# Sunday, 22 June 2014

Day 7: Sunday, May 25

From Cluj to Budapest

I woke up earlier than I expected, excited to drive from Cluj-Napoca, Romania to Budapest, Hungary. The front desk called and ordered a rental car, which arrived late morning. Meanwhile I ate breakfast with those conference speakers who remained at the hotel.  The car arrived but without sufficient papers to leave the company, so I had to take the car delivery man to his house (Not his office - his house!), so he could pick up the papers.

I stopped at a shopping mall, hoping to get a card for my phone that would allow it to work in Europe. My phone had lacked the ability to call or receive email or browse the web since I arrived, except when I was connected to the hotel wi-fi. Before I left America, I had called the local AT&T store to ask how I could use my phone in Europe. When I told him I bought the phone at the Microsoft store, he told me it was certainly unlocked and the best solution was to buy a SIM card after I arrived in Europe. I found a shop at the mall that would sell me a SIM card; unfortunately, when she inserted the card into my phone, we received an error message that the phone was locked by a provider. This was a problem because I was counting on using GPS to tell me how to get to Budapest. I had no idea even how to get out of Cluj, much less which road led to Budapest. I found a solution to this problem: I stopped at a Travel Agency in the same shopping mall, where a friendly travel agent printed out a map to Budapest and translated the key directions for me. I was on my way.

I arrived in Budapest about 7 hours later, after only getting lost 3-4 times.

I didn't have directions to the hotel but it was located in downtown Budapest and I assumed that it would be obvious how to get downtown (as is the case in most American cities). Sadly, I found myself driving lost among the outskirts of Budapest. I pulled over to question a few pedestrians but none spoke English. Finally, I found a helpful lady and 2 high-school age girls who were leaving church. They not only found directions on their smart phone, but they rode along with me to guide me to my hotel before taking a bus back to their home. In America, it is almost unheard of for 2 innocent girls to get into a car with a stranger (much less, a foreign stranger), but I'm glad these girls had no qualms about this.

I thought I was late meeting Adam and Magdolna, but I learned that Budapest is in a different time zone than Cluj, so I was actually early.

They took me to a nice outdoor cafe, where we ate plenty of Hungarian food. After dinner, we walked along the river and he advised me on sights to visit the next few days.

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Day 8: Monday, May 26

Budapest Castle District

The busy schedule, extreme travel, and lack of sleep from the last week caught up with me and I slept 12 hours before slowly waking up around noon. I spent much of the afternoon in a small cafe sipping a latte, writing, and watching the world go by.

Adam had left town for 2 days to visit his father, so I toured the city on my own.

In the late afternoon, I headed up to the Castle district, which lies across the river on a hill overlooking the city. The palaces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire have been restored and turned into museums. In fact, the entire hill is covered in museums, along with old churches and monuments. The view of the city is amazing from this area. It was dark before I finally climbed back down and crossed the river to my hotel.

My travels were guided in part by suggestions from Adam and from a Walking Tour outlined on a map of Budapest that I picked up at the hotel.

Monday night, I had a chance to do laundry at my hotel and it felt good to freshen my clothes.

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Day 9: Tuesday, May 27

Gellert Hill and downtown Budapest

The Marriott I originally reserved was nice (suite of rooms, full kitchen), but far too expensive for my budget, so I reserved an apartment in the Jewish District. I checked out of the Marriott and headed for Gellert Hill, so named for St. Gellert, who - according to legend - was tied in a barrel and thrown from the mountain by pagans to die in the Danube.

The climb to the top of the hill was a challenge, but it was worth it. Halfway up the hill, one finds a statue of Gellert, surrounded by roman columns overlooking the city and a waterfall.  At the top stands a 19th-century citadel and a magnificent statue dedicated to the people of Hungary.

Near the bottom of the hill is a monastery built into stone of the mountain. The monastery is closed to the public, but the associated church is open. The contrast between the stone hideaway of cloistered monks and the bustle of downtown Budapest is startling.

