Search This Blog

Monday, October 23, 2006

What about iTV?

For those who may not have heard the news, Apple is trying really hard to take over your living room. All kidding aside, Steve Jobs announced, during the last keynote presentation, that Apple was hard at work on a new device, codenamed iTV (since the name is already in use by Monster Cable, I doubt the name will stick!) and it was set to revolutionize your living room by bringing Apple smack-dab in the middle!

Of course, since the keynote, where some details about the capabilities of this new device were announced, there has been a lot of speculation about what would and would not be included at launch, scheduled for Q1 of 2007. Here is the shot that was displayed during the presentation:

As you can see, the iTV follows the form factor of the Mac Mini, and from the picture of the rear of the device, we can deduce some of the features:

During his speech, Steve Jobs alluded to some of the functions that will be available on the multimedia device:

  • HDMI connector (x1)

  • Component Video connectors (x1)

  • Audio L/R

  • Digital audio (x1)

  • Ethernet and 802.11g

  • USB 2.0

  • And a built-in power supply, eliminating any external power bricks

With this pretty impressive list of features, as well as full integration with iTunes on both the Mac and the PC platform, and an announced retail price of $299, Apple is going to make a dent in the multimedia market, that's sure.

Engadget has posted a hands-on review of a prototype device. As far as I can see, the prototype looks exactly like the device displayed during the keynote. Another hot debate going on is whether the iTV will support any PVR-type functionality, as well as a hard drive. Both topics remain to be seen!

The Sony PSP and Apple...

As soon as I saw the Sony PSP, I fell in love with it. I know, you may get a laugh out of this, but as a geek at heart, any neat gadget really gets my attention. And the PSP was great! I had to have one, and a few months ago, when an upcoming trip to India gave me reason to shell out the money, I bought my PSP. I purchased the Giga Pack, which Sony was promoting as a great deal: the PSP, a carry case, a 1GB Memory Stick Duo card. I also wound up pickup up a couple games (for your information, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories and Syphon Filter, both excellent games in my opinion).

In the time I've had my PSP, several friends have suggested that I mod it, but I didn't want to go that route, because I just don't find any advantage to free gaming, if I need to get memory cards to store these games. But my concern has come with my platform of choice, OS X. Since the PSP has USB connectivity, the thought that both devices would be fully compatible did cross my mind!!!

For those who are not aware, the PSP is compatible, in a sense, with OS X. It is possible to browse the PSP once connected and mounted, but unfortunately, it is not possible to properly format and delete data. I imagine that this is due to some restrictions based on write format, but no matter. There are several solutions that have cropped up, and here are a few of them:

1. PSP Ware: In my opinion, PSP Ware, by Nullriver Software, is by far the best solution available for OS X users. Once installed, PSP Ware allows a Mac user to sync their PSP with their Mac. Users are able to select music from their iTunes library, images from their iPhoto library, convert movie files and DVD to PSP format, sync bookmarks from Safari, backup saved games and more. This application also allows users to manager multiple memory sticks, simply and securely. This application currently sells for $15.00 and is up to version 2.5.1.

2. iPSP: iPSP by RnSK Softronics provides the same type of functionality as PSP Ware above, although it also includes some features that can make it very useful in conjunction with a "modded" PSP. The ability to sync homebrew applications is a great feature, as well as some advanced file management options make this a worthy competitor to PSP Ware.

Of course, for those who do not want or need an all in one solution, there are several applications that can be used to extract, rip and compress video to PSP standards. Most of these tools work very quickly on the OS X platform, and based on your specific requirements, may suit your needs better than the two proposed programs listed above.

Explore and have fun!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Apple is upgrading the iPod Nano and the iPod Shuffle..

Apple announced some more hardware changes again today; the iPod Nano line is getting a full revamp. Very, very similar to the iPod Mini, the new Nano features an anodized aluminum outer skin, and capacities that include a 2GB, 4GB and now an 8GB model. The new device is also a little slimmer, measuring a measly 0.26" in thickness, although otherwise retaining the same dimensions as the previous incarnation of the Nano (3.5" high by 1.6" wide, with a weight of 1.41 ounces). Apple also claims that the new device has an increased battery life.

