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Spotsy, May 26, 2010 - Getting Ready

This time I procrastinated, and did not get my house ready for my trip as much as I would have liked to, but at least the water pipe and kitchen repairs, and other essentials are done. I fumigate when I go on longer trips, for instance, something you have to do when you live in the country, I smoke the place a couple of times a year, before trips. I use Raid dry smoke cartridges, they are very effective, leave no residue, and their effects easily last six months.

I've set up surveillance cameras as well - while I had an "old style" hunting camera, there is now a webcam that periodically takes and stores a picture on a local as well as a remote server, which ensures that if a miscreant enters the house, their picture will be taken and stored where they can not get at it. The problem was to get that working reliably, since to it should run 24/7/365, and we will see this time around if I have really cracked it. It is easy enough to spend $3,000 doing it, but this only cost a couple hundred, plus a $400 laptop, not counting my time, of course, and a tiny piece of a public webserver I use.

So on now to packing - hopefully I can lighten the load. Now that I've been able to book at my favourite Beijing hotel again, I really don't need to take a lot of clothes and underwear, I can buy everything I need cheaply in the department store down the block from my hotel, and if necessary go across town to WalMart or Carrefour, both of which have large stores near subway stations. My suitcase then is partially filled with an empty duffel bag - last time I had to find a suitcase big enough to take my other suitcase and my shopping, which is kinda inefficient. My shopping is usually a somewhat eclectic mix of things. Especially in China, I try to find some of the more unusual technologies that Chinese culture spawns, on the other hand I love looking around ordinary everyday things that folks in the Far East use, and that are different from what we are used to in the West.

I'm fascinated by the cultural differences between societies, and by the solutions that particular cultures find for the unique problems they face. China is unique, because of its vast population and the fact that it is a centrally administered society. One of the first things I habitually do when I arrive somewhere I have not been before is take a stroll around a supermarket, just to see how folks go about their everyday lives, and what the more important needs are they have. Second on my research list is the rush hour - how and when do people get to work, what is public transport like, and here Beijing is particularly fascinating, having built what amounts to a completely new transportation infrastructure for the 2008 Olympics. Seeing that alone is worth a visit to Beijing.

NYC/Tokyo, May 30, 2010 - Flying

Tokyo Narita airportI can't help it, every time I sit in an airline departure lounge it is like I just came home, I belong there and it is what I am meant to do. You'd think I had had enough, after all those years of flying and commuting between Washington, D.C., and New York City, but apparently not. I am writing this on board of a Japan Airlines jumbo jet, one of the long haul 747s, able to fly from New York City to Tokyo direct.

It is a long flight - let's see, I left at 10am, we crossed the date line, Polar route, arriving in Tokyo 1pm the next day, that makes it 14 or 15 hours non-stop. That is a long sit. Curiously, most Westerners, myself included, get seats on the spacious upper deck, with leg room and its own galley, sitting behind the crew sleeping quarters and the flight deck, it takes the space that on other 747's would be taken up by Business Class. I guess downstairs is a first class section up front, but mostly very high density seating for Japanese, it is JAL, after all, that runs 400 seat Boeing 747's. They don't want us in the high density seating, clearly, something I don't have a problem with. What do we call this, Whitespace? We have three hours to go and I have watched all of the available movies, including a disappointing Avatar, a sort of overanimated überDisney - and the nose mounted camera, kinda cool during takeoff, now shows nothing but the cloud cover. On the other hand, I have spent half the flight writing, and my Acer Aspire 1410 says it still has 42% of its juice left. Impressive, even if friend A. is coming up to Beijing next weekend to take it off my hands.

Service and quality of food are exemplary, I could get used to JAL. I have a maybe five hour layover at Narita, hopefully get a chance to charge the laptop, see if the famed BlackBerry Bold 9700 indeed roams in Japan, then on to Beijing, where I will arrive tonight.

