Saturday, December 20, 2008

A cool idea for next Christmas’ wish list…

In the ‘wish I’d thought of that’ category…

T-Mobile's Cameo digital picture frameT-Mobile has introduced a new type of digital picture frame, the Cameo.  It has internet-enabled wireless networking built in, able to not only accept pictures that you beam in from your computer or camera, but also pictures that others e-mail to the frame.  Friends and family can now update the photo collection with their own snapshots, and you get an ever-changing display of everyone’s updated pictures.

This is such a natural idea, especially for grandparents, vagabonds, and families like mine who are scattered everywhere as a result of maturation and my assignment.  According to the Wall Street Journal, the frame is assigned it’s own e-mail address that you give to people who you want to get pictures from.  When it receives photos for the first time, it asks for confirmation of whether you want to continue to accept photos from this source.  After that, it just updates the rotation when people send new pictures.

The gadget is competitively priced at $99 (most frames seem to be in the $70 –$ 150 range…still too high for my taste), and requires a special subscription fee of $9.99 / month.

This is the deal-breaker for me: that seems really steep for access to an e-mail server.  But I’m sure that prices will come down as more providers offer the service.  Hopefully, by next Christmas, this will be the norm for digital frames.

I enjoy looking through the postings on my blog aggregator each morning, and the notion of getting a photo aggregation is really appealing.  Can video messaging be far behind?


Disclaimer: I don’t own this product, and have no connection with T-Mobile.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Sending out the Christmas cards

As the snow continues to fall here in Seattle…Snowy streetSnowy Street 2

USA Today noted this week that 56% of all Americans have never lived outside of their home state.  The main reasons given for staying in their hometown were the tug of family ties and friends, and a feeling of belonging.  I would guess that they have a lifetime of friends and partners close at hand.

The other half of us end up leaving a contrail of friends and colleagues behind our life’s trajectories as we change jobs, residences, and countries countries.  The advent of Facebook and LinkedIn has brought me back into contact with many folks I’ve separated from over the years, and there’s no question that the ease and immediacy of he Internet has strengthened old ties.

But I still hold to the tradition of sending out Christmas cards to keep in touch at the holidays.

I liked getting cards from old friends, year by year, reading about the changes in their jobs, the arrival of children, the family vacations, the loss of relatives.  I never minded getting the copy of a generic Christmas note as long as it was accompanied by a few penned sentences of a personal sentiment. I try to keep my annual note upbeat, add contact information, print it on nice paper.  My write-to-return ration is probably 3:1, but I still enjoy getting a card and seldom take anyone off my list.

My problem is managing the address list.

It seems silly in this day of cloud databases and shared contact lists, but I still manage my Christmas addresses with a little hard-cover book with inserts for each contact. I’ve had it since college, and every year, I go through it to copy the addresses onto the envelopes, then update the little paper slips with new information as each card arrives.

Last year, I made a significant effort to update the overall list, adding addresses from school and work that have started to drift since I became expatriate.  People are much more reticent to give out home addresses than e-mail addresses and phone numbers when I ask for contact information, but I think that the list is pretty good now.

Still, it all depends on a little book filled with alphabetized slips of paper.

I’ve made a resolution to move it all to an electronic database, but it’s proving to be a very difficult task.  Outlook only allows one database, and mine is filled with business contacts.  Windows Live Contacts wants to import and notify people, but doesn’t have facilities for simply cataloguing them.  Yahoo and Google are tailored for email, not for physical addresses.

It seems that there is a broader issue with physical files that we all accumulated before laptop computers: address lists, recipe files, research notebooks.  There is just no simple way to move them all into the electronic world, and I keep maintaining ever more battered legacy pages using ever deteriorating handwriting skills.

I really want to update my records, probably into something like Windows Live, but can’t find instructions, templates, or tools that help me to use the application for this purpose.  ‘anyone have any favorites?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It’s winter everywhere…

Seattle Shuttle 04 I’ve arrived back in Seattle for the holidays: the cold weather in Minneapolis was a prelude to deep snow and cold greeting me in the Pacific Northwest. Like the Netherlands, Seattle has a maritime climate that rarely get’s snow. When a small amount does come down, usually briefly, it brings life to a hard stop.

Today it’s snowing much harder than that: six inches fell in the suburbs where I live, for example. The roads quickly blocked with spinout cars and stranded buses. The shuttle services from the airport advised that half-hour trips would take hours, at best. I huddled under blankets in the departure garage with everyone else, watching the road reports go from red to black on the traffic maps.

