Saturday, November 29, 2008

Creativ Brauerei - Trumer Pils

In September my wife treated me to a Saturday course in brewing beer offered by Trumer Pils in Obertrum am See (Austria), it's about 30-minutes by bus from Salzburg.

Trumer Pils is my favorite beer, so this was a real treat. Here are photos of our day at Trumer's Creativ Brauerei.

The Creativ Braueri is located in the cellar of the Gasthaus Restaurant in Obertrum am See. The idea is a small group of people spend the day brewing about one keg worth of beer. The day is held in German (probably a group could arrange a tour in English, but I am not sure). They brew beer about 100 days a year, mostly tour groups and company events; we had to book well in advance for our day.

We started with a recipe prepared by our Braumeister and measured the ingredients carefully, placing them in the warm water and cooking the mixture for a couple hours.

While the mixture cooked our Braumeister talked to us about the process of brewing beer and the importance of small local breweries. We walked around in the Gasthaus - a huge building with restaurant, banquet rooms, beer garden (naturally!) and huge kitchen. We visited the beer library and sampled a few of the unique beers (e.g. one made with coffee). During this time we monitored the cooking beer and stirred the mixture every now and then.

At about noon lunch was served. A hearty portion of Schweinsbraten (roast pork) with knodel and kraut. Yum. Washed down with plenty of Trum beer: Pils, Marzen or Weissbier ... who knew that Trum made so many varieties (only the Pils is 'exported' outside of the region to the rest of Austria). It was an open bar all day, you served yourself.

Next we added the hops pellets, stirred, and waited a while before filtering the mixture. See the photos, lifting the settled mash out of the pot was really hard. Next the 'brew' was transferred to the aging tank where the yeast was added. The beer would then age for a couple of weeks before being consumed at a Gasthaus in Obertrum that serves the Creativ Brauerei beer.

At this point we had our graduation ceremony where we each received a diploma and souvenir glass. Next we had a tour of the Brewery and had a chance to ask questions about Trumer Pils' unique brewing process.

It was great fun!

School of Life - Heathrow Holiday

I participated in an interesting "holiday" last weekend. I went to Heathrow Airport to attend a class given by the School of Life on Heathrow Airport. The class was led by one of my favorite authors, Alain de Botton (How Proust can change your life, Status envy, The art of travel, ... ). In the class, we looked at airports from several different perspectives, most of them new to me.

Heathrow Airport class photos on my flickr site. Sorry, my camera wasn't working so well and many of the photos are blurred.

We took a walk around the new Terminal 5 (T5 to Heathrow cognoscenti) with Stephen Barratt, one of the architects involved in the terminal's design from Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. He explained how complex airports are to design, particularly on very congested sites like T5. The firm also helped design Madrid's new terminal, which was built on a totally unconstrained site ... the differences are quite extraordinary.

We talked about airline food while eating sandwiches from Gate Gourmet served to first class passengers ... unfortunately they did not provide any Dom Perignon to wash them down. We talked about eating on planes, why? our best experiences? our worst experiences? websites dedicated to food on planes (why not?) ...

Next we had a presentation on airport baggage handling by Edward Quinton, one of the system managers. It was interesting to learn what happens after our bags disappear on that conveyor belt never to be seen again until they arrive on a similar conveyor belt at our destination (hopefully). Quinton also gave us practical advice on how not to lose our bags (e.g. always put your name inside the bag too!).

We went out to visit some of the people who watch planes land and take off. We talked with Craig, a veteran plane-spotter, to learn what is involved and why they do it. They keep track of actual plane numbers, underlining the ones they have seen in books that list all the planes owned by all the airlines. It was a peek inside a unique society.

We learned about the history of Heathrow from Allan Gallup, author of ‘Time Flies: Heathrow at 60’. Then we heard from a representative of Plane Stupid, a group opposed to expansion of Heathrow. The airport owners (BAA) want to build a third runway at Heathrow. Plane Stupid opposes the runway on the grounds that our society needs to fly less. Following the presentation we separated into four groups and role-played different positions regarding construction of the new runway (airport owner, member of Parliament, local citizen, and anti airport activist).

For dinner we went to an Indian restaurant frequented by airport workers, although it didn't really feel connected to the airport. The taxi ride back to our hotel was interesting, we were able to see the new T5 lit up in the night ... cool and impressive. We stayed overnight in the Sofitel luxury hotel at T5. The place was a bit spooky, so quiet and calm, yet a two-minute walk from the airport. Our 'class' met in one of the deserted hotel bars.

On Sunday we discussed how travel can change one's perspective and give you a chance to think about your life. Alain led the discussion that expanded on some aspects of his Art of Travel book. We talked about Edward Hopper's travel paintings and the feelings they generate.

