Categories: "The Life"

Charlie goes East: An American Tail

08/09/10 | by Comp615 [mail] | Categories: Travel

In order to make the most of my last weekend of Eurail pass validity, I packed my bags and headed East to Vienna and Budapest. Despite a lingering illness, I had a fantastic time. This was my furthest journey east in Europe to date and also one of the longest.

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Playing Old 16-bit Software on 64-bit Systems

08/03/10 | by Comp615 [mail] | Categories: Technology

Every now and then I get the urge to build a 5-star tower, listen to the power line sound effect from Sim City 2000, or report heavy traffic from the cockpit of SimCopter. So when the latest urge struck, I immediately headed over to Abandonia to pick up some games, but quickly ran into problems.

First off, you've probably heard that downloading games is illegal. Well that's usually the case. However when you get as old as I am, some games start to expire and fall into a category of game called Abandonware. It's a moving definition, but generally includes games that are too old for the original manufacterer to distribute it anymore (Or to make a profit from it). Searching abandonware will yield plenty of sites distributing games.

After downloading, SimTower, SimCity, and SimCopter, I tried to install them, only to find they would not install. Now these games are old. They are from the 16-bit game era. Most modern operating systems since Windows 95 are 32-bit, and now the move towards 64-bit systems is occuring. The problem is that Microsoft doesn't include 16-bit support in their 64-bit OSes. Since I have Windows 7 64-bit, I cannot natively play 16-bit games. Well that just wouldn't do so I set off to find alternatives.

Solution:
After a bit of looking, I came across two options. The first is called VirtualBoxing. It is essentially running an OS within an OS. Usually this requires you to have the second OS, but I came across VMLite which auto-installs Windows XP for you. (Windows XP supports 16-bit software). Minutes later, I was off!

I also ran across a second (Un-tested) solution. This essentially kills off the current OS while your program is running, so not as useful, but easy to try, lightweight, and no risk! If something goes wrong hit ctrl-alt-delete, bring up task manager, go to data-new task, and put in "explorer". Anyways:

Take the below code, save it as a .bat file (Batch File), save and run!

taskkill /f /IM explorer.exe
(Put your app.exe here)
pause
start explorer.exe

Hope it works for you. Let me know. Also, I've listened to the noise 200 times and I'm 90% sure that the power line noise is actually a guy just going "BZZZZZZZZT".

UPDATE: After experiencing numerous problems playing simcopter with "An unrecoverable error has occurred and SimCopter must quit. Do you want to try and save the game". I found the following thread:
http://forums.civfanatics.com/showpost.php?p=7047874&postcount=17
Turns out fast CPUs break the game (Which I should have known from trying to play Jetfighter 3). The solution? Just burn off extra CPU cycles using CPUGrabber. The link in the thread doesn't work, but you can google it. Ahhh, the good old games that go as fast as your CPU can...love it...

Eurail Costs

07/27/10 | by Comp615 [mail] | Categories: The Life, The World, Travel

A lot of people ask me, is a Eurail pass worth it? Since we covered variable travel costs last post, let's do the fixed travel pass comparison this time.

First, it’s important to research the pass that best fits you. Obviously you get more value the longer your pass is valid for. A one-month global pass is $679, while a three-month is $1189. If you divide this out by weeks, you'll see that you only have to spend ~$100 per week to recoup the 3-month as opposed to over $160 for the one-month.

There are, of course, alternatives. You can get the limited number of days in a certain number of countries variety which will save you some cash. 15 days across 2 months spanning 5 countries (or regions) is only $589.

Even better, there are often ISIC card deals and the saver pass. The new saver pass costs about 1.5x as much as the youth global pass, but enables 2-5 people to travel together. Find four friends and you are doing Europe for dirt cheap. Can you say no brainer?

But unfortunately, no one wanted to come live and travel with you, so you're out on your own trying to find a pass. Probably the most important factor to you is cost. The best way to sum this up is to present my summer travelogue. It's not totally complete, but will give you an idea of what I fit into 3 months while working.

A few notes before diving in. In Italy, I had to pay 10 Euros for a reservation per leg. This ended up taking about 40€ out of the above estimate, still...Italian trains were pretty expensive and helped my pass a lot.

