Thursday, December 27, 2012

2012 in Travel

I and most of my family have been fortunate to have had a very happy, healthy, and eventful 2012. The most exciting event was the birth of our first grandchild, Stella, on October 5. She's doing great and we are grateful for Facebook and iMessage (not to mention my daughter) for providing us with a steady stream of "Stella fixes" in between visits.

To be sure I wasn't out of the country when Stella was born, I blocked out September and October from travel. But the rest of the year managed to be pretty busy and interesting travel-wise. Most of it was business travel, but my wife and I did take a very fun driving vacation in Europe in late May. And even the business travel wasn't too bad, since it included my favorite countries (France and Japan) and my first trip to Russia.
  • Israel - I started the year with an early January customer tour of Israel, mostly around Tel Aviv and Haifa. I always enjoy visiting Israel. 
  • Los Angeles - Our international distributor meeting was held in LA in early February and included a wonderful backstage movie studio tour.
  • Shanghai and Shenzhen - Another customer tour took me to China in late February.
  • Taiwan - Annual product seminar day and customer visits, mostly in and near Hsinchu. 
  • Frankfurt - A trade show (Opatec) took me to Frankfurt in mid-May.
  • Europe Driving Tour - My wife joined me in Frankfurt and we drove through Germany to southern France, then to Italy, up into Switzerland, and finally back to Germany over about 8 days. It sounds like a lot of driving but it was really wonderful, especially the days spent on the French Riviera and in Interlaken, Switzerland. I blogged about this trip earlier (including three music videos I made, here, here, and here).
  • Amsterdam - In late June, I had a conference in Amsterdam, with a couple of free days to see some of this beautiful city, which I had never done before (I had only passed through on business visits to various places in the Netherlands). 
  • St. Petersburg - Another conference took me on my first trip to Russia, which I loved! I took a few extra days to explore the city including a helicopter tour. I wrote about this trip back in July.
  • Tokyo and Osaka - Another customer visit and seminar week, offering a chance to brush up my rusty Japanese (a little), eat some great food, and enjoy some wonderful views of Mount Fuji. 
  • Taiwan - Another quick trip to Hsinchu in late November.
  • Europe customer tour - Customer visits in early December took me to Wales, England, the Netherlands, Paris, and Toulouse in five days (7 day total trip). We were very lucky with flights and rental cars considering the time of year, and I even ended up with a free afternoon in Toulouse when one customer visit fell through. 
All in all, a pretty interesting year for travel! I expect a similar pace in 2013, though I'm not sure what our vacation plans might be. The picture below is the view from Eze, France, a wonderful Medieval hilltop village near Monaco, which overlooks the Mediterranean (May 2012).

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Model Nostalgia

I'm leaving Toulouse this morning, heading home after a quick customer tour this week in Wales, England, Netherlands, and France. Toulouse is the center of the French aerospace industry and the headquarters of Airbus. So naturally the gift shop is full of airplane stuff, including this 1/144 scale model of the A380, complete with interior. I built tons of airplane models as a kid, and the kid in me says to buy this kit. But the unusually strong adult in me says no, too big, no time, nowhere to put it, waste of €50. For once, the adult wins.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Obama Action Figure

When I was in Japan last month, I was searching for some info on a Japanese toy. Can't remember what or why, but along the way I found a description of a Japanese action figure toy... of Barack Obama! I thought it was hilarious.

There was some other cool stuff in Japan I've been meaning to write up. Maybe I'll write a post about my 2012 travels when I have some time off between Christmas and New Year.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Final Song: "Open Up Your Eyes"

"Open Up Your Eyes" is the last song completed for my new album project, which is now called "Look at You!" The album art is almost done and I'll be submitting it for CD production in about a week. I've been writing songs for the project since September 2011 (this song was actually the first of that new batch of songs, written in a hotel room in Seoul, Korea). Roger Lavallee and I have been working on the recording on and off since December 2011. I think it's better than my first two CD's in both writing and production, and I've already got a bunch of new songs in work for the next project, whatever and whenever that may be.

Although I've written some of the new songs on guitar, the biggest stimulus for my recent burst of songwriting and recording has been music apps on the iPod Touch and iPad. These inexpensive apps give me a constantly evolving set of musical tools (or toys), each of which has the potential to inspire new songs and new sounds. And I can write and record anywhere I happen to be.

Welcome to the Future?

One of the things I use my iPad Mini for is to read magazines I like. I have digital subscriptions for The Atlantic, National Geographic, Discover Magazine, American Songwriter, and Newsweek (which is ending production of its print version soon). I have subscribed to paper versions of these on and off for years, and aside from losing the clutter of all those magazines I haven't quite finished reading yet (I especially hate throwing out National Geographic for some reason), I probably end up reading more articles on the iPad than I did with the paper copies, especially when I travel. I was about to bemoan the fact that Scientific American doesn't offer an iPad version, but I checked, and now they do! So there's one more favorite I don't need to get on paper anymore.

Today I've been reading the January-February 2013 issue of Discover Magazine. This special double issue covers what the magazine considers to be the top 100 science stories of 2012 (some of them are more technology than science, but that's OK with me). Although I followed many of these stories as they developed, it's cool to read this kind of summary and get a big-picture overview of how many things are changing. Even in a technology-jaded hyper-connected world where many of us carry powerful computers in our pockets (iPhones, etc.), the top 10 really gives me a "welcome to the future" feeling.
  1. Found: The God Particle (Higgs Boson)
  2. Mars Rover Sticks Its Landing (JPL's Curiosity in Gale Crater)
  3. A Census of Your Inner Ecosystem (the trillions of microbes that live in and on us, performing countless essential services).
  4. Environmental Extremes (from drought to shrinking polar ice to Hurricane Sandy)
  5. Old Dads Drive Evolution (more mutations in the DNA of sperm from older men)
  6. Space Taxis Take Off (the success of SpaceX and other private space ventures)
  7. Q&A: Mind Control Robots (neural implants to help the disabled)
  8. Dark Matter Comes Into View (inferred from gravitational lensing)
  9. Social Jet Lag (irregular sleep patterns can trigger serious health problems)
  10. The Case for Fracking (it's a mixed case but natural gas is better than coal)
There's a lot of amazing stuff in the "bottom 90" too. Exoplanets (100 more found in 2012, including one orbiting Alpha Centauri B,  #14). Self-driving cars (#15). Asteroid Vesta (#17) has an iron core, mantle, and crust - a baby Earth! Advances in carbon nanotube electronics (#27). An engineered alternate to DNA (called XNA, #38). And much, much more. Crazy times.