March 27, 2004
People from Boston talk funny!

Okay... this is mainly for Abby's sake, but this has to be the coolest linguistic study ever! 306 speech samples, outlined in its funny linguistic alphabet equivalent, spoken by people from all around the world. Ever wanted to know what a Yiddish accent sounded like in english? Now you can find out!

Posted by Austin at 11:57 AM
March 26, 2004
Mr. Fix-it

So with Janine safely out of range of any internet connection, I can post what I've been doing all week to the house.

1) As I've already posted, I finished ripping all of our CDs. We now have enough music in AAC format to survive a nuclear fallout.

2) We've had some nice green curtains in the bedroom since we moved in, but it was just a couple of fuzzy pieces of fabric on a wodden dowel that didn't match the bedroom furniture. I decided to put my interior designer's hat on and made a run to Bed Bath & Beyond for some nice crushed-cotton sheer curtains and a green 'scarf' to accent the curtains that were already there. Add in a pair of holdbacks, and you've got yourself one fine-looking window. No photos yet, but I may put 'em up if the mood strikes me this weekend.

3) We bought a new faucet for the guest bath a long time ago, but we didn't put it in because we assumed we'd change out the sink and cabinet first. A few months ago we came to the conclusion we weren't going to put in the effort to change it out, so it was okay to just swap out the hardware. It's a really nice brushed-platinum looking faucet and drain assembly that I did all by myself. Good thing I had some spare plumbers putty in the toolbox!

4) The last thing was to replace the ugly chandalier in the stairwell. Within the first week of moving in we went to Menards and bought new light fixtures for the kitchen and stairwell. The kitchen one went up immediately, but the other has sat in it's box in the garage for over six months. The problem - a 13' ceiling and no ladder to get up that high. The solution - Renting an 8' ladder from the Ace Hardware down the street and a little electrical luck. The result is a whole lot more light and a very slick look. I also managed to re-caulk the window up there, too!

So that was my handyman work for the week. Not too bad, eh?

Posted by Austin at 02:31 PM
March 25, 2004
Spidy-sense... tingling...

Dude! If there's one movie trailer you download today, make it this one!

Posted by Austin at 09:29 AM
March 23, 2004

After a final push to get through the whole box, I am officially done ripping all of our CDs. Wel... at least all of the ones I *know* I haven't ripped yet. The final numbers:

3793 Songs
10 days, 15 hours, 23 minutes, 31 seconds
13.93 GB of memory

The thing that surprises me the most is that, after all of this, I still can't fill an iPod.

Posted by Austin at 11:52 PM
Those Crazy Illini

This has to be the quote of the day:

"It all started with our giant vagina."

Posted by Austin at 03:05 PM
March 22, 2004
Ripping Machine

Clock - 11:11pm
Count - 3299 Songs
Time - 9 days, 5 hours, 34 minutes, 45 seconds
Space - 12.09 GB of Memory

In summary, there's still a third of the box left... but it's past my bedtime.

Posted by Austin at 11:14 PM
Missin' my girl

So this week Janine and I have, in a way, switched roles. Usually I'm the one who leaves for a business trip away from home, but this time she's the one traveling. Traverse City, MI, and some manufacturing training will keep her busy for the rest of the week. The house and I, on the other hand, get to have some special time together.

The Mac and I have been spending a lot of time together recently, too. Together we've been tackling the huge box of CDs and jewel cases just itching to be ripped to ACC and stored on the G5's hard drive. Currently I'm up to 3134 songs and 11.48GB of memory - enough music to last 8 days and 18 hours straight! Surprisingly enough, it's all legally purchased music, too... I think. ;-)

I'm gonna go make a phone call or two while I rip. I thought I had more to blog about, but this oughta hold you scallywags for a while. Arr!

Posted by Austin at 10:08 PM
March 19, 2004
'Doctor' my ass!

So most people in the US know about 'Dr. Phil'. I basically see him as some dude who may have a background in psychology that is equivalent to that of a 5th grader, but I digress...

It seems that 'Doctor' Phil has been doing a bad job of explaining that his little show isn't meant to be helpful. It's only supposed to be a form of entertainment and shouldn't be considered actual counseling.