The following picture shows a side by side comparison, to scale, of the newer Nano on the left, and the first generation Nano on the right:

I own a first generation Nano, and I am very happy with it so far. I also have a first generation iPod Mini, and I also enjoyed it. I've come to expect Apple to update the iPod line on a regular basis now, and each time, they seem to come up with new innovations that keep them in the lead in this very aggressive market.

Let's see what they'll come up with next...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Replacing my Mighty mouse...

I had some mixed feelings about my Apple Mighty mouse, and since I have always eventually replaced the stock Apple mice with another device, I thought I might once again, try something new. Don't get me wrong, I think the Might mouse is not a bad mouse. Once you've tried the Scroll Ball, you'll have a hard time going without, but another device caught my eye, and now that I've had a chance to try it with my iMac, I think that I have found the replacement mouse I was looking for. The Logitech V400 Wireless Laser mouse is a great wireless pointing device:

Logitech has incorporated pretty much all of the current technology in wireless mice into this particular model. It uses a dual laser to apparently increase the level of precision, and the wireless portion uses 2.4GHz rather than 27MHz used in some other competing devices. I know what some of you may be thinking: "2.4GHz, hey that's the same as my cordless phone, wireless network and so on, won't there be interference?" Well, I have some wireless phone, a wireless network and I have yet to experience any issues with interference.

This mouse includes five buttons, a scroll wheel with side scroll capability and is a real pleasure to use. The buttons have an excellent feel (except the small accessory buttons, which are somewhat harder to use), and the track wheel is slight notched and provides just the right amount of tactile feedback. The mouse is a bit on the small side, and is marketed towards the business traveller, as Logitech states that this mouse is built using a rugged chassis, to survive the rigors of travel. Personally, I like that the wireless adapter stores in the back of the mouse, while serving to turn the mouse on or off. This can be a real blessing, as when the mouse is stored in this manner, you can be assured that it is off. I do not have any experience yet with battery life, but I have inserted the included Duracell AA battery (a single battery only), and I will report on the battery life.

Overall, a great device that I highly recommend!

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

New from Apple...

Apple announced a number of hardware changes today, starting with the iMac with 24" screen, which includes the new Intel Core 2 Duo, running at either 2.16 or 2.33GHz. The 24" iMac also includes something that several Apple users have complained about in the past, Firewire 800 (1 port), as well as a Firewire 400 port. Of course, as the new iMac makes use of the new processor family, the other iMacs have also been upgraded to the Core 2 Duo line of CPUs. The line now includes the iMac 17", with either the 1.83 or 2.00GHz processor, the iMac 20", with 2.16GHz processor and the aformentionned iMac 24", with the 2.16 or 2.33GHz processor.

As I had mentionned in a previous post, some changes were also made to the Mac Mini line, with changes to the processor familly, namely to the Core Duo processor. The line now includes the Mac Mini with 1.66GHz Core Duo processor without Superdrive or the 1.83GHz Core Duo processor with Superdrive. Of course, the only thing Apple is talking about is the change to the iMac line... It is the showstopper, and I think that it is reasonable to expect a 30" iMac at some point in the future, based on the existing monitor made by Apple.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Unlocking the power of iTunes 2: Adding new visualizations

In our previous encounter, we learned about the various controls available from the keyboard in iTunes, specifically for controls related to visualizations... Well now, we need to learn how to add new visualizations to accompany the Visualizer provided by Apple.

This process is really broken down into two steps:

1. Locate and download a new visualization for iTunes

2. Move (or copy) the new visualization to the iTunes folder

There are several places to begin searching for new visualizations; an easy first choice is Google, followed by Apple's Downloads section. When one or more visualizations have been downloaded, it is time to move (or copy) them to the iTunes folder, in a specific place. The path to use is:

User folder / Library / iTunes / iTunes Plug-Ins

All new visualizations need to be placed within this folder. If iTunes was running, quit and relaunch the application, and the new visualizations should be available to select from the Visualizer menu, as can be seen in the image below:

Have fun and see what else is available; I've been really enjoying one called NastyFFT, a great real-time, colour-switching spectrum analyzer...

