.

  • Intro
  • News and events.
  • MUSIC The Knightcast signal as preformed by Noplasticinside .
  • The Knightwise.com website gets 11000 hits over the weekend.
  • The Ubuntu story on Digg .

  • Part 1 : Tips for the mobile geek.
  • Why this podcast.
  • Groundrules.
  • Dividing everything into zones.

  •  Zone 2 : The "Bag"
  • Groundrules.- What to put in your bag.

  • Zone 3 : The car.- Groundrules.
  • What to store inside your car.
  • Signoff.

For more information or to send feedback , please visit our main website www.knightwise.com

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