I can tell you one thing about the iPhone noise - D.C. is Blackberry territory end-to-end, but that is not unexpected, what with the large Federal and corporate Blackberry contracts. Not an iPhone in sight, at Washington National Airport, my departure point, and one iPad. But even on the plane, many Japanese carry Blackberrys too, like my rownmate, a Japanese coffee trader from Brazil, and I hear from my family in The Netherlands and Indonesia that they, too, have switched to Blackberrys. My 9700 is pretty impressive - 3G, UMA, WCDMA in Japan and South Korea, digital modem use, and multitasking telecommunications. The iPhone can't do most of those things, especially not simultaneously. we have this constant barrage of iPhone users with hacked handsets on the T-Mobile forums, it's a fad more than anything else. Pogue, in the New York Times, opined that "they have better apps because there are a million of them". That does show a complete lack of brain - how would you find good software in a million applications? How many days would you have to search and test? As Betty White said in SNL about Facebook: "Sounds like a huge waste of time".

Beijing, June 6, 2010 - Beijing is a great place to hang out.

Japanese airport breakfastAfter a fairly grueling 30 hour flight I am finally at my hotel in Beijing, I have stayed here before and am very happy to be back. The cab driver this time exactly the same thing the one before him did, he couldn't drive up to the hotel, because there is still construction going on around it, so while he was looking for a way to drive in, and not finding one, he clicked off the meter, which seems the standard thing among Beijing cabbie's, it happened to me on multiple occasions. I invariably have a hard time explaining to the cabbie to drop me off in the Avenue because I can walk the last 100 yards to the hotel.

This is the second time I am staying at the Zonghan Inn, in downtown Beijing. It's a perfect location, within walking distance of the Andingmen subway station, and it has all the stores and services you could ever want for right across the avenue from its location. It is a Chinese business hotel, which means it has most of the amenities a high end American hotel would have, but simpler and at a much lower price, which makes it possible for me to stay here for prolonged periods of time. At $31 a night, which includes room internet, the price is unbeatable. Breakfast and other meals you have to pay for, if you don't want to go out and take them elsewhere, but breakfast in the hotel costs $1.30, which is about as cheap as I've ever seen it anywhere.

Beijing transit farecardLast time I was here I was helped significantly by a German friend who speaks fluent Mandarin, but this time I'm on my own. That will take some effort, I don't even have a tiny inkling of Mandarin Chinese, and one of the defining features of Beijing is that absolutely nobody speaks English. Having said that, somehow, with hands and feet, there is always somebody around who can make themselves understood with what few words of English they have, and I'm getting pretty adept at figuring out what's what, helped in no small measure by the free hotel internet. Just now I was able to research several malls that sell computer equipment, as well as the location of a nearby Wal-Mart superstore, where I might be able to get the computer components I'm looking for.

But first things first, soon after breakfast I went to buy some smokes which, at 46 yuan per carton, make Beijing a smoker's paradise. At roughly 7 yuan to the dollar, you're talking about seven dollars. Then to a small supermarket three minutes' walk from my hotel, for everything the hotel dweller needs, like instant coffee, milk, instant soup, instant noodles and cheap chopsticks and spoons. You can pay by credit or debit card just about everywhere, the China of old is well and truly gone. Along that same half mile stretch of avenue, all on one side, the Post Office, the laundry, a McDonald's, which has a free map of Beijing I use every day, a KFC (across from the Pizza Hut and a department store), a pharmacy where you can buy both Eastern and Western medicine, further up the road a Chinese bakery, and around the corner a wonderful coffee shop, owned by an immigrant Chinese gentleman from Germany, who has had to learn Mandarin Chinese the same as I may be doing.

And then into town. I still have my transportation fare card from last trip, and all I need to do is top that up, which you do at a window inside the subway station, where a friendly lady sells you a 500 yuan load for your "IC card", which is what they call RFID touch cards here. That amount of money, about $70, should last you forever, as the average subway fare is either two or four yuan per ride. Even though the new subway lines, put in for the Olympics, cost a fortune to build, the average Chinese does not make a huge amount of money, so the fares had to be kept low. And with that, and a McDonald's subway map, I set off looking for some computer equipment I need, including a gaggle of laptops, one for me, one for my cousin in Indonesia, another for his granddaughter in the Netherlands - while I'm here I might as well. See ya later...

