Packing / Shopping List for France

I know I’ve written about this upcoming trip to France several times now (here and here), so don’t feel you have to read *yet another* post.

This post is intended as a packing list for us, and also a request list for you, our dear readers. Need something from France? Let us know about it via the comments below.

We are already aware of:

– Brian’s request for *hoity-toity French violet liqueur* (his words, not ours
– Po’s request for French cheese (note that we almost certainly won’t be allowed to ship that or even carry it with us out of the EU)
– Corsican wine for Tommy and Natasha
– Something cool for Susie (her words, not ours)
– Postcard(s) for Carrie
– Something lavender for Mom

We plan to take with us:

camera batteries
battery charger
mini-tripod (just in case)
personal notebook computer (**not** the work computer!) & charger
camera card reader
mobile phone & charger
mic & earphones for skyping
iPods & chargers & headphones
books (can’t wait to sit down and read for pleasure for long stretches)
swimsuits (just in case)
our Frommer’s France book
ADAC France highway atlas
printed directions to the B&B
driver’s licenses & passports
travel documents like airline and car rental confirmations
freshly-made mix CDs for the drives
– toiletries
hair towels
sporty shoes / hiking boots
sunscreen (despite rainy a weather forecast)
– free space in our luggage for wine & cheese transport (note that we are only allowed 20kg of luggage though)

This list looks enormous to me, but it’s really about one backpack’s worth of stuff.


It means “Asparagus Week” in German. This, together with the Christmas Market and to a simultaneously more subtle and obvious extent, the party instinct (including Oktoberfest), must be one of those German or at least Bavarian things that after a while, you just stop questioning and learn to accept. Late April is the time for spargel and a return to the beer gardens we’ve missed all winter. It’s part of the annual ritual around here.

Spargelwoche Speiseplan - the menu for Asparagus WeekSo, here’s the Spargelwoche menu for the cafeteria at work. Chickenbreast with asparagus and lime-Hollandaise sauce. Catfish with asparagus and herbal Hollandaise sauce. Grilled veal cutlet with asparagus and tomato-Hollandaise sauce. For a little change of pace today there were pork steaks with asparagus and a pepper-butter sauce. And for those of us who feel Vatican II* is just too irreverent, fresh filet of salmon with asparagus — and a return to the Hollandaise upon which we’d become chemically dependent. Well, maybe I’ve managed to avoid getting hooked on the H — I was on a trip to another plant on Wednesday (they were having *Wildwoche!* with rabbits and supposedly wild chicken and other game), and today I scarfed up some left-overs from a great dinner Sarah made last night. So there will still be a little blood in my veins instead of a mixture of butter and lemon juice emulsified with egg yolks by the time we depart for France early next week. Which is good, because I’ll need it.

Do you think the inherent risks associated with all that butter are evened out by an annual drop in UTI rates?

Almond Brothers / Matthias & Linux / SSD

Almond Brothers Band It’s not Mother Teresa, Jesus, or even Elvis — but the “Almond Brothers” revealed themselves my dad as he was preparing to use them in a salad. It’s unclear whether he followed through on his intention to eat them. I hope so — they look pretty unhappy about the toasting they received. Best to put them out of their misery.

I spent a few hours fooling around with Kubuntu 7.04 with Matthias, and we actually got Kubuntu installed and running on his FSC Celsius model notebook computer. Getting Kubuntu on a laptop is not that big of a deal in and of itself (I’m writing this one on right now), but the last time we tried (last year), Matthias’ snazzy hardware (it even has a fingerprint reader built into its touchpad) was just too modern and fancy for shabby old cheapo Linux (just kidding, Linus). By now it appears to have caught up; at least partially. Also, this was the first time I’d ever tried or witnessed an installation of any kind of linux onto a computer with another operating system on it already (namely, windows). The Live/Installation CD thinger was smart though and put Linux onto exactly the partitions we told it to and left other stuff alone. That was a big relief. The only thing we couldn’t get 100% up-to-snuff was the video resolution. There were plenty of video drivers available – including one auto-detected by the OS itself and a generic one, and neither one seemed capable of allowing 1280×800 resolution or higher (and we know his monitor and video card can go much higher, at least with drivers in Windows). Might just be a case of waiting Linux out another release or two until more drivers are available and Matthias’ hardware stops being quite so bleeding edge.

But he’d been asking about external hard drives to supplement his storage capacity, and then a little later I noticed that the founder of WordPress has something I’d heard of, but not yet ever seen or known anyone to own: an SSD, or solid state {disk|drive} — a good-sized one, too.

A 32GB storage device based on flash memory…hmm…that’s bigger than a lot of hard drives still in use today. It’s almost as big as the one from which I am writing to you now. I imagine not too far in the future mechanical hard drives with spinning disks of magnetically stored zeroes and ones will be replaced by flash memory. No moving parts could mean greater reliability and less heat generation, smaller energy demands, less noise…that all sounds really neat. I’m not sure about write speeds though – from what I’ve read (ok, skimmed, really), conventional hard drives write data faster than these flash devices. Maybe a hybrid solution is the best way to go in the short term:

  • Data your computer needs to access frequently but change only rarely (perhaps operating system stuff?) could be stored in a flash drive
  • Data your computer needs to write quickly but only read rarely could remain on conventional hard disks (logging functions?)

It sounds like the trick is going to be either getting flash memory’s write performance up to the level of conventional hard drives, or writing management algorithms to strike the optimum balance between reading and writing performance for individual applications and usage patterns. Yikes — that sounds complicated.

It’s 5:43 am — let the jackhammering begin

Seasons are a funny thing. Probably in much of the urbanized western world, Spring and Summer mean the orange barrels of construction. That’s the case here too — all kinds of intersections are getting congested around town due to the zillion construction projects that have popped up. I think most people have come to expect it, and that includes the growing number of commuters on their bikes as well.