I walked across the Liberty Bridge and through downtown Budapest visiting (among other sites) the Central Market Hall, where dozens of vendors set up stalls to sell meat, fish, vegetables, and other wares; The Hungarian National Museum; and the Church of St. Michael

I walked back to the hotel to pick up my car and head to my new hotel. Streets in Budapest are not marked nearly as well as in the US (if they are marked at all) and the sign for the hotel was not visible from the street, so it took me a long time to find the hotel and check in. .

When I finally find the it, I was pleasantly surprised. Although the rate was a third what the Marriott charged, I had a suite at least as big as the Marriott’s. And I had free wi-fi. If I return to Budapest, I will first check out All4U Apartments in the Jewish District. My room overlooked a pedestrian area of restaurants and bars

I had to rush to meet Magdolna, who had invited me to dinner. She found me wandering aimlessly a half block from the restaurant, searching for the correct street number. We shared Hungarian fish soup and a Hungarian dessert consisting of pancakes, rum, chocolate, and whipped cream. After dinner, we walked around an old part of Budapest before I dropped her at her subway stop.

I finished the evening with a craft wheat beer at Léhűtő near my hotel.

When I tried to sleep, I discovered the downside of a hotel near so many bars. I drifted off to the (very loud) sounds of a rock band and a techno DJ at bars below.

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Day 10: Tuesday, May 28

Last day in Budapest. Last day in Europe

In the morning, Adam returned to Budapest and invited me to a Turkish bath. I walked from my hotel (about a mile) and I was ready to relax when I arrived. A Turkish bath consists of about a half dozen small pools, each set to a different temperature. Nearly-naked men soak in them for a bit, then move on to the next pool. I tried them all - from the shockingly cold water to the shockingly hot water. Spotlights of different colors shine from the ceiling into the largest pool. Supposedly, different color lights will heal different ailments. I'm not sold on this medicine, but I did try it.

All in all, it was a relaxing morning, hanging out and chatting with Adam. 

Afterward, I had lunch near my hotel and drove back to Romania.

I had no trouble getting back to Cluj-Napoca, but I had no idea how to get to my hotel. I stopped at a downtown restaurant, where I received directions that did not help. By some miracle, I stumbled upon the hotel a little after midnight. I only slept about 4 hours before I had to get up and drive to the airport for my flights home.

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This is part 3 of a series describing my 2014 trip to Romania and Hungary.

Photos of Budapest

Sunday, 22 June 2014 17:51:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, 21 June 2014

Day 4: Thursday, May 22

IT Camp, Day 1

Up early to hear the keynote. Peter Keller talked about fear in organizations - what causes fear; how fear can hurt us; how to manage fear; and how fear can motivate us to achieve new things.

Mihai Tataran and Tudor Damian gave a second keynote - this one about security. The highlight was Tudor's demos showing how easy it was to hack a user's password in a typical corporate environment. The main effect of this second keynote was to make the audience afraid for the security of their data, so it's a good thing it was preceded by a talk about fear.

Later that morning, I gave my Data Visualization talk. The room was nearly full and it was very well received. I was fortunate that I could give this talk in English, even though English was not the first language of most of the audience.

In the evening, the conference organizers reserved much of the hotel dining room and treated the speakers to dinner and drinks. This was a great opportunity to get to know the other speakers - most of whom were European and most of whom I had never met.

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Day 5: Friday, May 23

IT Camp, Day 2

I delivered my second presentation - this one on building a Windows 8 game using Construct 2. The audience was great and seemed to enjoy it.

I recorded 2 interviews with Technology and Friends - one with Peter Keller and one with Tudor Damian. Both of these have been published at http://technologyandfriends.com/.

I took more time today to talk with the conference attendees. Unlike most American developer conferences, this one was attended by nearly 40% women. The industry seemed far less dominated by males here than back home, although I did notice only one female speaker.

In the evening, the conference organizers took the speakers to a local restaurant and treated us to another multi-course meal. Again, it was a great opportunity for me to get to know the speakers. Although most of the attendees seemed to be from northern Transylvania, I met speakers from Romania, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Bulgaria, Norway, England and the United States.

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Day 6: Saturday, May 24

Alba Iulia

The conference was over but IT Camp reserves the day after the conference for a cultural outing for all the speakers. This year's outing was to Alba Iulia - a beautiful city south of Cluj. Alba Iulia was the first capital of Romania when it gained independence after World War I.

