Forests Full of Adventure

"Adventure Forests" (Foret de l'aventure in French) have become very popular in Switzerland. They're a wonderful experience for young and, well, not so young, combining the thrills of an amusement park with physical exercise. And of course, the pleasure of being in the middle of nature.

These adventure forests consist of zip lines, rope ladders, tight ropes, and many other obstacles strung between tall trees. There are usually multiple courses of varying difficulty, each one taking 15min to up to an hour to complete. It's all pretty safe as long as you use the climbing gear they give you properly. We visited three parks while we were in Switzerland, our boys loved them! (I did too :-)

Travel tips:
  • Call ahead to find out when there are fewest "adventurers" at the park. Not being stuck behind another group makes a big difference
  • Wear light, loose fitting clothes. Some of the obstacles can be quite physical (though the tough ones always have an escape route)
  • Bring water and snacks, these are available at the park but can be quite expensive
  • Hit the restroom before you and esp. the kids put on your climbing harness :-)

iPad AntennaGate

There's been a lot of talk on the net about AntennaGate over the past few weeks: if you hold an iPhone4 the wrong way, it loses signal strength and drops calls. Apple called attention to the fact that other cell phones also suffer from this (much to the annoyance of the other phone makers :-) though the iPhone4 seems to be the worst affected.

But where, in all this, is the iPad? The iPad 3G has an antenna. Does it also suffer from signal attenuation if you hold it "wrong"? No one dared ask the question...

Until now! :-)

In case you're wondering...
- Yes, I know I messed up pronouncing "fanboy", we only did a single ad lib take
- The footage shot on a properly held iPhone4 (thanks Aron!)
- No iPads were harmed in the making of this video

No escaping commercialism... Alpine vending machine!

You're 6,000ft up a mountain in the Swiss Alps. Enjoying spectacular views, wooden glades, the sounds of nature, and suddenly you spot... a Coke vending machine!

Adventure Parks are all the rage here in Switzerland. The one we visited above the village of Vercorin is accessible by cable car. And yes, amidst 400ft long ziplines and arboreal escapades, we really did find this lone Coke machine. I guess you just can't beat the feeling... No matter where you are.

The price of a drink? 4SF or roughly US$3.70.

Tombraider Remembered

I have very fond memories of Tombraider. It came out in 1996 and was a very refreshing change from the Doom franchise popular at the time. It was 3rd person, focused on exploration just as much as killing monsters, the main character had a much larger range of motion than we were previously used to, and (of course) you got to play a pretty and capable female version of Indiana Jones named Lara Croft. What more could you want? :-)

Giving in to nostalgia, I recently played the Tombraider demo via the excellent DOSBox on my Macbook Pro. 

As far as I can tell the game ran flawlessly but, well, sometimes things are best left in the past. The graphics that I remembered so fondly haven't aged well. And even on a powerful new MBP with DOSBox claiming 0 frameskips, the refreshes still left a lot to be desired and sometimes seemed to roll down the screen. I also tried it inside a Parallels VM with the same results.

Still, it was fun to revive Tombraider. If nothing else it enabled me to give my sons a glimpse of the game that inspired many of the ones they play today. Wish someone would refresh the first game, the subsequent versions never measured up to that initial burst of creativity. 

Breaking News: Belgium and Korea to Swap Countries

In what many describe as the most important event since President Bush patted the Queen's bottom at Buckingham Palace, the governments of Belgium, North Korea, and South Korea have reached a tentative agreement to swap countries in 2020. Said Geert Vandermeert, spokesman for the Belgian delegation, "We're very proud of this historic moment of Eurasian harmony". Barely able to contain his excitement, he continued, "Think of all those defenses, mine fields, barbed wire, canons, and guard posts between the two Koreas: perfect for keeping those bloody Walloons out of our half of the country".

For his part South Korean leader Kim Dae Woo was equally bullish, "Moving South Korea to Belgium will really open up markets for our products in Europe. Instead of shipping them half way across the world, our goods will be available to all, we could make Belgium one big electronics store!" North Korean party member Joon Sung Wok was no less ebullient "We understand  Belgium has nuclear reactors already producing enough uranium for our mil-, eh, civilian programs. Our dear leader is very excited."

Jean-Marie Lorgnion, a Walloon, was more cautious. "Well, I've always wanted to travel" he admitted, "and I hear it's warmer there than in rainy Belgium. Plus I quite like the food."  Fleming Rob DeVertegenaar smiled confidently as he asserted "I've checked it out on Google Earth, that No Man's Land will be perfect for our needs. I can't wait!"

