Sunday, August 29, 2004

During my travels, I came to realize that many so-called "destinations" are way overhyped in terms of the experience you have when you get there. For many of them, you arrive and say "ok, this is nice, but it didn't meet the oveblown expectations."

Here is my list of the top places that met or exceeded expectations:

1. The Great Wall of China
2. Petra (Jordan)
3. Macchu Picchu (Peru)
4. The Sistine Chapel (Rome)
5. Grand Canyon (Arizona)
Last week we went to a wedding with Calanit for the first time. It may sound a bit crazy, but I got very emotional about the day that will hopefully come when she gets married. I know she's only 8 months old, but everyone says "it goes by so quickly" and then all of a sudden, you are at your child's wedding day and the baton gets passed (I'm in a very Olympic frame of mind) and the next generation begins its ascendancy. Sometimes I wonder what she'll be like as an adult, but then I catch myself and take the words of the parents at the wedding to hear to really focus on cherishing the moments that I have with her as she is right now, knowing that in a blink of an eye, they'll be gone. I love my mother's saying, "the days are long, but the years are short."

Thursday, August 26, 2004

The name of Epstein

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a Munich-based employee of Microsoft who read an email I sent to an internal newsgroup. He said, “it’s so interesting that your last name is Epstein. I grew up in a town called Eppstein.”

This began a multi-email dialogue between us. I related the story I had heard.

At some point after the Expulsion from Spain, the wandering tribe which had been known in Girona, Spain as the Benevensites ended up in Germany. They were in the money-lending business and lent money to one Count von Eppstein. As collateral, he offered up a piece of land.

When the time for the loan came due, he didn’t have the money and refused to turn over the land, saying that it belonged to his brother, a priest, and Church land couldn’t be given to Jews. Instead, he offered them the use of the distinguished last name of Eppstein. Apparently, the family took him up on his offer and eventually moved on to Lithuania, from whence my paternal grandfather emigrated.

I had never heard of the town of Eppstein until the summer of 1994 when a classmate of mine at the University of Regensburg where I was taking summer courses told me that it existed on the outskirts of Frankfurt.

During my travels through Europe thereafter, I made a point to take a trip out to Eppstein, a town nestled in wooded hills by a small river with a tiny fort on a hill, with a population of (I’m guessing) 2-3000 people. At some point during my teenage years, my father had given me a family crest which had the name “Epstein” underneath it and which has three chevrons upon it.

Interestingly enough, this same symbol was on all of the official Eppstein municipal items (trash trucks, the city hall, etc.). I climbed the small hill to the little fort, the museum for the history of the town, and knocked.

A woman answered. I told her my last name and showed her my passport. She was very excited and let me in for free (I thought the town still owed a lot more than that 1 Deutsche Mark that I saved, you know with interest and everything). I told her the story and she confirmed the possibility of its veracity saying something to the effect of “the Counts von Eppstein were very dishonest and made a living of robbing travelers and traders on the river next to the fort).

During the year I spent in Germany, I went back twice more, once with my father and once with Dina, Asher, and Julie. At my father’s request, I also made an inquiry to the City Hall to determine the name of the factory where the town flag was made and subsequently ordered one, which to this day flies outside our house. It was also used at the wedding ceremony for Asher/Julie as well as for Tamar and me.

Anyway, I relayed this entire story to my German colleague (Thomas). He too had heard that the Counts von Eppstein were not such great people. Furthermore, he asked if he could send the story I had sent to him to his friend who works in the City Hall and also to the town of Eppstein’s historian. He has since done this.

Lastly, he told me that the name Eppstein comes, supposedly, from a knight named Eppo, who built a fort upon a large stone (Stein in German). Hence, Eppo’s Stein or Eppstein.

Monday, August 23, 2004

After going to Canada for the weekend and flying with Calanit, I've developed a simple, but what I think is an effective formula for traveling with children. Take however much time you think you need to do whatever it is (get to the airport, clear customs, etc.) and just multiply it by 2.5. With enough time, I believe, travelling with children can be hassle/stress free, but the TIME is the critical element. Don't wait until the last minute.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Canada is really an interesting place. I can't get a read on what their national identity is. To me, it looks like their primary objective is to be the un-American (ok, maybe a bit softer, gentler), but it's basically the US with some subtle differences, like Kilometers, Celsius, some mild pronunciations (the letter 'o') and cute expressions like 'eh'. They've got their own money and maybe things are a bit cleaner, but other than that (and mind you, I'm not talking about French Canada) there's not much uniquely Canadian. Tamar and I saw the actor Mike Meyers on TV the other night talking sort of along the same lines and his most memorable quote was "you don't hear people saying too often, 'hey, let's go out for Canadian food.'"