Logically, this only leads me to believe the following:

Dr. Phil's diet plan isn't supposed to help you lose weight... it's just meant to be entertaining and shouldn't be considered an actual diet!

Why anyone would consider taking diet advice from a psychologist instead of a dietitian is beyond me, but this would help explain why all of 'his' food comes in bar form...

Posted by Austin at 01:40 PM
March 16, 2004
Samedi, 6 Mars

Here's an entry for Saturday's Parisian experience.

Okay, so last night absolutely sucked. That sour stomach I talked about last night kept me up for the... entire... night! I couldn't tell if I was sick from food, gassy, nervous, stressed or what, but whatever the case my tummy was not agreeable. At many points I felt like puking... until I did puke. Then I felt better. But only for 2 hours. This thing is just not going away!

I tried sleeping in for an extra 30 minutes before leaving for the airport. It ended up being an okay 30 minutes to waste, but for the 45 minute ride to the airport I was really worried that I was going to miss Janine. Her plane was scheduled to arrive a little before 8:30am, and I didn't arrive on the train until closer to 9am. Luckily she had to pick up luggage and make her way through the throngs of people to exit through one solitary door. I ended up beating her to the door by 5 minutes.

The meeting area was absolutely packed with people, so we got the heck outa there and headed for the train station for the ride back to Paris. It was great to see her again! Even if we were both half a world away from home, it was a fantastic feeling! I'm really glad she made the trip out. I love traveling with her, and I've always wanted to break her out of her traveling comfort zone and try new things. This was probably too soon, too fast, but we'll see how the whole trip plays out.

Lunch was the main focus for both of us - me skipping breakfast, and her getting off an 8-hour flight with crappy food. We decided to walk around the Republique plaza until we found a nice looking place to eat, and we settled on a restaurant attached to a nearby hotel. Me with the upset stomach still wanted to eat, but once we walked in the aroma of cigarettes filled my lungs and made my stomach even more upset. I decided to try and rough it out and hope for the best.

Once we had menus (in French, no less), I had to try and figure out what to get. They had a listing at the bottom of one page for something called Bergeres, pronounced with a soft 'G'. Now that kinda looks like it would be French for 'Burger', right? Well, that was I assumed, so Janine got a cheese burger and I got one with ham.

It turns out a Berger is actually a type of open-faced grilled cheese sandwich.

Not a 'Burger'. It turns out that's a Hamburger. Simple enough, but now I'm 0-for-1 with French food.

We managed to enjoy the lunch, but my stomach started complaining half way through the meal. I think it was the massive amounts of dairy. Whatever the case, we both decided that we were both kind of cranky and/or nappy, so we trekked back to the hotel for a nap. Maybe an hour or two would help us get out of our current funk...

... or four hours.

Once decided that we'd better wake up before we sleep through the entire vacation, we put on our walking shoes, got out of the hotel, and headed out. We started walking south-west toward the Seine, but we quickly figured out that was a few miles away. Somehow we ended up setting in and around the Opera district. Just walking around here was a complete joy. The architecture of the surrounding buildings was fantastic, and the opera house was incredibly ornate. Gold leaf accents, busts of famous composers, statues of angels and men... it was awesome!

Dinner time was nearing, so we hit a restaurant called Hippopotamus. Janine equated it to something like Applebee’s - a chain restaurant with decent food and a nice atmosphere. It was actually good food (even if the table wine sucked). Janine got a steak while I picked through a Tilapia filet. We sat next to the window, so all night we could look outside and get a small taste of the people-watching Paris had to offer.

One thing Janine saw a lot of was a street vendor right outside the restaurant selling all types of jewelry. After we left le Hippo, she went straight for the table to look at the nifty trinkets. A cool fake-peridot leafy necklace caught her eye, and for 9.95 it was hard to say no. The vendor spoke English very well, and the transaction was very easy. She even insisted that she give me the five cents change... for luck, she said.

Walking around the opera district, we came across a movie theater that was playing "Girl with a Pearl Earring" in it's original format (English sound track) with French subtitles. Janine wanted to see this movie back home in the US, but the nearest theater playing the movie was over 30 miles away. After making a bad joke about traveling a little farther than 30 miles, we bought two tickets and watched a very enjoyable fictional character-development story.

