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Scratching one’s itch: A post long due May 11, 2013

Posted by CK in Personal, Travel.
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In December 2011 I read an article by Umair Haque containing the following excerpt:

Create (something dangerous). Mediocrity isn’t a quest to be pursued — but a derelict deathtrap to be detonated into oblivion. Hence, I’m firmly of the belief that your youth should be spent pursuing your passion — not just slightly, tremulously, haltingly, but unrelentingly, with a vengeance, to the max and then beyond. So dream laughably big — and then take an absurdly huge risk or two. Bet the farm before it’s a ranch, a small town, and an overly comfy place to hang your saddle and your hat. Create something: don’t just be an “employee,” a “manager,” or any other kind of mere mechanic of the present. Be a builder, a creator, an architect of the future. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a sonata, a book, a startup, a financial instrument, or a new genre of hairstyles — bring into being something not just fundamentally new, but irrepressibly dangerous to the tired, plodding powers that be. Think about it this way: if your quest is mediocrity, then sure, master the skills of shuffling Powerpoint decks, glad-handing beancounters, and making the numbers; but if your quest, on the other hand, is something resembling excellence, then the meta-skills of toppling the status quo — ambition, intention, rebellion, perseverance, humanity, empathy — are going to count for more, and the sooner you get started, the better off you’ll be.

Whether I’m still in my youth is debatable, but two months later I resigned from my great job at the time to pursue a dream: Solving a small but real-world problem I had faced myself. There were many reasons why I didn’t start earlier, but at that point I just couldn’t ignore this sentence anymore: “So dream laughably big — and then take an absurdly huge risk or two’‘. It sounded like the right thing to do.

A few words about the motivation: It’s Spring of 2010 and soon I will travel to Madrid for a business meeting. It’s my first time there, and the meeting venue is on the city’s border in some business area with nothing to do but meetings. So I want to stay not too far from the meeting, but also not too far from the city center so that I can do some sightseeing if I get the time, or simply have a nice dinner. I will be using public transport, so I need to stay close to a subway stop. The hotel needs to be reasonably good and inexpensive (hey, I was working for a university at the time). And all that is before I start thinking about typical filters such as non-smoking rooms, wifi, breakfasts, etc. You get the drill: Madrid has hundreds of hotels, and even after applying all easy filters, I was left with more than 100 to check. It took the better part of a Sunday. Not pleasant.

The solution took longer than expected, but eventually the foundation is here: triptao.com promises to solve this problem, applying fancy math to hotel availability and geographical data. This is done using the excellent content of Booking.com, of whom TripTao is now an affiliate. Are you visiting London with its 800+ hotels? TripTao will filter them for you and show you a list in the range of 100 hotels. This is not fixed and depends on many factors, but that’s a typical reduction. I argue that if you would go through all 800+ hotels, eventually you would choose, anyway, one of those that TripTao will show you. Not only that: The ranking algorithm is also fairly sophisticated, and doesn’t take commission into account. The first result(s) to show is really those it considers to be the best. Usually, people will find their ideal hotel within the first 10 properties shown.

Now, this is not quite finished yet. Scaling down ambition was necessary to kick-off but the vision is still grand. Now that the first step is done, little by little it will get there. There are a lot of improvements in the pipeline, lots of new features planned, lots of ideas to research and implement. Hopefully triptao.com will eventually become the default go-to hotel search platform for plenty of people, and save a few Sundays for them too.

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Prague recommendations February 16, 2010

Posted by CK in Travel.
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Ok, I’m not doing this usually — as a matter of fact, I can’t remember writing another post with recommendations for a place I’ve visited. Nevertheless, this last trip to Prague, Czech Republic, was full of pleasant surprises. In such cases, I consider it’s part of my dues to do the little I can and bring these people more customers, in return for the great service I received. So here it goes:

  • Hotel: I highly, highly recommend U Jezulatka. It’s not cheap, but it’s really worth it (BTW, you can get better rates from Booking.com and the likes). The rooms (at least the one I stayed) offer a privileged view to “Karlův most”, one of the two most important sights in Prague (the other being the castle). The hotel is actually right next to the bridge, so the location can’t be any better than that, being right in the middle between the old city and the (much nicer, IMHO) castle area. The staff of the hotel was the most polite and helpful I’ve ever seen. The rooms are beautiful and well equipped. Mini bar is free to use, breakfast is included, and there’s also free internet connectivity. The only thing to point out is that there’s no elevator (the building is a few centuries old!) so if you have trouble with stairs keep it in mind.
  • Food, part I: I had one of the best dinners ever, at restaurant Sovovy mlýny. It is inside Prague’s museum of modern art, right next to the river (close to Charle’s bridge). Only the lower part offers a view to the river, as far as I could tell, so keep that in mind. I was at the upper floor, which is ok to sit in, nicely decorated but nothing spectacular. The food was totally delicious. The goat cheese on red beet root is something not to miss, and the pike perch was equally awesome. On top of that, the service was top-class, without being pretentious. Friendly, smiling and polite, you’ll feel like you’re with friends.
  • Food, part II: So you’re in the middle of the old town and look for a bite. Tourist traps lay all around, with photos of dishes and people inviting you inside to offer you meals of doubtful taste and quality. Nothing to worry about; Pasta Fresca, at Celetná 11, is only steps away from the center of the old town and “Staroměstské náměstí” (the square with the old mayor’s house and well-known sight for its centuries-old clock). The setting was very pleasant indeed, in an underground location but very modern (i.e. not the typical cellar-like thing). It’s apparent by now that I’m a fool for good service, and in this restaurant it was excellent indeed. The food was so good that, although I walked in with a bad mood, I left happy and smiling. Really. Their pasta is home-made; I can easily recommend the ravioli al pomodoro, which was the best I ever had. Their potato gnocchi was just as good. And, although the place is not cheap, it’s definitely not expensive. For this kind of quality, the value for money is extraordinarily high.

