Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Yesterday was the first full day of the convention. Setup days Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were long and hot since there is no A/C in the convention hall during setup. Sunday the air conditioning came on and was a day for final adjustments and training. We were done by 1:00 pm so I had the afternoon off. Almost every evening has included a dinner outing of some kind, followed by camaraderie in the lobby bar. Last night there was yet another team outing for dinner, but afterward I opted to return to my room and go to bed early for a change.

Our booth at the convention is always a popular one and there was no exception this year. My department is the Innovation Center and our booth is called "Futures" so there is always lots of interest in what we have to show. Several times yesterday there was actually a line of people at the booth entrance waiting to get in. I expect we will be equally busy today.

Setup photos:

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Warm Weather Welcome

I landed at Orlando airport around 6 pm Wednesday. United gold status finally came through with an upgrade so it was a comfortable if short flight. As soon as I stepped off the plane I could feel the Florida warmth and it was a welcome feeling. Weather at home is starting to get nicer but I really think I was meant for tropical climates.

I went to dinner with a group of 6 colleagues at the nearby Ming Court restaurant. It was about a 3/4 mile walk each way to the restaurant. The walkway along international drive is lined with flowers in bloom creating invisible clouds of fragrance along the way. I was glad we chose to walk the mile and a half round trip to the restaurant. It helped me justify the rum drink I enjoyed at dinner.

The Rosen hotel is improved a little since I was last here. There are flat screen TVs and free wifi in the rooms. Its main advantage is its proximity to the convention center. That, and the fact that a large contingent of McDonalds folks stay here so there's always plenty of company in the lobby bar.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I Can't Believe It's Not Butter

This weekend we had a nice Easter dinner of Black Forest ham, some vegetables, and biscuits with homemade butter. The dinner was capped off with a delicious homemade marble cake. I indulged in way more than I should have, and that's not even mentioning the jelly beans and Medici almonds I was snacking on before dinner. Fortunately, with the milder recent weather I have been getting out and walking a little more often and actually covered about 12 miles in the past 7 days. Besides the cardio fitness aspect, the additional calories burned allow me to enjoy weekend meals like this one and still make progress toward my weight goal. I've been charting my weight, and noticed that weekends are my biggest problem. The chart looks like a silhouette of the Alps with the peaks mostly on Mondays and the valleys closer to Friday. The positive view however is that the trend line continues to slope downward.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bitcoin Update

The world of bitcoin has been quite interesting since I last wrote about it. Although I had been mostly unsuccessful day trading with bitcoin, I continued to do so through the summer last year. I had some cash and bitcoin residing on the MtGox exchange, when I received some advice last August that MtGox's solvency was coming into question. I decided to be safe and pull everything I had off the exchange (at a loss) and put it back in my wallet. I left it there while we did all of our travels during my sabbatical in the fall. Bitcoin prices remained relatively consistent in the mid $100s during that time until November when it began a rapid climb reaching a peak near $1200 in December. The peak was of course followed by a crash back down to around $500 which still represented a nice profit on my original investment.

Around the end of December I noticed that the MtGox exchange was offering discounted trading fees for a limited time. It had been 4 months since I was cautioned about MtGox so I figured it was safe to resume activity on the site. I transferred some bitcoin to my account at MtGox and began trading again. I was actually doing well until early February when MtGox announced they were temporarily halting all bitcoin withdrawals. The rest is bitcoin history. MtGox proceeded to announce they had lost 850,000 bitcoins and were filing for bankruptcy. My unwithdrawn bitcoin are probably gone, but I remain hopeful that I will recover at least some of them.

I didn't lose all my bitcoin at MtGox, and in the meantime I have acquired some additional bitcoin to bring my total holdings back to what it was before the MtGox fiasco. But this time I'm resolved to just hang on to it until it's ripe for selling.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Waist Management

We had a really nice although short trip to Strasbourg last weekend. I didn't follow the Isagenix program while I was travelling and consequently impeded the progress towards my goal. I had reached a reasonably healthy weight before I went on sabbatical last year, but with all the travelling and holidays in the months that followed, I gained back a part of what I had lost. My goal since early February has been to get back to that pre-sabbatical weight before I go to the McDonald's Worldwide Convention. I'm close, but so is the convention, and it will require diligence to succeed. Maybe now that the weather is getting nicer I can get back to walking.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Vintners and Timbers

We began today with breakfast at the hotel. It was a buffet with the usual European selections plus scrambled eggs, sausage and bacon. The coffee was good, strong and hot. At checkout I got some good advice about touring the Alsace Wine Route and we set out to do so. But not before first having the GPS set to English for us by the car valet. That made the rest of our trip go a lot smoother.

The "Route des Vins d'Alsace" is a two (sometimes one) lane road that winds among the vineyards and passes through small picturesque Alsatian villages every couple of miles or so, many the descendants of medieval walled cities and each with their own church and sometimes a castle on the nearby hilltop. We enjoyed the leisurely drive and stopped a few times for pictures. Our last stop was at the town of Eguisheim that claims to be the birthplace of Alsatian winemaking. Here we tasted some local white wines and chose a bottle to bring home.