Beijing, June 13, 2010 - Beijing and the ladder

Hong Kong drugstore chainThe hotel is exactly as I left it, a bit run down, all mod cons, spotlessly clean comfortable rooms with refrigerator and an electric kettle, good cheap food, a convenience store, free rental bicycles and a public internet PC in the lobby. The only difference is that some of the extra accoutrements that were available during the Olympics were clearly aimed at Western visitors, and have gone by the wayside. The business room still has free Internet, but the PC that was installed in business rooms is no longer part of the deal. Breakfast is not free, but now has to be paid for, not a real hardship at $1.30. But this hotel is impossible to beat, if you consider it is at a downtown location, inside the inner ring road, 10 minutes from the Andingmen loop line subway station, 20 minutes from Tien An Men square, at $31 a night, which is less than many of us spend at home.

This trip is a little different from my previous one: since friend A. seems to have disappeared, I am on my own in terms of dealing with the Chinese language and getting around town. But you have to remember that I spent very large proportion of my life in very big cities, like London and New York, and I find that being in Beijing I pretty much go into automatic mode in terms of dealing with the cityscape. The city is the city is the city. And the Beijing city government has made life very easy for us. Just about everything they could, they have labeled in two languages, it could not be easier, if you take into account that the vast majority of Chinese do not speak one word of English. I very rarely go places where I don't even have a smattering of the language, but this is one, and even though I'm getting more familiar with the sounds, I don't have a clue what they mean. Having to learn this stuff is a scary thought, especially since I know that A. took two years of immersion just to get the point where she could make social conversation.

Chinese supersmartphoneApart from my love for Asia, which stems for the most part from my Dutch colonial background, I am particularly fascinated by China and other Asian countries because of the fact that the progression they have made from Third World countries to modern society is only just shy of miraculous. Nowhere is this more visible than in the way internet use has leapfrogged the high-speed wire straight into wireless broadband. Much of the time, half the passengers in a subway car are online on their handphones, chatting, reading, looking things up - mostly, I should add, on the relatively slow EDGE protocol. The difference with "us", however, is stark. There isn't a subway tunel, traffic tunnel, or underground office or store basement that does not have cellular service. You can stay online in a subway car for your entire journey. I don't know if this is a "food for the masses" scenario, but the Chinese government is doing something that will put China way over the top in terms of competition, and I guess those that govern us spend too much time watching biased reporting. The regulatory folks in China have speedily reacted to technology changes - China Mobile uses a home grown 3G solution, China Unicom has been told to switch to WCDMA under GSM, and hand off all (dying) CDMA and EVDO services to China Telecom. Smartphones, at every Chinese person's income level, are in enormous supply, while a prepaid SIM card costs 50 Yuan, or $7. A topup costs 100 Yuan, $16, enough for three hours of local calls, or up to an hour of international calls, and can be done online, from anywhere.

I am not necessarily painting China as paradise, but for the working man, it comes pretty close. Apart from the obvious political issues, the average Chinese have everything they need available to them cheaply, and those needs now include bank accounts, charge cards, mobile phones and broadband, and security. Yes, they're monitored, expected to toe the line - but again, I barely hear police sirens in the metropolis that Beijing is, and you will not get robbed, bothered or ripped off. Stop and look at your map, and a Chinese with even limited English will come over and ask if they can help you. Go to a store, and they will go out of their way to find somebody with five words of English so they can assist you. Friendly, helpful folk, in a metropolis of 16 million people. Try going walkies looking like a foreigner in Chicago in the middle of the night.