Second, this chart doesn't include small trips in the area I took on regional trains. (Ex. Füssen, Dachau, etc.). Lastly, the ticket is also valid on all S-Bahns in Germany, which I also didn't count (I.E. Potsdam-Berlin)

FrankfurtHannover     49,00€ 
HannoverHamburg     19,00€ 
HamburgOldenburg     29,00€ 
OldenburgHamburg     29,00€ 
HamburgBerlin     39,00€ 
BerlinMünchen     69,00€ 
MünchenNürnberg     19,00€ 
NürnbergWürzburg     19,00€ 
WürzburgParis     89,00€ 
ParisAmsterdam     80,00€***
AmsterdamBonn     29,00€ 
BonnHannover     49,00€ 
HannoverBerlin     29,00€ 
BerlinMünchen     69,00€ 
            -   
MünchenSalzburg     19,00€ 
SalzburgHallstatt     22,00€ 
HallstattMünchen     41,00€ 
            -   
MünchenPrauge     59,00€ 
PraugeMünchen     59,00€ 
            -   
MünchenPadova     59,00€Italy*****
PadovaRome     66,00€ 
RomeFlorence     44,00€ 
FlorenceMünchen     90,00€ 
    
MünchenVienna     49,00€ 
ViennaBudapest     29,00€ 
BudapestMünchen     49,00€ 
    
   1.203,00€ $    1.563,90

So the numbers speak for themselves here. I priced these by looking up the cheapest trips I could find for next week. It's possible to find cheaper prices if you book a month or so in advanced, or if you take regional trains all the way, but this list is still pessimistic.

The reason it is, is because I am looking a week ahead for trips in the above table. There were many, many times I didn't know what train I was going to take until I got on it. This is the second biggest advantage to the rail pass, total flexibility. I can literally walk onto any train in Germany and be covered. (Some fast-trains in other countries have required reservations for 2-10€ which you should still get beforehand). I would have paid much much more for certain journeys had I booked only one day in advanced.

As with all things like this. It depends if it's worth it for you. If you plan to spend the entire time travelling...there's no other way to go. Especially if you are travelling with friends...the saver pass is absolutely the best.

As for my case, I made it worth it. And had the Euro not plummeted, it probably would have been even more worth it. The best part for me was having the freedom to decide Friday afternoon where I wanted to go that weekend. This weekend is still wide open...so who knows where I'll end up!

Cost of Living in Munich

07/22/10 | by Comp615 [mail] | Categories: The Life, Making Money

Since it's everyone's dream to just go live somewhere for the summer, I thought I'd share some of the costs with you guys for reference. If you're interested in living somewhere in Western Europe, hopefully this little guide will give you a better idea of what you're looking at. If you don't like to read, you can skip down to the bottom for a summary table.

Background

Munich is supposedly the most expensive city in Germany to live in. The good news is that if you are living anywhere else, it might be a bit less. The bad news is, if you're living in Munich, it isn't, but that's ok because Munich is awesome.

There are a lot of little things one doesn't normally think about when budgeting. For instance, if you tip, restaurants in the U.S. suddenly get a bit more expensive. In Germany, Tipping is usually a much smaller around, generally rounding up to the next whole dollar or two. In addition, all the prices I'm giving include tax (6% or 19%!?!). Even though tax in the U.S. is much smaller, it can often artificially raise the comparative prices of things.

The duration of your stay can also dramatically affect how economical it is. There are tons of one-time costs which can make it hard to live independently for a short-period of time. For instance, upon arrival I had to get a Resident Permit (50 Euros) and a Strainer (15 Euros), plus you're gonna want a bike and a bunch of other one-time goodies...oh and a plane ticket. For this article, we won't count those one time costs.

Of course, there's also the big currency thing. I got a bit lucky with my exchange rate being about 1.25 to 1, which is the number I'm going to use for the article. Just so this bad boy is (short-term) future-proof. I'm also going to give the Euro cost.

Housing

When you first get to your city, you're going to want a place to live. While living on the street is free, it’s probably not the best way to go. Instead, you’re going to want an apartment. Now this is a very broad category of dwelling, but let’s assume you want to have a private bathroom and kitchen, but are willing to live with roommates. Also, let’s assume you are flexible on where in the city you live (Hint: Probably not on the main city square). Finally, we want a furnished apartment, since after all this is a temporary thing, right?

The costs can still vary widely based on tons of factors. I personally pay about 400 Euros per month for a single, studio apartment which is roughly 22 sq. m (I made that number up). On the other hand, one of my friends here just managed to find a 2 bedroom apartment for 600 Euros per month. It has a separate kitchen and bathroom plus came totally furnished with all the fixings. She couldn’t find anyone to rent with, and the people renting it were out of town, so she got a great apartment for 300€ (Just found the button) per month.

This isn’t normal. Others would pay twice as much for something similar. Not every apartment comes with internet either (mine doesn’t). In general though, I think you’ll find something you like for around 450€ per month after utilities, internet, and basic living supplies (4-ply toilet paper is dope).

Food

Next on that list of things you need to survive is food. The major decider here is if you eat out or cook for yourself. Since we made sure that our nice apartment had at least some food preparation method, we are going to say we cook basically every day. I’ll break it down by meal for you.

Breakfast: I eat cereal and milk. Simple. Eggs on the weekends. Cereal is about 3€ per bag, the nasty milk is around 1€ for 4 days of cereal worth, bags last about 4 day (convenient math!) so that’s 1€ per day for breakfast.