But what I don’t get is why it has to start before dawn. There are noise regulations all around here. For instance, it is printed in unmistakable letters on a placard on the giant glass recycling collection containers that they are not to be used before 8:00 am or after 8:00 pm on weekdays and Saturdays, and not at all on Sundays and holidays. If I can’t chuck *just one* glass bottle into the bin before 8:00 am on a workday, how come the truck that comes around to empty the bins does its thing at 6:45 in the morning? Have you ever heard several thousand glass bottles breaking at one time inside a steel truck bed? That has always seemed out-of-whack to me and Sarah, but OK, whatever — we can live with that.

Street construction before dawn on our street is another story. Let’s also remember a few things about Germany: its energy costs are higher, its weather is generally milder, and its people are skinflintier than what we are used to (coming from the U.S.), and the bugs aren’t nearly as bad as in MIchigan. This boils down to a lot of open windows in town during the Spring and Summer. And it really is nice to have fresh air breezes (helps the laundry dry too — see my point above about energy costs and skinflintiness).

But how can they tolerate that chainsaw before dawn!? I don’t get it. Oh yeah, and dawn is at about 6:00 am today – Regensburg is a lot further north than you might think, so the seasonal daylight swing is much more drastic here. Even if dawn is at 6 am a full two months before the summer solstice, that’s still pretty darn early for construction racket during the otherwise peaceful wee hours of the morning. Usually the most noise we get then is gentle chirping from the birds.

Linux upgrade to Ubuntu 7.04 (Feisty Fawn)

I upgraded to the latest versionof (K)Ubuntu yesterday — it’s nicknamed “Feisty Fawn” (previous version nicknames have been “Warty Warthog”, “Breezy Badger” and other silliness). It’s still in beta, officially, but it seems to be working surprisingly well. Even Sarah was surprised that I apparently broke nothing (important to her) and actually improved some things – like scrollability on the screen.

Previously I’d been using an xorg.conf file that I’d kind of mucked around in myself, not really understanding what settings I was changing. I tried that again this time after the upgrade to no avail. But this time I read the instructions about how to let the xorg.conf file be generated automatically, and that seems to have done the trick.

# If you have edited this file but would like it to be automatically updated
# again, run the following command:
# sudo dpkg-reconfigure -phigh xserver-xorg

Scrolling in all applications seems much smoother now!

The Kaffeine movie player may have gotten broken in the process of the upgrade, but that’s probably OK because I actually prefer the VLC media player. Flash still works in both Konqueror and Firefox. Java applets in the Konqueror browser still work (apparently not in Firefox…*argh*!). Haven’t tried Skype yet, but since they haven’t released a version of it for Linux since version 1.3.0, I am pretty confident it will be OK.

Perfect Chili

This is originally from here, but I made a few changes. I was tempted to add more spicy elements, but was glad I didn’t – the chili powder, chipotle pepper and pepper flakes really combine to create a nice, cumulative burn.

2 T olive or vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 large chipotle pepper, finely chopped
1 lb ground beef
1 T chili powder
1 T ground cumin
1/2 t smoked paprika
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1 t salt
2 t cocoa powder
1 large pinch red pepper flakes
1 T molasses
1 c chicken broth
1 can stewed tomatoes
2 cans kidney beans
1 c amber beer
1 c tomato sauce
1 t Worcestershire sauce

In a large Dutch oven, heat oil to medium and sauté the onion, garlic, pepper and chipotle until tender. Add the ground beef and cook until mostly done, then drain fat. Combine chili powder, cumin, paprika, cayenne, salt, cocoa and red pepper flakes and stir into meat until just fragrant. Add molasses, broth and tomatoes and break up tomatoes with spoon, then add beans. Allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes, the stir in beer, tomato sauce and Worcestershire. Simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally for at least 45 minutes or until thickened.

Feast your ears and eyes on this — it’s the musical stylings of my mom’s entire family, as led by my dad on guitar and prompted by my mom with cue cards to honor my grandfather and his reputation as a clever consumer on a big round birthday:
…with many thanks to Johnny Cash.

Looks like my grandmother had a nice time in Mexico and even made a new friend. December sure sounds far away…

iTunes mocks me!

We’re big fans of the “Party-Jukebox” function as it’s known in the German version of iTunes (I think it’s “party-shuffle” or similar in the English-language version).

But why does Girlfriend by Michael Jackson keep coming up in my playlist — supposedly randomly? It’s as if iTunes is saying

“hey pal, you put in your library, and by golly*, we’re going to listen to it. Together. Even if you skip past it. Twice.”

In other news, I’m experimenting with WordPress Sidebar Widgets. Got two of my own kickin’ right now, over there on the right side. They’re still kind of rough, but they’re coming along. One of them puts a factoid up there about me and Sarah, chosen at random (ok, no big deal, that had been up there for months, but hard-coded and therefore less cool), and the other, with a little help from Last.FM lets you know what’s currently playing on our computer.

Prêts à embarquer?

We’re getting ready for France again. We’ve got a marvelous offer from some new friends with regard to our lodging, a rental car lined up, and a great deal on airfare (booked well in advance).

So what’s left to do? Decide how to spend our time. We’ve been thinking about:

– Hitting a flea-market in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
– Doing more than just lunch in Marseille
– taking in natural beauty and Three-Musketeer-era military carnage in Les Baux
– strolling around Aix-en-Provence to work off the cheese we’re going to buy
– hiking around Grenoble
– doing more French Alps exploring
– paying homage to the origin of the fabric of my favorite kind of pants

Check out this map (new window)

What else should we do while we’re there?