Keep in mind that using the path provided above installs the new visualizations for the active user only, and not every user on the system. In order to have visualizations available to every user, move (or copy) the visualizations to the following folder:

Hard drive / Library / iTunes / iTunes Plug-Ins

In our next installment, we will explore some options available using playlists and smart playlists!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Unlocking the power of iTunes 1: Visualization control

For those who have been using iTunes since it has come out, the following information might be old news, but for several new Apple users, this might be entirely new. iTunes is a fairly straightforward application to use, and most users, although proficient, are only aware of about 75% of what iTunes is capable of doing. This article will deal with the control of visualizations in iTunes. As you may already be aware, Apple has included a fairly complex, if somewhat psychadelic, set of visualizations for iTunes. These visualizations are built on a three concept: one layer, labelled the Visualization Form, a second layer, labelled the Visualization Effect and a third layer, labelled Visualization Colour. It is the combination of these three independant layers that creates the seemingly endless possibilities of Apple's visualizations.

But now that we are aware of these layers, a question that comes to mind is how many are there and are they listed? Well, yes, and someone has gone through the trouble of listing the contents of these layers at Winston's iTunes Cheet Sheet. Apple has thoughtfully provided several keyboard controls for iTunes that are simply not published for consumers. Some of these keyboard controls are specifically for the advanced control of visualizations.

The three following controls, which allow the user to toggle each layer independantly, is used to create a specific combination of layers to reach a desired visual effect. These controls are:

  • Q / W - toggle visualization "form"

  • A / S - toggle visualization "effect"

  • Z / X - toggle visualization "color"

Once a desired combination is reached, it can be frozen, or saved and assigned to a designated numerical key by using other commands. This can be an interesting addition for anyone using iTunes in a DJ setting, as it provides the ability to project a programmed visualization on cue. Here are these additional commands:

  • D - Reset Visualization to default

  • N - toggle Normal or high-contrast colors

  • M - Manually select config mode (user, freeze, random)

  • R- Randomly select config mode

  • C - display Current visualization config

  • NUM keys - user config presets (use SHIFT and # to record a preset)

Have fun experimenting with these settings. They can provide a new and interesting feature to a great media player like iTunes.

In the next installment, we will look at adding new visualizations to iTunes and where these can be procured...

New addition to Apple's Board of Directors...

In a press release announced today, Apple Computer Inc. indicated that Dr. Eric Schmidt was named to Apple's Board of Directors. With the addition of Dr. Schmidt, the Board of Directors now numbers eight, and includes:

  1. Fred D. Anderson, Partner, Elevation Partners and former CFO (Chief Financial Officer), Apple Computer, Inc.

  2. Bill Campbell, Chairman and former CEO Intuit Corp.

  3. Millard Drexler, Chairman and CEO J. Crew

  4. Albert Gore Jr., Former Vice President of the United States

  5. Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple

  6. Arthur D. Levinson, Ph. D., Chairman and CEO Genentech

  7. Jerry York, Chairman, President and CEO Harwinton Capital

  8. and

  9. Dr. Eric Schmidt, CEO Google

Dr. Schmidt has a long resume, which includes his current positions as CEO of Google, as a member of the Google board of directors, and finally, as a member of the Princeton University board of trustees. He was also formerly the CEO of Novell as well as the CTO (Chief Technology Officer) at Sun Microsystems Inc.

"Eric is obviously doing a terrific job as CEO of Google, and we look forward to his contributions as a member of Apple's board of directors," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO. "Like Apple, Google is very focused on innovation and we think Eric's insights and experience will be very valuable in helping to guide Apple in the years ahead."

Rumours of Mac Mini hardware update...