Lunch: I work at a company where I end up paying 1/3 the normal price for lunch. This often leads to me eating like I’m never going to eat again because hey, it’s cheap. A normal lunch for me is 2€, but we’ll say it’s 4€ for you…Maybe you learn to make a sandwich, or something and it get’s cheaper, but hey we’re estimating generously.

Dinner: Dinner is tougher because it depends a ton of what you eat. In general, I had a few baseline dishes which aren’t terribly elaborate but will give us a good priceline. Usually I can buy a 4€ pack of meet and use it for two days. In addition. I can buy 3€ worth of veggies and get that to go for 3 days. If I’m being elaborate, I make pasta or dishes which might have a few more ingredients, but generally, we can still make a nice dinner, after drinks and everything for around 5€ (again generous). That gives us about 10€ per day. If you want to eat out once or twice a week, it’ll end up around 12€ per day.

Love…kind of

I think they told us this was one of the things you needed to live in elementary school. Unfortunately, prostitution is illegal here. You might invest in language courses, or just bank on your cute accent to find love.

Along the way on your quest to find love, you first need to develop affection. Chances are that in Germany, that affection will be for beer and clubs or something. This can vary widely, but since this will end up seeming like a dis-proportionately large part of your budget we’re going the cheap out. Assuming you go out twice a week to somewhere with no cover. You’re probably going to want to consume a bit before you go. Luckily, you thought ahead and picked up your drinks at a grocery store (Good Job!). Therefore, if you are a sturdy male, you can probably get by on 5€ per outing. But no one actually does this. You’re going to get to the bar and try to buy yourself and a girl a drink (Only to later find out she speaks French…what a waste!). This will run you another 10€. Factoring this out over the days, we get about 4€ per day for entertainment (You also went to see Iron Man 2 last week, remember?)

Getting Around

Well truth be told, you’ll probably not be happy just living in the same city (actually station) forever, and eventually you’ll want to travel. So we’re gonna set you up with a month long pass on the city’s transportation system. Depending on how far out you live, it will cost more. If you’re studying or working as a student, you also get a discount. In any case, I live basically on the border of where one could ever want to go, and that costs about 45€ per month, which is 1.5€ per day.

As for those weekend trips, there’s so many things outside your city to see. Unfortunately these run a little bit more. We’ll use the small/large alternating approach and assume that you don’t have a Eurail pass (Stupid-head, you knew you should have gotten one!).

Anyways let’s say that once a month you take a big trip and a small trip. Small trips mean that they are overnight, but in your region, and thus could be done on regional trains or a Bayern-Pass. We are planning to go to Prague this weekend for instance, for 5 people to go there and back is only 20€. Since it’s just the three of you going however, I’m giving you 40€ travel costs. Of course the major problem is that you have to eat out and live somewhere. If you don’t couch surf (You should), it’s another 40€ for accommodations and 40€ for food.

Big trips will carry a little bit higher price since they are probably to another big, expensive city. To get there is going to be around 120€. 90€ hostels (three day trip), 60€ food.

Now we’ve just tacked on a cost of 120€ + 270€ for trips, adding 390€ per month or a whopping 13€ per day. Obviously, it’s expensive traveling. There are some ways to cut these costs down, I.E. Ride-Sharing, cooking at hostels, etc. But you didn’t come to Europe to make your own pasta in Italy. So quit being stingy.

What am I forgetting…?

There’s always random things that will need replacing as they wear out and I suppose some house supplies, but taking as a whole these are minimal costs. Clothes and shoes wear out in the U.S. too. But just because your around H&M more here, I’m allowing an extra 2€ per day in souvenir, shopping and flex money.

Summary:

 

Euro(€) Daily

Euro(€) Monthly

U.S.($) Daily

U.S.($) Monthly

Housing+Utilities

15

45018.75

562.50

Food

12

36015

450

Entertainment

4

1205

150

City Transportation1.5451.87556.25
Travel to Other Cities1339016.25487.5
Other2602.575
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Total47.51,42559.3751,781.25

Clearly it costs a lot. I was pretty generous with my estimates, so I have no doubt that one could live quite comfortably in Europe for 40€ a day. Plus if you cut down on expensive travel by purchasing a Eurail pass or something, I'm sure one could make it cheaper still.

Of course another way to make it cheaper is to get a job. As I mentioned, my lunches are much cheaper and I have a Eurail pass, so my actual monthly budget is probably closer to 1,000€ per month, the fact that I also have a positive income (barely after taxes) also helps offset that cost.

Hopefully you found this little bit helpful or at least interesting. Keep in mind that Munich is more expensive than some other cities. A vast part of those costs are housing and food, so location can make a huge difference. If you live somewhere else, share your estimated costs for comparison!