After the bus ride to Alba Iulia, we stopped for an excellent lunch and set out to walk around the city with a tour guide. Alba was a walled city that was well-fortified against attacks but that was never attacked. The country have spent the last five years restoring the city's historic buildings and monuments and the place is gorgeous. Our tour guide was supposedly telling us about the history of the city, but it was hard to tell as he never spoke above a whisper and there were several dozen of us.

After the bus ride back to the hotel, we were treated to one last dinner. I don’t recall attending a conference that treated speakers as well as IT Camp. From the 5-star hotel accommodations to the food to the conference organization, everything was done well.

After the bus returned to the hotel, the conference treated us to another (excellent) dinner. We hung out in the lobby after dinner talking and I decided I would drive to Budapest in the morning. I had met Adam and Magdolna from Budapest a few days earlier, so I made plans to meet them for dinner.

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This is part 2 of a series describing my 2014 trip to Romania and Hungary.

Photos of Romania

Saturday, 21 June 2014 23:53:30 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)

Day 1: Monday, May 19

Arrival

I didn't mind the 3 flights; I didn't mind the 15 hours of travel. I didn't even mind the lack of sleep or the oversold flights. But, as I sat in the Cluj-Napoca airport and watched the luggage conveyor belt stop without my suitcase, my heart began to drop.

The good news was that my friend Tibi was waiting outside baggage claim, and a friendly face was what I needed as I headed to the office to fill out the paperwork.

Tibi drove me to his home in downtown Cluj-Napoca, where we picked up his wife Nicoleta and we went out to a nice lunch at a local beer garden. I spent the afternoon at Tibi's house before catching a bus down to Sibiu.

I came to Romania to speak at the IT Camp in Cluj-Napoca (http://itcamp.ro), but it's been 26 years since I've been to Europe and I've never been to Eastern Europe, so planned for a longer trip.

I scheduled 2 days with a tour guide in Sibiu. Although the tour didn’t officially start until Tuesday, Adela was kind enough to pick me up at the bus station and drive me to my hotel Monday evening.

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Day 2: Tuesday, May 20

Sibiu and surroundings

Tuesday morning, Adela and I walked around the old city of Sibiu. Sibiu is a walled city, originally built by the Saxons to protect western Europe from invasion by the Turks. The city has a mix of many different architectures, due in large part to the different nations that have occupied Transylvania over the centuries. The Germans built 3 clock towers so one clock would always be visible from anywhere in the city. Roman architecture is evident in the arches.

Our first stop outside the city was Astra - an outdoor museum featuring reproductions of buildings from a great many regions and eras of Romanian history. The Saxons only allowed Romanians to build their churches of wood, so only these reproductions remain.

We made a stop in Sibiel, known for its icons - religious scenes painted on glass. Catholics in this region have been creating these works of art for centuries, but it wasn't until the 1960s that a local priest asked citizens to donate their icons to a local museum, where everyone could view them.

Next, we drove to Cisnadie, which is known in German as Michelsberg. Apparently, many of the cities founded by Saxons have both German and Romanian names. We hiked up to the fortified church at the top of the mountain overlooking Cisnadie. The church was recently restored and the views from the top are spectacular.

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Day 3: Wednesday, May 21

Sighișoara

Sighișoara is allegedly the birthplace of Prince Vlad - more popularly known as Count Dracula, so of course we had to go there. Historical records suggest that Vlad's parents visited there at the time of his birth and some documents have even identified the house in which he was born. We had lunch in the restaurant that now occupies this house.

Sighișoara contains an old walled city and a church sits atop a steep hill within this wall. We climbed the hill to see the church and the cemetery just outside. Even at midday in full sunshine, it was a bit spooky.

Following the drive back to Sibiu, Adela dropped me at the bus station, where I was taken back to Cluj-Napoca. The bus dropped me on the city's edge and I took a cab to my hotel. The cab ride cost about $3 - an startlingly low amount for an American taxi.

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This is part 1 of a series describing my 2014 trip to Romania and Hungary.