Rumours have been flying around about some proposed changes to the Mac Mini line. According to these latest rumours, Apple would keep the existing 1.66 GHz Core Duo model, and add a 1.83 GHz Core Duo model, while dropping the 1.5GHz Core Solo model. This decision would eliminate any Core Solo platforms from Apple's line of computers. No timelines have been indicated yet, but information is sure to leak out any time... Keep in mind that Apple did the same thing to the Mac Mini last year, without advertising the changes in hardware that were made to the model line. Several analysts have suggested that Apple has chosen to follow this strategy in order to liquidate inventory without having to resort to drastic retail price cuts.

More information can be found over at Think Secret, as well as lots of assorted news and rumours...

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The 10,000 mark...

Today, my music collection has hit the 10,000 song mark... I know it may seem unimportant to many, but I have spent a lot of time in the development, improvement and maintenance of my music collection. Here are some statistics:

  • 10,052 songs,

  • 100% of songs are labelled by title,

  • 92% of songs are labelled by album,

  • 85% of songs are labelled by original track number,

  • 65% of songs have associated front cover artwork,

  • 75% of songs are part of a full album...

  • and finally, 88% of songs are over 192kbps bitrates, with almost 35% at 320kbps.

There are no duplicates in my collection, unless the same song is available on several albums. I know that many of you may think that I am encouraging media piracy by promoting my own collection. For these people, let me say that I do not share my own collection. I have downloaded a large portion of it, but I have also ripped another portion of it from my own CD collection.

I don't want to get into the whole debate, but suffice it to say, it is a milestone in any media collection, so I am happy to announce it!

Talk to you soon...

Monday, August 28, 2006

Using scripts with iTunes...

It has come to my attention that several friends of mine have been using iTunes as their primary media player for a little while now, and although many of them are PC users, there are a few that are Apple users. And it is for these people that I write today; I would like to teach you to add functionalities to iTunes using some pre-built scripts. These scripts are Applescripts, and they can provide you with the ability to make iTunes work exactly the way you want.

This is a three step process, so here goes:

1. The first step is to locate the folder user/Library/iTunes and insert a new folder labelled Scripts.

2. Locate some existing scripts; a great site for this is Doug's Applescripts for iTunes site. So far, they have over 400 scripts available for free download.

3. Once you've downloaded a few scripts, unzip them and copy the scripts to the Scripts folder created earlier.

A new icon becomes available in the iTunes menu; this icon allows a user easy access to the new functions provided by the scripts.

Have fun...

My impressions so far...

After using my new 20" Dual Core iMac for a few weeks now, I can safely say that I made a good purchase. Of course, as with any new system, I've encoutered some strange behaviour, but most of that has been dealt with. Last week, I removed the 512 MB of RAM installed in my system and replaced it with a Kingston KTA-MB667/1G stick of RAM; 1GB chip, with the option to install a second one later on. Although I don't have numbers to verify my claims, the system performs better as a whole; all applications launch faster, all Finder operations seem snappier than before. All in all, a wise choice to upgrade. The surprising part was that I got this memory upgrade from CompuSmart, of all places; they have been maintaining a small Apple section, and I will continue to go there because of this...

The upgrade is where one strange thing happened. The day before I upgraded my RAM, I found that my Airport hardware just seemed to vanish from the system. No amount of coaxing would get the hardware detected. I rebooted twice, to no avail. The following day, after installing the new RAM, I relaunched the system, and lo and behold, the Airport was back. I have no explanation, but I am happy that it is back.

I have also added an APC ES 650 UPS to my setup:

The easy to install software allows me to monitor the status of the UPS, as well as provide some parameters for safe shutdown of my system in case of a power failure. As the ES 650 provides 8 outlets (4 surge protected and 4 surge protected and UPS protected), I decided to connect my DSL modem, wireless router and iMac to the UPS side of things. Might as well protect my entire setup.

On the software side of things, I have installed MySQL, made some modifications to the PHP config file and installed Moodle, the open source LMS that I had experimented with in the past. The platform has truly matured and it is a really great application to play around with, especially in my professional field. My preliminary examination of the platform has yielded some great ideas for the future. I also took the time to install a new Preference Pane, that allows me to easily launch and shutdown the MySQL server. On another topic, I replaced the official BitTorrent client for Transmission, a freeware BitTorrent client, and let me say that Transmission has so far blown the pants right off the official client. I highly recommend this software, if only for its automatic management of ratios and seeding.