The night was not yet complete, however. We were on the hunt for dessert! As we walked directly across from the Opera House, we found a cute little bistro that was nearly empty but still open at 11:30pm. We started looking at the menu when one of the servers came out to greet us and offer us a seat inside. He started off speaking in French, but with my accent and vocabulary (or lack of) he started speaking English and made both of us a lot more comfortable. Once we were inside, Janine order a Kier (white wine & Chambord), I got a 1667 (French beer), and we both enjoyed one of the best apple pies a'la mode we've ever had. You could see the vanilla in the ice cream!

The whole scene was classic - two love birds eating and drinking in an empty bistro as the servers stack chairs and tables. Besides a slice of wedding cake a few months ago, that was the best dessert ever!

Posted by Austin at 05:05 PM
March 10, 2004
Back from a strange land

So Janine and I made it back to Chicago yesterday, exchausted but happy. It was a great trip, even if I had some stomach bug for the past 5 days. Janine attributed it to stress, and seeing that I'm feeling fine today I think she may be right.

I didn't write any journal entries after Friday because I was too busy hanging out with Janine and experiencing Paris. I do want to write them and post them, though, so that's a pet project for me later.

In the mean-time, I'm going to catch up on work I've missed over the past week, talk with some people, and see if I start to crash around 2 or 3pm (9 or 10pm French time).

Posted by Austin at 12:07 PM
March 04, 2004
Jeudi, 4 Mars

Damn, I write a lot! If you're reading these, you're crazy... but it's appreciated. :-)

A little bit of work stuff, but the majority of my post is a great dinner experience. No escargot, though... sorry. ;-)

So today started out like any other day... in France. Since I was told we weren't going to start building anything until after 10, I slept until 8am (even though I went to bed at close to midnight). I went to the same pastry store across the street and got a croissant and a very yummy chocolate pastry. Another taxi ride with a cabbie who wasn't nearly as talkative as the first two, which was kind of a good thing. I like to try and speak the language, but it's hard to try and speak the local language when you barely know it.

It makes me wonder sometimes how people can travel to countries when they don't have a clue what the local language is. I know other people who have this same fear of traveling, and then I know people who wouldn't even think about it and just travel. Personally, I don't know if there is any non-English speaking country other than France that is on my to-travel-to list. England and Australia are the last two that I can think of right now, and both of those islands have their own crazy English.

Anyway, the day at the plant was a little more interesting than yesterday, but it was very long and somewhat stressful. It took them forever to get the boards moving through the production machines. Let me put it this way - They started working at 8am, but we didn't get the last board out of the machine until after 7pm. They spent literal hours trying to place one component. ONE. Worse yet, it was the part I knew they would have problems with. Everyone has problems with this part, and Angers was no exception. At least four or five hours was spent trying to place this component on the board. "Why is it so hard?" you might ask. Well, you try to get a mechanical machine to place something with an accuracy of +/- 0.2mm and then you'll know. You won't find a line that thin on a ruler!

After the last board came out of the solder oven, we went out to dinner at a very nice restaurant/wine store called Le Boucher Angevin. We included our manufacturing team leader, two test engineers, a quality engineer and myself.

After trying to fly solo in french restaurants for two nights it was very comforting to go out and enjoy the dinner experience with locals who know how to enjoy a dinner. Personally, the word 'comforting' is very apt since I mentioned yesterday how intimidated I was by the restaurants here. It's not like walking into a Boston Market or Jimmy John's. It's a very involved process that, for the solo diner, can be a little more than he or she would want.

Dinner was a blast! The front of Le Boucher Angevin is a full-blown wine boutique with wines from the local Anjou region as well as wines from the rest of France. They also had a few hard liquer selections (including Jack Daniels, believe it or not). In the back was a very cozy restaurant. The tables were converted wine barrels with wide disks mounted to the top to act as the table. They sat 5-6 people very comfortably.