Arlington, June 25, 2010 - UMA / WiFi calling

Asus Eeepc and BB 9700I promised a while ago that I would report back on the T-Mobile USA data roaming issue the first time I took my new Blackberry Bold 9700 abroad. Apart from offering UMA, a.k.a WiFi calling, as well as 3G, T-Mobile offers a $19.99 "email roaming plan" for Blackberry users, which I had been told includes unlimited data roaming access abroad. I took the rep's declaration with a bit of salt, but as you will read in this report, she was absolutely right, I just needed to divorce "data" from "download".

Here is the down and dirty:
I have a grandfathered original UMA plan across my acount, so I am not putting minutes in here, since that wouldn't help y'all: UMA now incurs minutes out of your available pool. I was in Beijing, Huangzhou, Tokyo, and Jakarta, Indonesia. In Indonesia, my hotel had WiFi. In Beijing, my hotel had hardwired free internet - I knew this, so went to Zhongguancun (subway stop of the same name), where most of the electronics malls are, and scored an 802.11n WiFi router. Cost: $20. This is not for the faint of heart - 99% of the equipment sold in Zhongguancun is Chinese only, and I can't read Chinese to save my life. In Tokyo, I used my AT&T Global Network account, which I have as an internet backup, nodes all over the US, and all over the globe. This requires a login, but the Blackberry Bold 9700 lets you do that. Japan is end-to-end paid WiFi.

In Beijing, Huangzhou, and Jakarta, all Starbucks have free internet. Ask for the WEP code at the counter. Good place to go if you're pining for a bacon 'n egg sandwich, which aren't that ubiquitous out there. $3 (for the sandwich ;) )

Note that UMA is not a calling-only service. UMA emulates both GSM and GPRS, at WiFi speeds. That means you can tether your laptop to your Blackberry whem it is connected to WiFi, and access the internet via the TMO network - on the 9700, you can make calls and get email at the same time. You're effectively tunneling into Washington State.

Q: Why would you do such a thing, when you have WiFi available?
A: Because it is encrypted, and secure. Your laptop is not on a public hotel or lounge or Starbucks network. Not only that, but it is the only way to access Facebook, Twitter, and other stuff when you are behind the Great Mandarin Firewall.

The $19.99 Blackberry International email add-on works for all of the email (pop and imap) accounts you have set up. It also works for most data access, from the smartphone perspective. It works for Twitter. It works for LinkedIn. It works for Browser. I saw two (that was all) data roaming charges, which I assume had to do with the Blackberry OS update that was broadcast while I was there. This made me really unhappy, because when I opened the email, walking down the street, the link forced me to download, I could not tell it "we'll do it later". I was on EDGE, too. Had to sit and drink coffee, making sure not to lose my EDGE connection, for almost 40 minutes. All data use is covered, IOW, but not downloads - note on your usage overview, in "My T-Mobile", data and downloads are separate entries. You now know why. Cost:


I had three voice calls, incoming, while out roaming (i.e., not on UMA) in China and Japan. Cost:


One was American Airlines, telling me, in Tokyo, before boarding, what gate and baggage belt I'd arrive at in JFK. That was really cool.

Add to that the $19.99 cost of the International Email feature, which you can activate and deactivate per trip, and you can see that TMO offers, on the BlackBerry, an international data plan that is extremely affordable, and works very well. Especially in combination with UMA, and secure tethering, this is unbeatable for the traveler. You have to discipline those that call you on a regular basis to send you a text message or email when you are traveling and they want to talk to you, so you can call them when you're on UMA next, which can be as quick as the nearest hotel lobby or Starbucks. Sorry for the Starbucks advertising, but I gotta tell you that being able to head into one to make a couple calls back to the US while overseas is a pretty good way of getting your Java fix ;)

Caveat: I do not use GPS on my Blackberry, this because I have a Nokia Navigator, which has preloaded maps, and a built-in standalone GPS phone. I have a postpaid Asian SIM card in that phone, because I like to have a backup phone when I am abroad anyway, just in case, and because, in my case, it is cheaper for my Asian contacts to contact me on an Asian number - costs me $4 a month. GPS phones do data downloads on the fly, and are not real GPS devices, whatever anybody tells you, and that includes the Blackberrys. I am mentioning this because I use GPS worldwide, even China has extensive city maps you can buy now. You want to freak out Beijing and Jakarta cabbies, who don't speak English, bring your GPS.