From Eguisheim we headed east into the mountains of the Black Forest. The road twisted back and forth on hairpin switchbacks with no guard rails or shoulder as we climbed higher and higher, occasionally being zipped past by death defying motorcyclists. We passed through dense pine forests and a few remote villages before reaching our highest point. We got out for a view and some pictures and the air was quite cool compared to the pleasantly warm Alsatian wine valley we had come from.

We descended on a similar road to the town of Bad Wildbad which offers a funicular railway to the top of the Sommerberg, but we opted not to seek it out due to the lateness of the day and having already enjoyed a spectacular mountaintop view. We continued on to our final destination at a very nice Marriott in Sindelfingen, only a few minutes away from the Stuttgart airport where we will depart tomorrow. The hotel has a good restaurant where we had wine and steak and a relaxing finish to our day.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Strasbourg Sojourn

We left home about 35 hours ago and except for whatever sleep we could manage on the plane, we haven't been to bed yet. It was quite an adventure getting here. Our flight out was delayed because the Newark airport had a runway under construction and was limiting inbound flights. We had all boarded and settled in when they announced the delay and made us all get off the plane. We waited in the gate for about 45 minutes before they allowed us back on the plane. When we arrived at Newark we were delayed yet again and had to fly in a holding pattern until we were allowed to land. Fortunately we had a 3 hour gap between flights in Newark so there was no problem making our connection. The flight out of Newark boarded and left the gate on time, but the same runway construction was causing a backup in take offs so our plane had to wait in line behind 25 other planes to take off. The flight over to Stuttgart was mostly uneventful, except that we missed the approach on landing and had to pull up, circle around, and try again! Ultimately we arrived safely at Stuttgart and began our first day of touring.

My rental car has a built in navigation system but the language was set for German and I couldn't figure out how to change it. The route from Stuttgart to Strasbourg is pretty straight forward so I was able to get us there without GPS and only a couple of missed turns that we're readily corrected.  Finding our hotel once we arrived at Strasbourg proved to be more difficult. It's an old European city with lots of bridges and curving streets. I got us pretty solidly lost, but after taking a break and examining the map we got pointed in the right general direction and actually found the correct neighborhood (La Petite France) if not the hotel. At one point I accidentally turned into a parking lot, and was approached by a young man I assumed was the attendant. When I explained I was looking for our hotel he asked for money in exchange for directions. I told him I didn't have any cash but he proceeded to hop on a bicycle and lead us to the hotel entrance. It's a good thing I followed him because I think I never could have found it on my own. I ended up giving him 8 Euro which is less than I'm paying for the stupid GPS that hasn't helped me go anywhere. :)

Our hotel is excellent. It is well located for touring on foot and we have a nice room that looks out at the plaza across the canal. After settling in to our room we walked to the Cathedral stopping in a number of shops along the way. We toured the Cathedral and watched the astronomical clock chime. Then we took a narrated boat tour around Strasbourg. After the boat tour we continued shopping in search of some French macarons. We found some delicious ones not far from our hotel. We took them back to our room and then freshened up a bit before heading out again to find a dinner spot. We enjoyed wine, dinner, and dessert at a nearby restaurant with outdoor seating. The temperature was a little cool for al fresco dining but there were heat lamps overhead so we were comfortable. Tomorrow we hope to drive through Alsace wine country and later through the Black Forest on our way back to Stuttgart.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Oh Lord, Won't You Buy Me a Mercedes-Benz

We are about to leave on a new adventure. We will be in Germany and France, two countries that are not new to us, but the places we will visit are. Our choice to go here is an example of how we decide much of our travel. We frequently say, "We have some time available to travel around the beginning of April. What dates and destination offer a really good airfare?" We then search the airline website using the flexible dates option and entering airport codes for places all over the world. If we find an airfare that qualifies as "good", then we say "Let's go there." Typically the cutoff for a "good" airfare is 10 cents per mile. The trip we are about to take was planned using that method. I was finding "bad" airfares to cities all over the US and Europe, when I stumbled on a flight to Stuttgart for 7.7 cents per mile, so that's where we are going.

Stuttgart is in southwest Germany close to the Black Forest area and looks to be an interesting destination itself. It is the home of Porsche and Mercedes-Benz. However, less than 2 hours away is the German/French border and the city of Strasbourg. Strasbourg offers some interesting sightseeing and is in the center of the Alsace region of France, known for the production of some of our favorite kinds of wine. So on this trip we will drive to Strasbourg for some sightseeing and wine touring, returning to Stuttgart the night before we fly home, leaving it as a future touring destination. We never mind leaving with a reason to go back.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

No April Fools

Once again I am reviving this blog. It was nearly a year ago that I started posting after a 2½ year hiatus. This time it's only been about 5½ months. I actually like writing here. Not so much for the audience however small that may be but more because it creates a log of things I've done or been interested in. I occasionally find myself coming back here to look for something that I remember blogging about but can't recall the details. Sometimes I like to re-read some of my old trip reports to reminisce and re-live them. And so that's one of the reasons I'm back here writing again. I have some new travel coming up (surprised?) and I'm hoping to record some of it here. If you're a past reader and you're still watching for posts here, I admire and thank you for your perseverance. I hope you continue to find it worth coming back to.