The sharing economy: Taking a ride

A few weeks ago I was visiting Washington on business (attending our EclipseCon North America)  when I took my first ride with the Uber service. Actually – when my colleague used the Uber up to get us the driving service of a young Colombian kid that picked us up close to the White House and drove us for 12 miles to our dinner place.

We were a little surprised when the driver advised us that we have to pick up another guest, drive her home and continue our trip from there. Explanation was simply that Uber had just started that service. During the ride, we started chatting a little with the driver. He’d bought the car and was full-time driving for Uber. And he said that he has to drive a lot, because he needs to pay off the car and make some money. We didn’t get into details, and I didn’t ask questions about insurance and so on. What struck me though was his driving style. It was clear that he didn’t know where he was going, and he was closely following the little iPhone navigation app from Uber. He appeared to be quite distracted by it and didn’t pay the attention to traffic that I would have hoped for.  Anyway, we made it to our destination.

Thinking about it later, a lot of questions remained. First of all, I was wondering about the driver’s qualification. He clearly had no local knowledge, and he clearly wasn’t an experienced driver. At least not to the extend that I’m used to from a German taxi driver. His car was new, but my colleague told me that’s not always the case. How can Uber control the status of the cars? And really – I had expected a person that does some driving on the side. But clearly the guy was more or less full-time.

So I started investigating a little, which led me to some interesting sources and insights into the sharing economies. More in the next post.

 

Saving Money and Having Fun

Are you tired of hotel breakfast? And paying for WiFi? WiFi that might not even exist in your room, because it’s only available in the lobby? Well, I am.

Think about a standard hotel like the Holiday Inn at Gare de’l Est in Paris. You pay 15 € for the breakfast (scrambled eggs from powder, bread that would need some more baking, sweet stuff all over …) and you pay 10 € per day for the WiFi access. WiFi really works only in the lobby and bar area, in your room you have to buy cable access, which adds extra cost. And if you own an nice computer like I do, it won’t even feature an ethernet plug anymore …

The alternative is really simple:

In the morning, step out of the hotel, go around the corner. Here you find bars and brasseries with excellent breakfast offers (2 * coffe, omelette with ham and cheese) for 9 €. And the WiFi is free and fast.

Same is true for the evenings. Rather than staying in your hotel room, hang out in the bars and restaurants. Work and eat for less, and sometimes it even happens that people start talking to you. In any case, while doing your email you can take a break and watch the crowd.

Enjoy.

A Weekend in Appenzell

For the past couple of years, I enjoy at least one visit to the canton of Appenzell.

Located in the eastern region of Switzerland, it is one of my favorite spots to come to. As there is many areas in Switzerland that are incredibly beautiful, the Appenzeller Land continues to attract me more than any other place in Switzerland.

Gasthaus Aescher, Appenzeller Land

One of the reasons may be it’s accessibility. It’s easy to get to. And once you are there, it’s approachable. I don’t need to be an alpine expert to find exciting walks in the beautiful setting. People are friendly, and the prices are actually quite reasonable (as far as this goes for a visitor to Switzerland). And all my favorite activities are supported: I can play golf here, go hiking and ride my bicycle as well. Or I can learn about cheese making if I don’t feel like sweating too much.

And then there is the tranquility. While there are tourists around, Appenzell appears a lot less overrun than other parts of the Alps.

This time we stayed at small mountain hotel called Gasthaus Lehmen. While the rooms are small, it is a perfect place to start your hikes towards the Säntis or other points of interest. And if the weather plays along (what it did for us), it is wonderful to sit outside in the evening and enjoy the evening with the good food the folks prepare and a good Appenzell beer.

The last day of the short break we spent on the Waldkirch golf course. It is a nice hilly course, and you have a great few to the Säntis. And for me it was a really nice day: It was the first time that I shot par on 9 holes.

Ch’ti

So tonight I was heading to northern France, to present at the Java User Group in Lille. My idea was to fly into Bruessels and take a car from there to meet the folks around 18:00 at the meeting location of the Ch’ti Jug to talk about Eclipse and such.

Now it turns out that this was a really bad idea. The plane I took from Berlin to Bruessels: Well it started late. The excuse the pilot made was that his cabin people had miscounted the number of people on the plane. So they unloaded some luggage, then they found out that the people were actually on the plane, then they re-loaded the luggage.

Execution cost some time, so we started about 45 minutes after the planned departure time. Oh wee, I thought, good that I had planned for some extra time.

Turns out that the traffic jams around Brussels were not in my calculation. They ate up all the buffer that I had planned. But there was a chance! My little TomTom navigation app on the iPhone was telling me that I will be only 3 minutes late. Little did it know!

Just 20 kilometers before Lille my For rental car gave up. No comment, it said.

So what’s left: I can only apologize to folks in Lille. If they still want me, I’ll be back!

Visiting Ancient Sites

Last week, I had to go to Italy for some an Eclipse meeting in Naples and then another one in Florence. Departure to Rome on the Sunday and the May Holiday on Tuesday gave us a chance to visit a couple of places before, between and after the business meetings.

 

It started off on the Monday with a visit to the Forum Romanum. Having learned Latin for many years in school, the place is sort of familiar, and it’s always fun to visit. And not only this, I actually like to see ancient things a lot more than the religious places, which are usually overladed with the symbolisms of a belief I’m not really keen on. It’s actually true for the pagan religions of the ancient times as well, but there I can ignore it.

Next was the Colosseum, and  this time we actually decided to stand in line and pay the fee of € 7 to get in. It took us about an hour to walk around, and that was time well spent! Saw a lot, learned a lot. The Colosseum has an onsite walk that explains the facility as well as the different building stages and the life in a day of a Roman while attending the games.

It is pretty amazing to wander around this place and imagine that down in the arena people were fighting for their lives while on the seats families where having their meals warmed up on open fires, playing with their children and doing beauty maintenance. That’s at least what can be deducted from the items found in the sewers.

Next stop was Naples, where we had May 1st to visit both Pompeji and Herculaneum. Both of them got destroyed in the eruption of Mount Vesuvio in AD 79. While I had visited Pompeji before, it was very interesting to visit Herculaneum, a much smaller site that is also less frequented by tourists. And you actually have a chance to stroll through the modern town attached and have a normal coffee or beer 🙂

Different to Pompeji Herculaneum provides a good look at the structures and buildings, as they were not as destructed as in Pompeji. The picture below shows a look at a Roman fast-food restaurant.

Again on this part of the trip my Latin lessons came back, and I’m looking forward to reading the letters that Pliny the younger sent to his friends, describing the events in AD 79.

As a side note: We staid in an old and quit hotel close to Pozzuoli, called Delle Therme. Completely outdated, but has a lot of charme if you can live with ancient beds:-) And the best: We ran into a photo shooting where we made the actress pose for us in her 60’s outfit.

Next stop was the Eclipse Day Florence. The event was very well organized, and the line-up of speakers was great. But I think that might be easier if you have to offer a location like Florence.

Before this post gets to long: Florence is great, I will go back and take a couple of pictures there!

My traveling compagnon Mike visited Italy for the first time ever.  When we departed in Rome he told me that he was really impressed by Italy.

And guess what: The food was great in all the places we went, so my scales were the only onces who didn’t appreciate Italy.