Then we did a couple of exercises, first, observing people and creating short plays around them. After that we completed an 'emotional audit' of T5. That consisted of walking around looking at people and trying to assess their emotions. We marked them on a map and discussed what we saw.

In between these exercises visual artist Dryden Goodwin showed several films he made around the idea of airports. My favorite showed quick images of planes passing directly overhead (at low altitude) ... one was of a Concorde ... so different from all the others.

On Sunday afternoon we discussed airport security with Lee James, a retired security officer and had a presentation from Rev Pascale Ryan, the airport Chaplin. Both quite interesting in the sense that these are people who you never really get to talk with in your normal trip to the airport.

Our holiday ended with a presentation by writer and performer Julian Fox on the connecting bridge between the Sofitel and the T5 parking garage. We sat on the floor and laughed at his stream of consciousness descriptions of trips to airports, different cities, and songs. Fox ended with a song he wrote about the architect of a new airport terminal ... it's always been my dream to build such a building ... please don't change it too much in the next 50-years ...

With the sound of Fox's accordion and slightly off-key voice in my head, I headed downstairs to the inter-terminal train on my way to Terminal 2 and back to Vienna.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

One of my favorite writers, Malcolm Gladwell, has written a new book called Outliers. It's reviewed in the NY Times Sunday Book Review this week. The review by David Leonhardt is excellent, here's the short version:
Malcolm Gladwell says success depends not only on brains and drive, but on where we come from — and what we do about it.
I especially like that last political bit, how we as a society have neglected to give young people the infrastructure to become successful. The book sounds great. I can't wait to read it.

Friday, November 21, 2008

High Speed Rail Music Video

I have finally found time to upload my music video to YouTube and am waiting for all my fans to download it. It's about high speed rail and why it's better than flying. Sorry about my singing ability, but it is supposed to be funny. Here it is:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Buffalo NY Architecture

There was a very nice article on historic architecture in Buffalo in last Sunday's NY Times. Saving Buffalo's Untold Beauty by Nicolai Ouroussoff described some of the architecture I grew up around and which had a real influence on my life. Omstead's parkways in particular helped show me how to integrate beauty and livability into transport projects.

Another great Buffalo website is: Welcome to Forgotten Buffalo ... they have tours and information on architecture and life in the Queen City of the Great Lakes.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

More on saving GM, Ford and Chrysler

The New York Times has several articles on its Opinion page today about saving the auto companies. One was by Robert Goodman (Have you driven a Bus or Train Lately?). His point is that the auto companies should be forced to start building the type of transport we need for the future. It was interesting to read that Kennedy's Secretary of the Interior, Stuart Udall, talked about the need for such a program in 1972.

Daniel Sperling and Deborah Gorden suggest that raising gas prices using taxes would be a good way to fund the auto company bailout and also save the industry. They also suggest that auto companies be forced to develop more fuel efficient cars and be restricted from fighting environmental legislation. I think that if this type of legislation - suggested by environmentalists but strongly opposed by the auto companies and unions - had been approved in the last 20 years, it would have helped avoid today's problems.

By the way, Daniel Sperling is a professor at the University of California Davis, his research on alternative fuels and transport policy is innovative and extremely well done.

Anyway, for me the bottom line should be: no taxpayer support without a clear commitment from the auto companies not to fight improvements in auto fuel efficiency, anti pollution laws, etc. and that they begin the process of producing effective and efficient mass transport (trains and buses).

Friday, November 14, 2008

More Best Cities and Quality of Life

Tyler Brûlé writes one of my favorite columns in the Financial Times Weekend Edition. The column, Fast Lane, is often devoted to transport and travel issues or city liveablity. Brûlé focuses like a laser beam on quality and often presents ideas for improving quality whether it be on an airline, railway or city planning. He is also editor-in-chief for Monocle Magazine and writes for the International Herald Tribune (also weekends).

Brûlé wrote a column for the IHT in June 2007 describing how he and his Monocle colleagues rated cities with the title Urban Manifesto: Factors that make a city great. I think the method they used is quite good and furthermore it provides ideas that could help planners improve their own cities. I also recommend the city summaries developed for the top twenty cities.

Just say no to GM, Ford and Chrysler!

Mark Morford, one of the San Francisco Chronicle's columnists is always interesting. I especially like the transportation ideas he discusses from time to time. Today's column asks the question I have been wondering for some time, why not let the big US automakers die? That would give us the opportunity to rebuild the transportation and auto industry into something more fitting for today's world. As always Morford puts it more colorfully:
We have a chance to let this fat, lazy, top-heavy, SUV-glutted industry implode like it so very much deserves, and we might not take it? I think: What an opportunity. We could begin to reinvent the American automobile starting next week, and we might instead keep the old ways alive simply because the Big Three were too stupid and greedy to see past their gross SUV sales figures for the past 25 years? Come on.