More news later...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

On the purchase on my new Intel Dual Core iMac 20"...

I finally broke down and purchased my new Mac; I got a great deal from Best Buy, who although had the sam price as everyone else, gave a free iPod Nano (1GB) model to anyone purchasing an iMac. It was a no brainer... I decided to get a 512MB RAM model, as I can purchase RAM separately and save almost 200$ in the process. As for the hard drive upgrade, all I can say is that I am satisfied with the present capacity, with the 250GB SATA drive currently installed.

As soon as I got it home, I unpacked it and connected it by FireWire, to my Cube. It took only a few moments, and I was able to browse the Cube from the iMac. I transferred all of my documents, data and files over to the iMac, then connnected it to the router, so that I could get connected to my Powermac. I proceeded to transfer a copy of my Music folder to the iMac, as well as all of my images and movies. With this transfer complete, I wiped the information from the Powermac and liberated almost 85GB of storage space. And with the ability to burn DVD with the iMac, I have been archiving some data on DVD; I may just have to pick up a pack of the Dual Layer DVD-R, with even more capacity.

So far, I am tremendously satisfied with my purchase. It is a very noticeable increase in speed and performance, as well as a definite upgrade where the monitor is concerned. Seeing the iMac and my old 17" monitor side by side really hammered that point in, with the sharpness, brightness and overall size of the iMac LCD dwarfing the 17" CRT.

More on the iMac once I have more information to report...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

On the subject of input devices...

After having used a Griffin PowerMate controller for over 2 years now, I can safely say that I am a firm believer in new input technologies. This fascinating device allows a new input method for computers, and is compatible both with Windows and OS X. As computer users, we have become familiar with two very specific input devices, the keyboard and the mouse. Of course, there have been variations on the basic designs of these two devices, but they all function in essentially the same manner as the original design. The PowerMate is slightly different, as it is an assignable controller; this means that with the use of software, this device can provide different kinds of inputs in different circumstances.

Because the PowerMate provides several input methods (specifically, rotation, single click, double-click and click during rotate), these can provide several functionalities within software that you might use today. For example, when I am using Microsoft Word, the rotation input allows me to scroll through the open document, while this same rotation input provides volume control in iTunes.

Of course, the PowerMate does not replace the mouse or keyboard, but simply adds to this combination. The other day, as I was browsing through Logitech's website, I saw a link for one of their subsidiaries, called 3Dconnexion; once on their site, I quickly deduced that they specialized in input devices, similar in concept to the PowerMate and just as revolutionary... As their website states: "These devices will revolutionize the way you work in 3D - pan, zoom and rotate all at once! From F1 racing and aerospace design to animated film and game development". They have calculated that on average, most users increase their productivity by up to 30%, and reduce overall mouse use by over 50%. That can be excellent news for anyone suffering from repetitive stress injuries.

One of the devices that caught my eye was the SpaceTraveler. It is a compact motion controller that on first appearance seems to copy the PowerMate. But appearances can be deceiving; the SpaceTraveller provides 6 axes of control, in what is essentially a very stubby joystick. But in this application, the concept of the joystick is taken out of the gaming world and brought into a new spere...

The SpaceTraveler is the perfect space saving solution for the designer who prefers a more efficient two-handed work style.Simultaneously pan, zoom and rotate 3D models or datasets with the controller in one hand while the other hand selects, inspects or edits with the mouse.

Another device that caught my eye seems to be a refinement on the SpaceTraveller, and it is called the SpaceBall (no, I am not kidding)... This device is somewhat larger that its diminuative cousin, but I can imagine that for professionals, who perform thousands of hours of CAD design, or animation and similar fields, might find this device more useful.

The SpaceBall features enhanced high-precision optical controller, drift-free/calibrationless sensor mechanism and a contactless/non-wearing measuring system. The 5000 model is available in USB.

Go take a look a some of these devices if you can; it may change your mind about the ones that you have been using at home. Some gamers have already understood this and several specialized devices have come out on the market lately, aimed squarely at this audience.