In short, I have just had the lowest international roaming bill I have ever had.

Spotsy, July 1, 2010 - Home, home, and home again

Ted is wellI was, originally, going to do my China and Indonesia trips, as usual write my blog a couple of weeks ahead, do a travelogue, come home again, prepare for surgery, and hadn't much thought about the time after that. But as it turned out, the entire almost 2 month period became much more compressed and intense than I had anticipated, and I did different things from what I had planned. In Beijing, I ended up buying, converting and configuring two laptops, one of which had to be ready for the next leg of my trip, to Jakarta, Indonesia, while I had to get the other ready to use for myself, as the Acer I brought would be picked up by friend and former colleague A., who wanted a type of system and configuration he could not get in Asia.

Then, my canoe entered the rapids. Although I knew that my elderly cousin T. was in hospital in Jakarta, after a stroke, he was released home while I was in China, his son and granddaughter left for home, and then he ended up back in the hospital, where he was when I arrived there. We had not seen each other in some 45 years, so that was pretty intense. Thankfully, his second hospitalization was not related to the stroke, so my fear of losing him abated somewhat, and we were able to bring him home during my stay.

Dell crew in BeijingTwo weeks later, I was on a drip myself - while my surgery was planned, and the delay caused by my Asia trip sanctioned by my doctors, I had kind of pushed it away in my mind, and once I arrived home realized my niece would be arriving within days, to provide support while I was in Virginia Hospital Center. The whole thing kind of put me into a speed warp - niece F. had never visited the United States before, so I had to make some time to acquaint her with my American life, get her used to my cars, take her up to Northern Virginia so she'd have an idea where she was going, and make sure she knew where everything was in my house for every occasion from hitting the fridge to the code to my safe so she could find my living will.

It seemed like I ended up in the hospital really quickly after that, and the surgery was so fast and professional, I was on my way home, after a night's stay, before I knew it. Niece F., part of a segment of the Aartsen family I was completely unacquainted with until last summer, turned out to be a godsend, if only because she works in elder care and so isn't particularly alarmed or cowed by a hospital environment, sedated uncles or surgical clamps. Virginia Hospital Center made arrangements for her to spend the night in my hospital room, greatly appreciated as I live some 70 miles away, and so it was all, umm, uneventful is probably not the right word, but it was as pleasant as having invasive surgery is going to get.

Regular visitors will know I don't go overboard documenting my private life - partly an outcrop of the need for security in my job, partly because I don't believe in plastering your undies all over the internet, but I will make a few exceptions in coming postings, as I have been very impressed with some of the recent experiences I have had - first and foremost, the quality of care in Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, which is incredible. But there are other interesting aspects too - cousin T., now living in Jakarta, Indonesia, still going strong at 85, his hospital experiences in what we've always considered a third world country, my and my family's efforts to get him on Skype, so that particularly his children and grandchildren in the Netherlands can more easily keep in touch with him, and with that, the state of the art in mobile telephony and mobile internet. The American press, focused as it is on the stagnant U.S. market, and gadgets like the iPhone, has completely lost track of where and how the real technological advances are happening, and that is not here, not even in Europe.