The dining experience began, and it felt very traditional. We started with an aperitif, or pre-dinner cocktail. It was an incredibly sweet bottle of wine, but a very good bottle. Along with the wine was a pureed pork appetizer smeared over dried bread, which was a lot more tasty than it sounds. After we completed the sweet wine came the main course. I ordered a duck entree that was very good, but the others at the table waited to begin until all of the entrees were delivered. Once everyone had their meal I grabbed my fork but they were waiting and looking at me. I paused and looked up, and then one of them said Bon appetite while looking at me expecantly. Then the others repeated... Bon appetite. Needless to say, I responded Bon appetite ensuite. Then they grabbed their forks and dug in to dinner. For me, that was a very eye-opening experience into the tradition that is a French dinner.

Once we'd finished, dessert was the next course, of course. I ordered the creme brulee, and it was good. I think I've had better, but you haven't had creme brulee until you've had it in France. After we'd finished dessert, the traditional espresso (le cafe) was a must. The espresso in France is better than anything you can find at Starbucks, and it's probably cheaper. It was served with two cubes of sugar (I used only one) and a piece of dark chocolate.

Since it was one of the test engineer's 30th birthday, someone brought up the idea of an after dinner drink. I don't know the exact name of what was ordered, but when it came it was obviously pear-based. One sip, and you knew that this stuff wasn't paint thinner but your ass would be on the floor in no time!

The talk at the table was very informal and a lot of fun. Since my French is very elementary, they occasinoally tried to explain their discussions to me. I told them not to worry about it and have fun, but they still went out of their way to make me feel welcome. I could understand some of their French, and I think they appreciated my attempts to speak in French and English. They told me that social situations were always the hardest for them - most of their English teaching is technical, not social. When I spoke French, they would try to help me with new words and phrases. When I spoke English, I was able to return the teaching. I told them a lot about English culture, and they taught me a few things about France. Did you know that a filet mignon in France is actually pork?

Even though today was one of the worst days regarding work, it was the best day to be able to talk and bond with the engineers here in Angers. I ended up paying for the dinner for all five of us (155 Euro, which was pretty good for a multiple course dinner for five). Even though the manufacturing team leader insisted that he pay, I told him that I like to buy at least one meal for everyone who helps out in a build. In appreciation, he picked out and paid for a bottle of wine from his home provence (I forget the name right now, but it starts with a 'B').

Now I'm back in my hotel room, and tomorrow I will have to pack up and check out before heading to the factory. Tomorrow I have to test the boards we made, and once my work is done I'll head to the train station and buy a ticket to Paris. I don't know if I will be able to post my journal on-line tomorrow night, but we'll see.

On to Paris!

Posted by Austin at 04:53 PM
March 03, 2004
Mecredi, 3 Mars

Day 2, this time all of it in Angers and a lot of it at work. The most exciting moments are outside the plant, of course.

Best. Damn. Croissant. Ever.

So I had to try one of the outdoor pastry places for breakfast this morning. After sleeping for close to 8 hours (and waking up at 4:30am thinking I wouldn't be able to get back to sleep), I walked across the street to one I'd seen the day before. Very nice lady (who knew no English) helped me pick out a croissant and some orange-filled pastry... and a peach drink. I was hoping for coffee, but I guess they just deal with pastries and cold drinks. I ate back in my hotel, and it was good stuff. Tomorrow I may do room service... just because I can.

The hotel called a taxi for me, and it was a quick 10-minute ride in a nice, clean Peugeot. The most impressive thing was that the driver was able to talk on his cell phone AND drive a stick shift. He'd just hold the wheel with his leg and shift with his left hand. I don't think there are many Americans who'd even think to try that. After a little conversation with him, he informed me that it's a 35-Euro ticket if you're caught by the police for driving while on a cell phone without a hands-free device. NOW he tells me...

The whole day at the plant wasn't anything to write home about (but like that's going to stop me). Luckily everyone I interact with speaks English, so it wasn't too hard to interact with people. I spent most of the day meeting the build crew, in a meeting talking about how to test our boards, and in front of the automatic coffee machine. These people barely need a reason for le cafe, and there's always a few people in the coffee room. Except for the last two hours, where I was trying to find some information they already had but didn't know it, the day was good... except for the fact that they didn't build anything. We didn't even get a single part placed. Hopefully they'll have their act for tomorrow, but even though they're planning on finishing the build tomorrow they don't start to plan building anything until close to lunch. This will be an interesting 3 days in the plant.