Monday, July 10, 2006

My last day in India

Now that I look back, one of the things I should have done more frequently while in India is swim in the ocean. A group of us decided that we would head to a beach resort about 1.5 hours drive from the hotel. We were told that this was a fantastic place, with a great beach, exclusivity and more. We jumped into a hotel provided SUV and a second group jumped into another, and we headed off. Since Louis and I were leaving at 1h00 the following day, we had packed our bags the night before in anticipation of our last day.

The drive to the resort was quite long, and at some points, almost harrowing, but we eventually arrived at a small gate, crossed and arrived at the resort. Without any neighbours, the resort is a collection of several small units, with multiple floors, balconies and more. I should have rented one of these for a weekend while I was here, but there is use crying over spilled milk. After paying our beach access fee (a cash grab if I've ever seen one!), we headed over to find ourselves a spot.

The resort had several palm-roofed shelters on the beach to provide some much needed shade in the hot India sun. About ten seconds later, several of us were already running across the burning hot sand to get to the water! The Bay of Bengal has fairly rough water, so we had a fantastic time playing in the surf, dodging the waves and more. After playing for a few hours, it was time for some refreshments, and the resort had an excellent beach bar and grill, which we all ordered from gladly. During that time, a goat herder walked her goats across the beach, much to our enjoyment. After lunch, we decided to hit the water again, as we all knew that we would have to leave quite in the late afternoon.

As with every time you have fun, the end of the afternoon arrived much too quickly, and it was time for us to head back to the hotel. Of course, later afternoon traffic made our return trip about 45 minutes longer than the original drive. Once back at the hotel, Louis and I headed to our rooms to make sure that all of our packing was done, and that we had distributed the things we would not be bringing back with us, including toiletries and more. Then we headed down to the hotel restaurant for a last supper with the various people that had stayed at the hotel with us.

After dinner, Louis and I said our goodbyes to the different people we wanted to see, settled our final bill at the hotel and loaded up one of the hotel's taxis with our luggage. Since it was about midnight at this point, the city was quiet and our drive to the airport was quick and uneventful. We checked our luggage, and headed to the business lounge to wait for our flight. At this point, I think that both Louis and I were looking forward to returning home, and we were both in very jovial spirits.

We finally boarded our flight (with only 30 minutes delay) and took off to Frankfurt, Germany. We had a two hour stopover there, but a much longer four hour stopover in Toronto. Personally, I thought that it was the hardest part of the return trip, as we were practically home, but not quite. On top of that, my checked luggage never made it to Toronto, so I had to fill out some paperwork with Air Canada in order to claim my luggage when it would arrive. The trip to Ottawa was also uneventful, and since we were sitting near the front of the airplane, we disembarked first. Since I had no luggage to pick up, I went with Louis to luggage claim to help him find his suitcases. As soon as we walked into the passenger pickup area, Nathalie was there waiting for me, and within seconds, Louis's parents arrived to greet him.

After a 24 hour return trip, I was finally home.

Monday, July 3, 2006

Our first visit to Velachery...

We had the incredible opportunity to visit the main office in Velachery, and let me tell you, I was really impressed... I think that the picture below says it all:

It was really a most impressive experience, and really demonstrated the commitment from our new friends... I had the very pleasurable experience of eating some Indian sweets when we were there, and I got this picture, thinking that it might bring a smile to a few people:

For your information, chats are Indian sweets!!!

Of course, we spend the majority of our time in Perungudi, so I thought that I would include a picture of Renaud, Martin and Alex, hard at work, of course:

We have made several friends, and they were really happy to pose in a few pictures with us:

I will add a little more when I get a chance later on!

Sunday, July 2, 2006

Shopping at Spencer's

As we have discovered, Chennai is one of the textile hotbeds of India, and as such, clothing is available in every shape, style and price you can imagine. On our first guided visit, we were brought to a custom tailor, and both Louis and Renaud had some suits made. On the other hand, I only selected a handful of shirts and a pair of pants, as I actually enjoy the shopping process and wanted to see what was available before I made a decision on having a suit made. For some odd reason, I got the definite impression that our guide was getting a kickback from the store we were brought to, and the obvious nature of it made me feel like a bit of a sucker.