The people are friendly and all, but I can't place my finger on what it means to be a Canadian.

Since I was there during the Olympics, it was particularly fascinating to see how the Canadian media worked. From an American perspective, it looks like (almost) that Canada is a country that if it doesn't celebrate mediocrity, certainly is willing to tolerate it or explain it away.

When we arrived, Canada had won just one bronze (they subsequently won a silver and a gold) and the paper/TV highlighted athletes who "did their best just to get there" or "didn't have the full financial backing of the government." Athletes who finished 16th were on the news and were portrayed as heroes.

I guess in America, we're so focused on winning the gold that if you win the silver, it's really "losing the gold."

Don't know what it means, but it was interesting to see how the media celebrated someone finishing 20th or whatever. Obviously, even being in the Olympics is a major accomplishment, but maybe for a country that continually seeks to avoid the shadow of its neighbor to the south, that's one of the ways they differentiate themselves.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

A Tale of 2 computers

So for a while, I've been living with the dilemma of the fact that I work for Microsoft and yet was maintaining two computers at home, neither of which were on the latest, greatest Operating System. The fact that my needs were met entirely by a machine running (yes) Windows Millenium and my wife's (Win98) underscored one of the problems that we at MS face when it comes to our technology, namely, how do we convince customers to upgrade their desktop Operating Systems?

I felt I could relate to many customers when I surveyed my landscape at home and saw that, "hey, it's good enough, I don't need anything better."

Well, for reasons that have nothing to do with software and have to do entirely with human error, about 2 weeks ago, my hard drive crashed. I had no choice but to format the hard drive. I took the opportunity to install a brand new Windows XP operating system on my 4 year old laptop. I installed the latest and greatest of everything, security, add-ons, you name it and let me just say this...I am glad that I did. I am kicking myself that I didn't do it sooner.

I realized that when most people or even I say "I don't need anything else," we have no idea what we are talking about. Most of us have no clue what the technology is even capable of until we try it out and only after we investigate, play around, and try out new things, do we realilze the potential inherent in it. It's like I rediscovered my passion for the technology within the past two weeks and I am in reveling in it. Were there hiccups and bumps along the way? Sure, but is it worth it? I believe so.

Not knowing what you've got until you see the possibilities (it's good enough/don't need anymore)

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Self-Identity and Early Adopter

My self identity is tied up in the idea, to some extent, that I am an early adopter of technology. I don't know why. Perhaps it has something to do with the feeling of wanting to know something before other people do and then getting to tell them about it. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I see the possibilities for the new technology and seek to implement them as quickly as possible.

I've long prided myself that I've had email since 1991, when according to some statistics there were only 750,000 people in the world who used it. The other night, I read an article about Voice over IP telephony (that's using the Internet to make your phone calls) and I was thrilled to see that about 50,000 consumers in the US had it at the beginning of 2003--I was one of them, and we've been saving about $35 on our phone bill every month since then.

I recently purchased a GPS system for my car (it integrates with my Pocket PC phone edition) and Tamar and I are in the midsts of a massive family digitization process which involves copying our VHS tapes to DVD and our cassettes to digital music. It's working quite well, for the most part--with of course the usual hiccups, but we'll be fine, I'm certain.

Anyway, whatever it is, it keeps me going. I am like a kid in some ways as I do get a rush from trying out a new technological advancement, but for the most part, I find value in them and don't just do them for their own sake. There's a benefit that we derive in the short and long term.

As for being an early adopter and why I pride myself on it...I don't know. I just am, in this regard, I suppose.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

the best job in the world

We had brunch this morning with some friends and while we were there, the husband got word that he was to become an Uncle for the first time. Our friends have no kids of their own.


I tell you, being an Uncle with no kids of your own is the best job in the world. First of all, for an Uncle in particular, there are no expectations. You change one diaper and you’re a hero for life. Do anyting, and you’re a hero. It’s different for Aunts, I think.  Furthermore, if the kid gets grouchy, well, it’s not your problem. You can spoil them. Give the kids sugar at 9pm…hey, you didn’t know any better. Honest mistake. All the fun, no responsibility and no accountability. 


Once you have kids, being an Uncle is fun, but not as much. You can’t get away with playing dumb, you know better.


Anyway, enjoy it while you can.