He also suggests that rather than shoveling money into companies making products no one wants, just because the workers would suffer, we should be spending the money helping train workers for the future and on reducing the social impacts of letting these dinosaur automakers die. It's an interesting idea, quite Republican in many ways (aside from the retraining and addressing social impacts part of course).

The other side of the question, somewhat lukewarmly argued I felt, is by Daniel Gross from Slate. He believes the bankruptcy process would not be an efficient way to reorganize the auto companies and fears for the economic consequences on workers and the rest of economy. But then again, as he says:
The failure of the American automotive industry—and let's be honest, it has basically failed—is a matter of public policy. If the Big Three can be saved, they can be saved only by government.

What a mess. It's clear that a little bit of regulation twenty years ago would have really helped the auto industry. I can't blame them for fighting it, but I can blame the Republican party.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A little history of the world by E.H. Gombrich

I just finished reading "A little history of the world" by E.H. Gombrich. Gombrich, then an unemployed Viennese art history graduate, wrote the book in six weeks during 1935. The book was spellbinding, I finished it in a day.

"A little history of the world" was written for young people but it's a book anyone can enjoy. One nice aspect is how it links events through history, eg it explains Bismark's role in German history in the context of Maria Theresa's social reforms in Austria and Karl Marx. While written for young people, it doesn't talk down to them and raises important social questions for us all. The book is short so it's not detailed and it mostly describes European history, but that's its objective. Finally, Gombrich's belief in human Enlightenment and faith in humanity is refreshing.

At the end, Gombrich describes history as a river, we are viewing the river from an airplane, we come closer to the water and see millions of shimmering white bubbles come to the surface and then vanish in time ...

We are like that. Each one of us no more than a tiny glimmering thing, a sparkling droplet on the waves of time which flow past beneath us into an unknown, misty future. We leap up, look around us and, before we know it, we vanish again. ... And what we call our fate is no more than our struggle in that great multitude of droplets in the rise and fall of one wave. But we must make use of that moment. It is worth the effort.

Long Night of Research - Lange Nacht der Forschung

As a researcher I find myself spending too many long nights, but Saturday's Lange Nacht der Forschung in Austria was actually fun. The idea is that researchers open their laboratories and explain what they are working on to the general public. In Vienna there were 28 different locations connected by free shuttle buses. Each location offered demonstrations, the ability to talk with the researchers about their projects and something oriented towards children.

Over 310,000 people attended the events (they were also held in the cities of Graz, Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Salzburg and Wiener Neustadt), almost 4-times more than the first time several years ago. All the exhibits I went to were crowded and people had to be turned away from the lectures at the University.

It reminded me of the ETH Zurich's 150 year anniversary celebration in 2005. The ETH set-up exhibits on current research in several Zurich parks and organized 150 professors to give 150 lectures on their research. I was surprised at how many people attended these lectures (many standing room only!) and how interested people were in what was going on "up on the hill" ... (the ETH, aka Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, is located on a hill overlooking the city). The ETH also has held its own Lange Nacht der Forschung.

Both Switzerland and Austria also have "Long Night of Museums" where the museums are all open late. They are also very well attended.

On Saturday I focused on transport and planning research. At Tech Gate, I learned about a new system developed by ftw combining GIS with cellular technology to send information you want to your telephone and research by Austria Tech on making freight transport more environmentally friendly. At Arsenal Research in Tech Base, I learned about some really interesting pedestrian modeling including research on how to control pedestrian flows at major public transport stations. The research was used successfully in June 2008 to help control fans leaving the European Football Championship games on Vienna's Metro line U2. Arsenal Research's Forschungsnews Magazine (pdf download) describes some of these projects. In the Fachhochschule Technikum Wien I visited an exhibit from the FH Joanneum on innovative new railway technology (German) including improved safety devices, improved rail vehicle design and use of IT in railway systems (one of my main research interests).

Then I hurried to the University to hear a lecture from Dr. Thomas Müller on the importance of self worth and recognition. Müller is a criminal psychologist and profiler who has written several books. He spoke about the three main areas of life: work, relationships and self ... and said that you need to balance the amount of 'recognition' you get from each sector ... too much or too little of any leads to problems. Of course my short summary doesn't do justice to his lecture, but it was late and I was sitting on the floor of the Vienna University Grosser Festsaal ... with great paintings on the ceiling (two by Klimt that were destroyed in World War II were repainted in black and white).

One of the nice things about the evening was having the opportunity to visit many different parts of the city. Tech Gate is a skyscraper located adjacent to the United Nations facility on the Donau in Vienna; the exhibits were on the 19th floor with a view of the whole city. Both Arsenal Research and the Technikum are modern new facilities located in different areas of the city. The University is located right on the Vienna Ringstrasse in a beautiful building. It has a huge central courtyard with a wonderful covered arcade - with statues of professors along the sides. It would be a nice place to visit on a trip to Vienna - a green oasis.