Right next to our hotel is a local shopping mall known as Spencer's. It is spread out over 4 floors of shops, with the larger, more known brands located in all of the choice areas on the first and second floor, while every other conceivable space is taken over by small stores all the way down to portable stalls. Brands such as Nike, Reebok, Gap, Guess and more are sold everywhere, and although it is possible to get the real deal, it is also possible to purchase counterfeits of almost any item you might think of. Pirated music and movies is available in several very open stores, and home made food and remedies are available in several others. And did I mention that the mall is just a little bit crowded; there is no way to walk down the halls without literally rubbing shoulders with a thousand strangers.

Fantastic shopping experience to say the least. The prices are beyond believable for practically every item on sale. Only some specific name brands are still unattainably priced, but otherwise, it's a shopping bonanza. Dress shirts for five dollars, pants for ten, belts for three, watches for twenty and the list goes on. There are also several jewellers who sell merchandise of every conceivable type. Over the course of several shopping trips, I purchased several stones to have made into jewellery once I am back home. Although it took quite a sharp eye, and some decent negotiation skills, I have been satisfied with my experience so far.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Some updates on our friends, Wave 1C...

The temperature has been getting a little cooler in Chennai in the last few days, and I think that everyone has really appreciated it. Instead of the usual 40C and 80% humidity, we have been experiencing some high 20s in the morning. It's a nice change...

Our friends in Wave 1C have been doing well, and I thought I would post of a few more pictures of them, hard at work:

They really are a great group of people and I'm really happy to have had the experience to work with them... I will post more a little later!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A typical training day

Well, we've been here for a few weeks, and Initial Training has started in earnest. Since we are a small team of three, and are still waiting for our floor walkers, we decided to split up our classes according to our specialities, as it reduces the amount of preparation we have to do on a daily basis. A typical training day in Chennai goes a little bit like this:

- Wake up around 8h00-8h30
- Head for a morning swim in the hotel pool for about 30 minutes
- Get some breakfast at the hotel restaurant
- Review course material for the day
- Change for work
- Meet in the lobby of the hotel around 14h45
- Meet our driver, load up our bags and head to the Training Centre at 15h00
- Drive to the Training Centre for about 45 minutes
- Preparation time 15 minutes
- Beginning of class at 16h00
- Break at 17h30
- Lunch at 19h00
- Break at 22h30
- End of training day at 00h00
- Meet our driver, load up our bags and head to the hotel
- Drive to the hote for about 45 minutes
- Arrive at the hotel at about 0h50
- Drop off our bags, change and meet at the hotel restaurant 1h15
- Sleep 2h00-2h30

Although we are working what is essentially a night shift, I have had some difficulties adjusting to it, and still wake up in the morning, rather than sleeping in, which would be the smart thing to do. Anyhow, this is the routine for the week, and while we are free on weekends, there is enough preparation to keep us working both of those days in anticipation of the next training week.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A little more on the Taj Connemara...

And of course, I got the chance to take a few more pictures of the hotel this morning (there seems to be a lot of interest in this really great place); the Taj Connemara is a very old hotel, and has been around for over 100 years. Here is a picture of the very beautiful lobby:

Due to the excellent daily maintenance of the hotel, I am certain that it will continue for another century. Here is a picture of the small sitting area, near the interior garden:

And finally, another beautiful floating flower arrangement:

These floating flower "pizzas", as we have come to refer to them, are arranged in several places throughout the hotel. Finally, as we leave every day, we are greeted by this beautiful representation of Shiva:

After doing a little research (Indian mythology is somewhat more complicated than the more familiar Greek mythology), I learned that Shiva (sometimes knows as Shiva the Destroyer) is considered the oldest and the youngest; the eternal youth as well as the infant. He is the source of fertility in all living beings. He has gentle as well as fierce forms. Shiva destroys evil and protects good. He bestows prosperity on worshipers although he is austere. He is omnipresent and resides in everyone as pure consciousness.