Tonight I decided to walk around and try to find a place where I was comfortable enough to eat dinner. Most places are very small and homey, and I felt slightly intimidated at trying to go into a restaurant I've never seen before and trying to not only understand the menu, but interact with the staff. It wasn't until I found a bar 30 minutes after setting out for dinner did I finally muster the gusto to walk in and get a table. The next thing I know, I'm listening to the gal behind the bar talking fluent English to some guys sitting at the bar. The music was all in English, and even included songs from Beck, Fatboy Slim and other US artists. Her name was Cat, and she was extremely nice and helpful. It turns out that she really likes the US and wants to travel to the Pacific Northwest within the next two years, preferable Seattle. After finishing my beer & tequila mix (it was on the menu, so I had to try it), I stumbled back to the hotel and called Janine. A euro a minute was never so well spent. :-)

The most interesting piece of the evening occurred while I was walking through the streets of Angers. Three girls were walking past me when one of them looked at me and asked a question in French. I didn't understand the whole thing, but from what I did understand it sounded like she was asking for a cigarette. When I paused and replied "Je ne sais pas" (I don't know), one of her cohorts got a stern look in here eye and shouted "Cigarette!" at me. Finally getting the idea that they were trying to bum a cigarette off me, I said that I didn't smoke (or some amount of French that got the idea across). I'm not sure if my lack of comprehension or poor French response let them know that I'm not from around these parts, but I found it hilarious that they tried to bum a cigarette off me.

Posted by Austin at 03:42 PM
Mardi, 2 Mars

By popular request (i.e. one from Janine), I'll be posting my journal for your reading pleasure. Here's day one's entry...

The plane left O'Hare an hour and 30 minutes late 'cause of a storm that came through the area an hour before the flight left. It didn't matter too much, though - I had a 5 hour layover in Charles de Gaulle while waiting for the TGV high-speed train to Angers, so it's not like I had much to do. The plane arrived into Paris just after 10am local time, still an hour and thirty late.

I began walking around the airport. It's a very big airport with 3 terminals. I flew into Terminal 2, the larger and newer terminal with "Halls" A-G. Each hall could be it's own terminal, but since they're connected by something other than a bus ride, they consider it the same terminal.

It was a weird and interesting mix of people. Primarily French in natinoality and language, I enjoyed just walking through the airport, becoming familiar with the halls and the different stores, cafes, and check-in desks for each airline.

I was told it was really easy to get a GSM pre-paid S.I.M. card for cell phones out here, and I had my gears set to get one so I could call home or work without having to worry about being close to a land-line. It turns out that I had to go to Terminal 1 to get the card, which was a 15 minute bus ride from Terminal 2. The terminal itself is well known for being crazy-weird. It's a huce cylindrical building with a hollow center. Enclosed escalator shafts (yes... shafts) criss-cross within the hollow of the building, making for a oddly 1970's-futuristic feel.

Once back at Terminal 2, getting to the TGV was no problem. The station was outdoors, and it was pretty cold at the airport (close to 32F/0C, anyway). I got on the train and tried to find my reserved seat. I found seat 86, but in the smoking section. I got out of there pretty darn fast (2.5 hours of smoke isn't my kind of traveling) and found my actual seat 86 in the 'pas fumer' section, and sat down for one of the most unique rides of my life.

The scenery changed as quickly as the train was traveling. There would be small industrial areas, and then a small city center, and then nothing but rolling hills and the occasional farm house straight out of an 1800's era movie. It was honestly one of the coolest and most beautiful trips I've ever taken, and I'm sorry that I couldn't get more pictures of some of the houses and farms I saw. As soon as you saw them, you barely had time to blink while traveling over 100mph before it was gone and out of sight. I should use Janine's camera to get a 30 second film of the train ride. It would knock anyone's socks off!