Observations (Pt. 2)

07/18/10 | by Comp615 [mail] | Categories: The Life

Short little life update before I get to the observations. After running a hostel out of my apartment for the past week, things just settled down today. I had some catching up to do on life (I.E. I finished Season 3 of How I Met Your Mother) and some planning to do for next week (Prague!). This weekend was simply fantastic. It's always fun to check out your own city with other people.

The highlights of the weekend included Christopher Street Day, River Floats, and Malibu. Christopher Street Day is a LGBT celebration which takes place throughout Europe. You can read more at the link. Needless to say it was something quite different from the normal festivals I attend. River floating consisted of floating down the river in the Englischer Gardens. It starts at the surfing wave I posted pictures of earlier and runs through almost the entire gardens. The rivers actually moving quite fast, which makes it tons of fun albeit hard to get out :-P Grabbing the pedestrian bridges along the way is always fun as is attempting to out-swim the current (Hint: Not Possible). Lastly, I took some people to a Beach Bar last night which is actually located right behind my office. Despite the rain outside, it was warm, dry and sandy in the bar, which had a theme of Malibu...god bless them.

Over the past few weeks I've accumulated a few more observations I thought I'd share. So let's get on to those!

Public Barbecues / Meats
It seems that Public Barbecues are much more prevalent than in the U.S. Almost every park here provides the means to grill. As opposed to the U.S., these facilities seem to be more utilized in Germany. Last time I was here, I went out with some friends to the park for the night. We simply stopped at the store, picked up some meat and beer and spent the night at the park.

I'm not sure why people in the U.S. don't grill more. I suppose that back in East Lansing the only really "good" place to grill would be Patriarch Park, which is essentially a kids park and thus might not be as conducive to the adult / campfire atmosphere that surrounded my grillings. It's also not un-common here to have a group grill at one's kleingarden with friends. This is what I did during the Eurovision Song Contest and Germany Soccer game, and to this date remains one of my favorite nights in Germany.

Since Hamburgers are almost unheard of here, the meats (and condiments) usually differ a bit. The selection is, in fact, usually a bit wider than just bratwursts. The stores here often carry a large variety of grill (variety) packages or pre-marinated meats. Perhaps I just don't shop for meet much at home, but it seems that these pre-marinated meats are much more popular here. I actually use them frequently as my meat for dinner since it makes preparation much easier.

Milk
My brother is a picky eater. He won't eat leftovers, or really anything that hasn't been cooked in the last hour. So when he came to Germany, I think the fact that the milk wasn't refrigerated irked him. And I can empathize, coming from a family where we go through about a gallon of milk every other day, we almost always had 2-3 gallons on hand in the fridge. But here in Germany, the milk isn't refrigerated (Until you drink it). This really gets to me when I see people in the store here carrying around pallets of milk. Since they come in 1L boxes, it's understandable that one might need to buy more milk, but since they don't need to be kept in the fridge, people walk out of the store with 24L of milk at a time. Not so much a cultural observation, but just an oddity.

Keys, locks, doors and more
There's certain subtlties that a tourist might barely notice, but when you live here, you start to compare to "home". The differences are literally all around me. Let's start with the doors.

I don't know why, but I have yet to see a doorknob in Germany. They just don't exist. Instead everything is doorhandles. In fact, even the locks on the doors seem to be standard. No push pins, weird spinning knobs or other gizmos, just a standard deadbolt. I love this. I don't know why but it just seems I never have had to screw around with a door here.

Moreover, all the doors tend to have an overlapping flap on the end. This one's harder to explain, but let's try. Usually the "outside" of a door is different. Instead of being totally flush with the wall, as almost every door in America is, the outer side has a flap that runs the entire height of the door which overlaps the door frame. This means that there is usually no vertical hole where the door closes. I don't know what the logic is of this feature, but that's just how it is.

Locks on door are also slightly different. I swear they are upside down. In America, the flat side of the key goes in the bottom (or side) right? Well here the flat side goes in the top...weird. Just another one of those minor differences you notice.

Lastly, the windows. Instead of our two panes windows, which have a top half and a bottom half, German windows are almost always single-pane. Also, whereas on our windows one would generally open the bottom half, these windows have a totally different opening system since they are single pane. Usually directly on the pane (well on the border, there is another handle like you'd find on a door, but this handle turns to one of three positions, each of which has a different function. Up allows the window to open by tilting with a pivot at the bottom, essentially cracking the top. Side allows the windows to be swung open with a pivot to the side, effectively "opening" the window. Down locks it. I can't figure out if I like these windows more or less than the ones I'm used to...

Anyways, those are today's observations. Let me know what you think about all this non-sense! And look forward to some workplace observations later this week. Till then, have a great week!

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A collection of musings from my time at Yale along with some thoughts about my "Freshman year of life" in San Francisco.

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