So it'll be a little helter skelter - some pictures I am posting here, meeting cousin Ted after 45 years, top right, and some technicians at putting my cousin's laptop together at a Dell reseller in Beijing. I have barely used my cameras this trip, just my new BlackBerry Bold 9700 and Twitter/Twitpic, a revelation in terms of documenting travel and life. Keep coming back :)

Spotsy, July 9, 2010 - Beijing Dichotomy

Haidian Street storesAs I mentioned in my previous posting, I had a rather diverse past few weeks. From having to postpone my Beijing trip, because my passport only had five months left on it, to arranging for cousin T. in Jakarta to have a 3G data connection to replace his slow ADSL, I was in many places doing things related to other places. In Beijing, I blew up my Indonesian SIM card by trying it in a Chinese USB Modem, which, in hindsight, was a stupid thing to do, because China Mobile uses TDMA based 3G, very incompatible with the UMTS my Indonesian 3G provider uses.

China is a very different place, today, than it was even a couple of years ago. The overriding impression, today, is that it is bottoming out. Two years ago, any technology product you bought in China would be a Chinese version of something made for the export market. That's history. I bought a number of products made for the Chinese market, by Chinese for Chinese. Small changes, but nevertheless - a wireless router for which no English language firmware load exists, kitchenware made of bamboo, something the Chinese did not have processing machines for even a couple of years ago. Both cheap, as the Chinese do not have huge disposable incomes as of yet.

The dichotomy that struck me, though, is that the vast majority of young, educated Chinese in technical professions don't speak English. It is as if this is a deliberate policy on the part of the Chinese government, and it is puzzling. Everywhere you go, young people wanting to get ahead know you have to begin by learning English, because that is the language that ties professionals together. Doesn't matter if you are an actor, architect, call center employee, programmer or an accountant, learn English and you can trade, move countries, communicate with yor peers, what have you. Except if you are Chinese, because if you're Chinese chances are you can neither speak nor read English, and your universe is restricted to China. If you could Twitter or Facebook, or access Wikipedia, you could try and learn English, but those communications tools are largely blocked by the Chinese government, so you can't learn that way either.

Beijing food courtI just can't figure out what the purpose is of these restrictions. It won't help China move forward, it won't help the rest of the world work with the Chinese, and with the upsurge of kids in the West learning Chinese the problem will get exacerbated. Pretty soon, our youngsters will be able to understand the Chinese, and the Chinese won't be able to understand our youngsters. How is that going to help China? It really struck me as unusual, this time around, to some extent because I spent days browsing through the huge technology warehouses that make up the Zhongguancun area in Beijing. Block after block with floor after floor of nothing but electronics, from computer systems to any electronics component you can imagine. Wedged in between two major universities, Zhongguancun has enough gear to supply much of the American East Coast. But: nobody speaks English, getting an English language version of Microsoft Windows is a battle, and here it becomes clear the Chinese have been producing for their own market for a while now.

Most importantly, and, for me, quite unexpectedly, I was able to quit smoking, thanks to an anaesthesiologist at Virginia Hospital Center. As she was going over the anaesthesia for my recent surgery (which entailed a tube down my throat for close to three hours) she warned me I'd be uncomfortable because of that, and said not smoking would make that even worse. She offered to give me a nicotine patch for the night, to help me sleep (which in the end the morphine took care of handsomely), something I didn't think I needed - I routinely survive 30 hour air connections without pining. Then I thought "why not?" and asked for a patch in the evening. One thing led to another, I was given an extra patch when I was discharged, and, long story short, I haven't smoked since June 23rd. It was one of those things - I knew I would have to at some point, and this was an opportune moment, with the medical support, niece F. with me for a few days, and having just come back from a long overseas trip. Teehee. After 40+ years. I am now officially a boring person. I don't smoke, I don't drink, but I will not give up sex.

Back home as I write this, much of it seems to be rapidly receding into the past, as a Harry Potter rerun unfolds across my HD screen. I am not sure why I am so fond of these movies, the inventiveness, the splendid combination of film and animation, and the consistency of the same team of actors, more so, perhaps, than in most other feature films made in the past couple of decades. The Queen's English, of course, will always be a homey thing to me, after so many years in the UK and in the colonies. I was just remembering waking up in the hospital, in English, even though niece F. is Dutch, and I had been speaking some Dutch with her. But my brain has gotten very firmly rewired, for me to come out of anesthesia in English. Cool, I suppose, at the same time proof one can really be reprogrammed.