Once in Angers, I got off the train and made my way toward to the hotel thanks to the non-English speaking information dude at the station. I know enough French to get by around here, thankfully. A gauche here, a doite there, and 15 minutes later I was unpacking in my home for the next 3 nights. The first thing I did was take pictures of the room (small for Us standards, but probably huge for European). The second was take a bath in the "european bathtub" (Only people from 505 Benjamin would understand that inside joke). The third was to get out of this hotel and walk around the city.

Angers is an incredibly cute and addictive town. Everyone's very firendly, everything feels clean and unique, and the shopping boutiques are more impressive than any high-end shopping mall d'Etats Unis. The coolest shops are the open-air pastry shops and bakeries. They're based in a normal storefront, but they cut all of the outer walls away and make the counter open-air. In 40-degree weather it's a bit odd, but these things are on every other block! I'll even see a few people walking around with baguettes or bags of pastries, just nibbling away while the walk and shop. If this is what France is like, I can't wait to see what Paris has to offer.

The scariest part of the evening was, of all things, ordering dinner. It's easy enough when you have a burger or pizza, but I like to try different, local things. I didn't feel up to experimenting with the hotel's restaurant on night #1, especially when every-other entree had some sort of fois gras, so I went wandering the streets for a different fair. La Boucherie looked innocent enough, with a cartoon cow as it's logo. I was able to read a good chunk of the menu (It was a steak place, and 'filet' was on every-other item) and ended up having a great meal! The steak was thin but very flavorful, and the meal included dessert and a darn good espresso. I was blown away by the wine, though. Most everyone wine (some also beer), but the house wine comes out of a tap behind the counter. A TAP! If the rest of the world can have their beer on tap, why not the French with their wine?!

Now I'm back in the hotel, ready to call it a night and try to get some sleep. I think I'm lucky if I got 5 hours of sleep Sunday night and 2 hours on the plane, so I'm ready to try and hit the sack. I'd like to be able to get on-line from my room, but it's either A) head down and pay money to use the hotel's Wi-Fi, or B) dial in to some number and let the charges add up. Not like I'm paying for it... Yay for business trips!

Posted by Austin at 11:42 AM
We Come From France

So I'm in France now, and so far it's been a good trip. The people are very nice, the high-speed train ride from the airport to Angers (the town I'm in right now) was scenic and beautiful, and Angers is a gorgeous town that seems textbook eurpoean.

I've started writing some journal entries that I'm tempted to post on here, but they're pretty long. Let me know if you're interested in reading it, and I'll post them on the blog.

So far work-related things are going okay. They're really behind in preparations for the build, though, so we aren't going to even start building the boards until this afternoon. They were hoping to be completely done with the build today, but from my experience that's never the case. I expect to be building for the next 2, if not 3, days.

The funniest part of the trip so far - In restaurants, the house wine comes out of a tap. Just like beer. I shit you not. I find the whole idea of tapping a wine keg hilarious!

But that's just me. ;-)

Posted by Austin at 03:08 AM
March 01, 2004
Copyright THIS!

There's a website called that helps artists create custom copyrights for their works, free of charge. Music, essays, poems, ideas, whatever. If you want to copyright it so someone has to pay you to use it, they can help you write up simplified legaleeze to make it work. Wanna make it free to use but get credit? They can do that, too!

To help get their message across, they ran a small contest to get people to create ads to explain what Creative Commons does. The winner's film blew me away. It's a huge file that I would not recommend downloading via phone, but a high speed connection will take a minute or two, and the wait is definitely worth it.

A cool company with a cool idea and cool films. Cool!

Posted by Austin at 08:15 AM
Busy, busy, busy...

It's been a busy few weeks around the house. Texas, Janine's Birthday, two different sets of family on back-2-back weekends... You'd think it was some messed-up Tuesday night lineup on FOX or something.

This past weekend with my parents was a good one. They were very impressed with the house, especially the job we did on the bathroom. We went down to Chicago for two consecutive days and had fun running around Michigan Avenue and seeing the show Late Nite Catechism. Heck, they even came out to watch me stink up the net at my hockey class. Overall it was a great weekend and I'm glad that some of my family came out to visit.

I'll have more to post on later this week, especially since I'm going to be across the pond in France for work through next Tuesday. And Janine's flying out Friday for play. :-)

Posted by Austin at 06:46 AM