Update: Two more recommendations I forgot to mention:

  • WinesHome: An amazing place where architecture, design and wines come together. I stumbled on it by accident, walked in and didn’t regret it for a split second. At the time I was there, around 4-5pm, the place was empty; not sure how it would be later in the evening.
  • Lui & Lei: The most relaxed and pleasant coffee I had in the city. Perfect setting with big comfortable armchairs, lots of space between the few tables, and beautiful decoration. My only complaint: they don’t really serve cakes etc — there was only some home-made cake which was ok but not spectacular. Still, I’d easily prefer this coffee shop to any other, for an afternoon coffee or even wine.

Finally, I walked into Cafe de Paris, which looked extremely promising. Unfortunately, they were fully booked and therefore I could not stay and try their cuisine.

A thousand steps ahead November 25, 2009

Posted by CK in Miscellaneous, Travel.
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I’m writing from Stockholm, Sweden, where I came for ICSOC/ServiceWave 2009. This morning, while in the train, I noticed an advertisement of SAS for various bargain flights. What really caught my attention though, was a frame inside the advertisement, which seemed a lot like those on packets of cigarettes warning that smoking causes cancer etc. So looking a bit closer, I could deduce that it said “Flying leads to climate chaos”.

Weather aside, this place is pure amazement. Hats off.

Flygning leder till klimatkaos

Flygning leder till klimatkaos

WiFi @ IND December 16, 2008

Posted by CK in Mobility, Networking, Travel.
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Yesterday I flied out of the US, starting from the airport of Indianapolis. IND is brand new (or at least the terminal where I was), spacious, clean, efficient. It’s one of those airports that you like as soon as you set foot on them, not because of some fancy design or its shopping area, but rather because it does very well what it is supposed to do: route you to your flight with minimal strain (US airline companies’ inefficiency and how they manage to destroy your day in the end, is a whole different story).

What I liked the most, however, was their business model for offering wifi access. Instead of providing pre-pay internet connectivity, as is the case in all airports I have been at before, they give it for free. The catch (hardly one…) is that they first take you through a page where they have a bunch of movies and music that you can buy, to entertain you during the flight. If you don’t want to, you can immediately skip it and go to the AUP, and from there to free public internet.

I don’t know if it’s working from a business perspective, but I’d love to see something like this taking off. Operating an internet link is not *that* expensive in the western world anymore, and the fees they charge are usually outrageous. 8 euros for 60 minutes in Frankfurt? Yeah, right.

Dopplr November 15, 2008

Posted by CK in IT, Networking, Travel.
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This may be old news for many people, but I just found out about Dopplr. Way cool service that lets you synchronise with fellow frequent travellers and, who knows, maybe meet up at an airport or a city pub for a beer or three. It’s funny, I was thinking of building this kind of service a couple of years back, I’m happy that someone else did it for me — and it’s quite a good job. I’m sure it will get better and better.

InterCity Express June 27, 2008

Posted by CK in Miscellaneous, Travel.
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This week I travelled for the first time with the Deutsche Bahn‘s InterCity Express, going from Dortmund to Karlsruhe. The experience was excellent.

Starting from the tickets (ok, this does not have to do with the ICE, but it’s an indication of the German Railway efficiency), when booked we were given a number which represented them uniquely. We went to a random ticket machine next to the university train station (i.e. a random station also :-)), where we entered the number and were given the printed tickets. No need to wait at the central station for them. Cool.

The train left right on time. It was going through the fast route between Cologne and Frankfurt airport, so I actually saw the 300 Kmh (or a bit less than that actually). Even at that speed, there was minimal noise and bumping. It was extremely clean, with many automations and facilities such as power outlets for your laptop etc. The 340 Km (or so) of the route were covered in a total travel time of 3 hours, including the connection at Mannheim and the somewhat long stops at each of the 6 or 7 stations in between. Additionally to the above, the views to the German countryside are so nice; it’s a great opportunity to actually relax and get away from work for a while.

When traveling within Germany, taking the airplane (or even your car) really seems to be suboptimal.

Barcelona June 6, 2008

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I spent the previous week in Barcelona for the 23rd Open Grid Forum meeting. Many interesting discussions and a lot of controversy (see: Cloud Computing and its relation or not to Grid Computing). Other than the technical part of this trip, I should say that Barcelona is on the Pareto front of European cities: Good weather, amazing nightlife, beautiful city, humane enough (for Southern Europe standards :-)), excellent food, what else can someone ask for. I totally fell in love with it. Don’t miss the opportunity to go, when you get it!