Spotsy, July 14, 2010 - So what laptop to pick in Beijing or Washington?

              Eee PC 1005PEBefore I lose track, there have been three noteworthy computers to write about, these past few months. One is the ASUS Eee PC 1005PE, a cute blue netbook I brought back from Beijing, and eventually sent on to niece A., as its 1024x600 LED(!) screen is very good, but just not sufficient for my use, primarily since the size does not let me run a brokerage application. Other than that, this thing handles Windows 7 Home Premium very well, even though it won't take more than 2 Gb of RAM (I tried). To the right you'll note it fits beautifully in a China Southern Air cattle class seat. Most amazingly, running at full tilt it will still deliver somewhere between 8 and 10 hours of use on a single charge, which is truly amazing - in my case, the battery easily lasted the nine hours it took me to get from Beijing via Guangzhou to Jakarta, Indonesia.

Dell Inspiron on 3G

Back to the computing devices I was telling you about, I ended up buying cousin T. a Dell Inspiron i1545 laptop, which amazed me in terms of its computing power, ease of use and screen - a 15.6 inch very bright LCD screen, the laptop itself really a fully capable PC in a portable form factor. The Dell dealer in Beijing that sold it to me provided a full legal Chinese/English version of Windows 7 Ultimate, terrific deal, and by the time I got to Indonesia, picked up the 3G modem I had asked my friends in Jakarta to snarf for me, and got it running at my cousin's house, he got onto Skype to talk to his children in Europe in no time flat - amazing, considering he is 85 years old. See it and him with grand niece M. in action to the left, on an XL 3G Skype live video call between Jakarta, Indonesia, and Leeuwarden, The Netherlands. Of the laptops I have worked on in the past couple of months, the Dell is probably the best choice if you are looking for a fully capable desktop replacement you can travel with, and it comes with 4Gb of memory installed (and a 64 bit version of Windows!), so you really do not need to upgrade this at all.

Of course, having bought laptops for what seems half my family, I ended up not buying one for myself, a problem as in Beijing I had handed my superb Acer Aspire AS1410 off to colleague and friend A., who took it back to Vietnam, where he works, and from there to Australia, where he lives. That Acer is unarguably the best all around laptop I've come across in many years, provided you make sure it is running 64 bit Windows 7, and max it out to the 8 Gb of memory it can handle. So I had no choice but to run out to Best Buy right after I got home from Tokyo, and look for a new laptop for myself. I ended up compromising on the HP Pavilion dv4-2145dx at Best Buy. It is not quite as portable as the Acer, or quite as powerful as the Dell, but jampacked with multimedia features neither of those have, and capable of driving a 1080p High Definition display and a digital Dolby audio decoder (you will need the QuickDock Docking Stationto get Dolby output) at full tilt. Very impressed, especially considering the price, I payed less than $500 for it - as always, I upgraded the operating system to Windows 7 Ultimate (it came with 64bit Windows 7 Home Premium, which really is sufficient for non-networked use), and maxed out the memory, which added about $300. As with most laptops, this unit will take 8 Gb of RAM, and then it flies.

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On September 11, 2001, at 8am, I was in the air between New York City and Washington, D.C., my regular commute for a number of years, on my way to a doctor's appointment - little did I know I would spend the next eight months working on the recovery of our networks and services, in Manhattan and Arlington. "9/11" became a determining factor in my life - I had offices in Manhattan and Arlington, VA, some of my customers, as well as my dentist, were in the Pentagon, and in the World Trade Center, where I would get my morning coffee and breakfast, when downtown. I make a point, now, of visiting, and communicating with, my friends and relatives as often as I can; and I finally left the cityscape, and now live in the country. I've written up some of my experiences of that day, and its aftermath, here. You can find a list of all killed and missing victims of the 9/11 attacks, some of whom I knew and worked with, at the Washington Post.

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