In summary, a fun evening. It's the kind of event that all cities should hold!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The GOD Delusion

I just finished reading Richard Dawkins' book The GOD Delusion. Not only was the book excellent from an intellectual viewpoint, but it was extremely well written and organized - a pleasure to read. I often found myself thinking of a question ... just before Dawkins addressed the point. I also learned a great deal of science - especially evolution - from the book. Finally, Dawkins doesn't sugarcoat things, to him teaching the bible story about God creating humans isn't a question of teaching both sides of the argument (as our former VP candidate says), it's simply wrong. He, of course, puts it much better than I could. Here's a great quote from the cover:
We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further. - Richard Dawkins
Great book.

Friday, November 7, 2008

BMVIT: Forschungsforum Mobilität für Alle 2008 - Part 2

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the Austrian Federal Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology's Mobility for All conference. I just received a link from BMVIT that contains a short summary of the conference and links to the presentations: Forschungsforum Mobilität für Alle 2008 ... it's in German!

A community organizer as president

I just read a very interesting post from The School of Life's Ideas to Live By column. It was by their politics course instructor Maurice Glasman on the secret of Obama's success. The article described how Obama used the basic rules of Saul Alinsky in his campaign and then says:
The result is that the new Commander in Chief is schooled and versed in the tactics of urban guerrilla politics, of how to turn a disaggregated rabble into an organised community, of how to organise the defeated and win, how to increase your power through your action, how to generate new relationships through political victory.

Glasman ends his article by describing two massive failures of the Bush Administration: the idea that greed is always good and the idea that military strength alone is enough to wield power. The Bush administration's total pursuit of these ideas has almost destroyed our country, let's hope Obama can organize us to turn things around as successfully as he organized us to make history voting for him!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Finally good news in the papers!

Good news! I can return to the cafes of Vienna and walk by newstands with pride again! Here's proof, three newspapers from Cafe Prückel's collection.

Note it's also nice that the French and German's agree.

Best Global Cities - Part 2

After writing about the Best Global Cities a couple days ago I found an excellent site called Best City Reviews that keeps up with different "best cities" surveys and news about the subject. The site would have really helped me several years ago when I was trying to use results of the Mercer Company survey in a research project on Zürich. Now I know where to turn for this type of information in a clear and useful format.

Best City Reviews even has a feature that lets you compare weather between two cities. I wish this feature were available for my hometown, Buffalo, which actually has much better weather than people think. Although on second thought, given how bad most people think the weather in Buffalo is, that may not be saying much.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I cried today

Today I cried. I cried at the sight of a black man, surrounded by his family, elected to lead our country and the world through very difficult times.

I cried because I remember the black friends I grew up with in my progressive school. I cried because I remember when my mother told me why Mamie, always more a surrogate mother than cleaning lady, couldn't read. I cried because I remember my friend David talking about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. just before he was assassinated. I cried because I remember Robert Kennedy's funeral and the Battle Hymn of the Republic. I cried because I thought how happy my father would have been to see this day. I cried because I realize that, while the path is back in view, the process of change is only just beginning.

Built for comfort, not for speed!

I have argued in several papers that railways should focus on the needs of today's customers, but not eliminate the qualities that make rail travel comfortable and enjoyable. For example, the ability to have a good meal or enough space to work or relax without leaning on the person sitting next to you (today's air travel model).

Alex Marshall wrote an article called The Comfort Zone for Governing Magazine that covers similar ground. The article suggests that transport is more than just moving people, he says,

For state and local officials, it means resisting the urge to think about transportation as something that can be reduced to wheels and wings. We humans, being soft and fleshy creatures with a handful of senses, have considerations that go beyond how fast and how far and at what price.

While I think there is a lot railways can learn from airlines, low cost airlines in particular, the learning includes both positives and negatives! Imitate some of the operational strategies, but imitate first class food service and amenities!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Best Cities Lists

I am always fascinated by best cities lists. Especially interesting are the criteria they use to develop these lists. Today I read an article in Business Week on a new study by A.T. Kearney, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Foreign Policy magazine that ranked the "Most Global Cities". The article is quite good and I pretty much agree with the list. I especially liked the fact that the study recognizes that great cities are not only about economic strength, but also about livability and culture.

To see the best cities you need to view the slide show included with the article. There is a slide on each of the top 12, then a slide listing cities ranked 13 to 50. I was happy to see that San Francisco was rated number 15, Vienna number 18 and Zurich number 26. I can only say that I feel privileged to have lived in all three cities.

Another popular city ranking survey, by Mercer Consulting, usually rates Vancouver, Zurich and Vienna all in the top three.

Also, here's an interesting link to a Q&A session with Bert Sperling from the NY Times Freakonomics Blog. Sperling is co-author of the book Cities Ranked and Rated on best places to live in the USA. His thinking is quite interesting.