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When we finally did get out, the snow was dense. Buses had jack-knifed on hills and cars were abandoned along the roadsides. The driver stayed creative with the GPS and aggressive on the hills and got us north by early afternoon.

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Seattle Shuttle 10 Seattle Shuttle 07

Settling into the last of the holiday preparations now: my daughter still has to get in from Spokane (18 inches of snow today) so I need to get the studded tires on. Lots of notes from travels to catch up on in the coming days too: the early morning quiet will hopefully provide time for essays beyond the weather reports…

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Being -18 F in Minnesota

On the road for work, then onward for the holidays.  Even though it’s a mere week before Christmas, it feels easier this year.  I arrived with cards addressed (on the plane) and gifts purchased (Christmas Markets and de Bijenkorf store), and spent a focused hour with Kinko’s this morning to get things shipped.  There’s still the decorating and baking in Woodinville, but there’s a week to get all of that sorted.  ‘life is good.

The weather, unfortunately, is not.

wind_chill_chartMinneapolis is in the grip of a cold nap, accompanied by light snow.  Temperatures around the clock have varied between minus 18 F and minus 2 F (-28 C to –19 C).  The light snow makes for slippery conditions everywhere, from walkways to roads.  It’s just bitter.  ‘not much wind, thank goodness, even a little wind could really accentuate the effects of the cold (right).

I grew up in the Midwest, but we used to say that unless you experienced the onset of winter, your “blood didn’t thicken”, and you felt the cold more intensely.  This week, it feels like there’s some truth to that.

Minneapolis winter 08 Minneapolis winter 07

Fortunately, people here are used to the conditions and drive pretty sanely.  There are the occasional stalls and spinouts, but people are driving slowly, carefully, and respectfully.  The plows are out everywhere, salting as well, which helps on the highways.  Still, I’m doubling the likely time to get anywhere and leave early.

Minneapolis winter 06 I had to pick up some pants that had been taken in down at the Mall of America last night, but found myself having to make the trip through driving snow at rush hour across the city.  The half-hour trip took an hour and a half: I didn’t even see the skyscrapers as I went through.

Mall of America xmas The Mall was deserted, really surprising for the week before Christmas.  Everything was open late and expectant shopkeepers hovered near the doorways, but there were few customers.  ‘Lots of sales on, 20% in the stalls along the walkways; 50% and more at the clothes stores.  Prices didn’t seem especially cheap, I usually feel like I notice a big difference between Europe and the US, especially on electronics.  That differential seems to have almost  disappeared; only the plunging price of gasoline stands in contrast to what I’m used to.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Neighborhood life in the Wyck

The Wyck neighborhood was busy and fun this weekend: everyone was out to do their Christmas shopping and attend the markets.  This made for lots of crowds flowing through the streets and over the stone bridge to the Old City.

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A number of shops took advantage of the shoppers to set up hot wine (Gleuwijn) stations, handing out 3-oz cups of steaming mulled red wine. It gave a nice air to the Saturday morning, everyone standing around talking and sipping and people-watching.


Most public stairways in the Netherlands have small gutters running through the center or along one side.  The first temptation is to think that these are a microscopic example of the Dutch tendency to control the flow of water wherever it lies.

It’s actually a very practical adaptation to getting bicycles up and over the stairs.

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My apartment, like many in the Netherlands, is centered in a row of older buildings, a mixture of residences, shops, and restaurants.  It’s a different scene than in the US, where homes are typically detached and mixed-use zoning is rare in the suburbs. 

Lying in bed, looking at the aging wood in the dormer of the next building, I had a thought for fire safety.  While the incidence of fires is probably rare, apartments don’t seem to routinely come with smoke detectors, and I think it’s worth a thought to take precautions.

I have installed smoke detectors, keep a flashlight by the bed, and have a small extinguishers in the kitchen. I’ve checked the exits and leave the keys in the front door lock.  Peace of mind, I suppose, but it’s good to be practical and foresighted about these things, while hoping there’s never a need.

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And, finally, a quick tip / link for the day from WikiHow about how to blend in and avoid looking like a tourist when traveling and living in Europe.  A lot of it is common sense but it’s a good collection.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sharing the Dutch apartment decor

I finally feel like things have pretty well found their places in the new apartment, and it’s nice to be looking a bit more settled into place.  I know that I’ve referred to the furnishings as “somewhat traditional” before, but now that the boxes are gone and the tables are cleared, it’s easier to show what that means.

It’s a one-bedroom with very comfortable furniture, and all flows together once everything’s away.  The landlady and the other people in the building have been friendly and welcoming, and I’m starting to automatically reach for the right places, rather than the old places, in the kitchen or bathroom.

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