Romania Photos

Saturday, 21 June 2014 04:35:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Roots of Life is a Windows Phone 8 medical application that provides recommendation for ideal body measurements as well as recommended dosages of medicine.

You begin by entering what you know about yourself (or your patience), such as weight, height, and age. The more information you enter, the more and better calculations it can provide. For example, my ideal weight for my height and age is – well, never mind about that (cough, shuffle, look away).

This app is no replacement for advice from a doctor or other health professional, but it does provide the sources on which recommendations are based, which makes it a good starting point for health care or good supplemental information from your health professional.

You can install Roots of Life on your Windows Phone 8 here.

Roots of Life
Apps | Phone
Tuesday, 17 June 2014 19:42:04 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, 16 June 2014
Monday, 16 June 2014 14:30:18 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Parent Pathway lets you record information about your child throughout his or her life. You begin by listing vital information, such as name, weight, height about the child and information about you - the child's caregiver. You even list allergies and medication dosages and frequencies. The app will remind you when it is time to give the next dose.

Then, you can add notes every day. This can serve as a journal if you want to remember your thoughts as you watch your child grow. Or you can use it to record daily information about your child's health - There are event categories, such as Medication and Diet to track how your child is doing and what he or she is consuming.

Parent Pathway is free and would be a good app to keep track of your child's health and activities. You can use it to monitory medications, diet, and the effects of these or you can go back and read what you wrote about the child as he or she was growing up.

You can install Parent Pathway from here.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014 20:27:41 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, 09 June 2014
Monday, 09 June 2014 16:52:33 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Sunday, 08 June 2014

Yesterday, I attended the Pittsburgh Tech Fest for the second time. The first time was 4 years ago, when the event was still known as The Pittsburgh Code Camp.

It’s always a pleasure for me to return to Pittsburgh. I worked for a commodity trading advisor in downtown Pittsburgh for a few months during graduate school; I had a chance to visit some college friends who have settled in Pittsburgh; and I had a chance to drive through the Fort Pitt Tunnel. If you have never been through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, I can tell you that the exit from the tunnel into downtown Pittsburgh is an amazing sight. It reminds me of the scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy opens her door to reveal the land of Oz in full Technicolor.

I was originally scheduled to deliver one presentation – Effective Data Visualization. But there was a cancellation, so I was asked to give a second talk on Azure Mobile Services. The room was full for my Data Visualization talk and the audience seemed to enjoy it. This was the first time I gave the Azure Mobile Services talk and it was not as polished as I would like it, but I will give it 3 more times this week, so I have time to work on any shortcomings.

I watched a presentation on Xamarin that highlighted the new features of version 3; and a presentation on Building an API that gave some advice on how to approach a API development. I liked the presenter’s idea of writing client code before you begin writing the API itself.

The event was well-organized and attracted 2-300 attendees, most from western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. There was no dominant platform, but it seemed that .NET and JavaScript were more popular than the other platforms discussed.

If you are a software developer near Pittsburgh, I recommend you check out the Pittsburgh Tech Fest next year.

Sunday, 08 June 2014 16:00:25 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Friday, 06 June 2014

For decades, The Onion has poked fun at the stories in newspapers, TV news, and online news sources. This is the newspaper that has published headlines like the following:

  • Expert On Anteaters Wasted Entire Life Studying Anteaters
  • Powerful ‘His And Hers’ Towel Lobby Stalls Gay Marriage Legislation
  • Zombie Nutritionist Recommends ‘All-Brain Diet’
  • Rotation Of Earth Plunges Entire North American Continent Into Darkness
  • Casual Friday Claims Lives of 13 Nuclear-Waste-Disposal Technicians
  • 450,000 Unsold Earth Day Issues Of Time Trucked To Landfill

The project began as a print newspaper in Madison, WI, before moving to the web, so it’s only natural that a rich client would emerge to automatically deliver daily content to users.

The Onion Windows 8 app automatically refreshes each day with fake news stories for your entertainment.

Download the Onion Windows 8 app here.

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Friday, 06 June 2014 14:16:41 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Tuesday, 03 June 2014
Tuesday, 03 June 2014 01:15:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)