Despite the enthusiasm, significant challenges remain. Opinions are divided on how to handle languages, shop, and street signs. Unsurprisingly, the Belgians are adamant that they need to take all three to their new home. "What's the point of moving half way around the world only to end up speaking the same language? If I refuse to speak French I'm certainly not learning Korean!", exclaimed DeVertegenaar as he carefully packed his street sign away for shipping.

Koreans for their part want to integrate in Europe. "What's the point of going over there and bringing our street signs with us?" Kim Dae Woo countered "No one will be able to understand Korean". "Exactly right" agreed the North's Sung Wok, "Plus we have so few streets shops in the fatherland, not to mentions signs. We could really use the Belgians'".

Another concern is logistics. Swapping four populations is easier said than done. Light on details, the delegations spoke of commandeering ferry boats, planes, and a fleet of custom-built RVs for the exodus. "I hope they avoid rush hour," said Lorgnion, "or there'll be one hell of a traffic jam".

Perhaps the greatest unifying force behind the country swap is the World Cup. Amidst giants such as England, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Slovenia, little Belgium rarely makes it to the competition. "Once we've swapped with Korea, all that will change" stated Vandermeert confidently, "Flanders and even Wallonia will dominate the region. We'll finally be giants!"


My native country, Belgium, is sadly slowly tearing itself apart along linguistic lines. The northern, Dutch-speaking Flemings no longer want a union with their southern, French-speaking cousins the Walloons. This long running enmity grows deeper with each passing election as more and more control is given to separatists who would split the country in two.

This satirical piece was written as homage to The Onion and a commentary on the stupidity of focusing on who speaks what language instead of actually fixing real problems facing our country. 

The Gashlycrumb Terrors by Laura Pearlman

Love the winner of this year's Movie Plot Threat Contest, security expert Bruce Schneier's attempt to make us realize that we often overreact to highly unlikely scenarios, taking steps that curtail our own freedoms and don't make us any safer.

In Laura's own words "The challenge in this year’s contest was basically to create a story that would frighten small children into obeying their government without question".

A is for anthrax, deadly and white.
B is for burglars who break in at night.
C is for cars that have minds of their own
    and accelerate suddenly in a school zone.
D is for dynamite lit with a fuse.
E is for everything we have to lose.
F is for foreigners, different and strange.
G is for gangs and the crimes they arrange.
H is for hand lotion, more than three ounces;
    let’s pray some brave agent soon sees it and pounces.

Read the rest on Laura's blog.

Well done Laura, hope this does get illustrated!

What's wrong with my email address?

Sometimes you wonder why a company would make its users jump through hoops just to access its own site...

AT&T bought SBC recently and they emailed me stating that I had to change my username because it didn't meet their "new guidelines"

Hello? How about changing your guidelines instead of making thousands of users update their usernames to remove the '@' symbol? And what does AT&T say will happen if you don't update your username? "If you do not change your User ID by May 11, 2006, you will not be able to sign on using your account. We apologize for any inconvenience." How nice.

Of course, that doesn't matter because I got this message after changing my username:

Sometimes you just can't win :-)

$880 to fly 12 miles...

When flying, you usually expect to pay more for greater distance. Flying from San Francisco to Los Angeles is a lot cheaper than to Tokyo. However, it seems that there's a point at which you pay more the closer you get... I was on United's site and, just for the hell of it, priced out a flight from Oakland airport to San Francisco. I believe the distance between the two to be roughly 12 miles as the crow, I mean the jet, flies. Those are some very expensive miles, check it out:

The perceptive among you will have noticed that, although the title states "Oakland to San Francisco", the trip details actually have us flying from SFO to Sacramento (yes, that would be a bug). This is much more reasonable, after all SMF is a whopping 80miles away! And I bet they don't even serve drinks :-)

Google Kids

So I was googling for Mt Diablo tarantulas with my son Thomas (6) and as soon as the search results appeared, he said "Google!".

I turned 'round, pointed to the logo, and asked him if he was actually reading the word "Google"?
"I've been reading that for a long time" he answered.

Off we went to I pointed to the logo: "What does this say?"
"Mee... Mee... Crow... Saft... Soft... Crowsoft?!"

Hmmm... Not quite as successful.

Let's try I point to the big "Yahoo" logo at the top of the page. "How about this one, what does it say?"
Thomas looked at it for a long time then exclaimed "Yipee!"

I nearly fell off my chair laughing. Clearly Google is winning six year olds' mindshare.