I am continuing my study of this truly fascinating mythology, and I will add more information as I learn it...

Our friends from Chennai...

A lot of people have indicated their desire to see some of our friends from Chennai, and I thought that I should most definitely share some pictures. This is my group of friends, also affectionately known as Wave 1C:

The following picture is of Louis's group of friends, known as Wave 1B:

Sadly, I have not yet taken a picture of Renaud's group of friends (yes, you've guessed right, Wave 1A...). I will some more pictures tomorrow evening and post them when I get back to the hotel.

Until tomorrow...

Some new friends have arrived in Chennai

I would like to extend a warm welcome to our two friends, Alex and Martin, that have arrived in Chennai very early this morning. After a long trip, they have arrived with no terrible incidents (except the loss of some luggage). We are of course hopeful that this luggage will eventually be found, but as many already know, lost luggage in airports is very similar to lost socks in a dryer!!!

Once again, a warm welcome to some good friends!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A cooler day in Chennai...

After an evening of temperatures hovering around 38C, it was nice to wake up and note that today's high should be only 33C, a nice change. I took a few moments to take a some pictures for your enjoyment:
The picture above is of the hotel's main entrance:

And the following are of the pretty light traffic just outside of the hotel:

Here is one of the really nice atrium in the hotel, right next to the interior garden:

And as we leave the hotel every day, we are greeted by the statue of Ganesha:

In Hinduism, Ga' symbolizes Buddhi (intellect) and 'Na' symbolizes Vijnana (wisdom). So Ganesha is considered the master of intellect and wisdom. Ganesha is also known as the Lord of Good Fortune, so every morning, flowers are arranged on the statue in thanks.

I have to go, but I will add more a little later!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Apologies for the lack of recent updates...

I just wanted to take a few moments to apologize for my lack of updates in the last few days, as I have been fighting off a small bout of bronchitis. With the considerable air pollution in Chennai, and my penchant for American cigarettes, I have really not helped myself. As I am currently feeling much better, I will be in a position to continue to provide some daily updates to this travel blog.

Until later today!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A special evening in Chennai...

Good evening all; I apologize for not posting anything sooner today, as it was a fairly busy day! Today was Manon's last day with us in Chennai, and because she greeted us at the airport, I thought it was only fair that I could be there to see her off. Preiya was taking her to the airport, but I thought that it might be nice to get a picture on her last moment at this great hotel. Unfortunately, although the hotel staff is in my opinion some of the best I have ever had the opportunity to meet, they are not excellent photographers. Combined with the 30C temperature and the 75 percent humidity, it was not the greatest picture:

As I was not working with our Indian friends again today, I spent the day speaking with the many people I have met in the hotel. I had the pleasure of having an early dinner with some Japanese business men I met today; although there was a serious language barrier, we managed to have quite an enjoyable time. At the same time, there was an important Egyptian delegation at the hotel for a very fancy wedding. As I walked through the hotel, I was invited to partake in some absolutely excellent food with these very nice people.

A quick stroll through Spencer's (the shopping mall next to the hotel) allowed me to find a couple shirts. For those who have never had the pleasure of shopping in India, let me tell you that the level of tailoring here is far, far above what can be found at home, for a fraction of the price.

Anyway, I expect Renaud and Louis back any moment, so good night to all and until tomorrow.

Monday, June 12, 2006

And it begins...

Today was the first day that my friends and I began to officially work... Well, let me rephrase that. My friends are beginning to work today, and I only begin on Wednesday. Due to unforeseen circumstances, one of our three schedules begins a week later, and the guys thought that I could begin later. We have reworked our schedules so as to take advantage of everyone's expertise, and I will be delivering some material for my friends while they do the same for me. I am really looking forward to hearing about their day!

On another note, I took my first swim in the hotel's pool:

Although somewhat refreshing, I can tell you that it almost feels like the pool is heated. The sun is so strong here that it is impossible to walk with bare feet on the patio surrounding the pool without burning your feet severely. I also took some time to get a little sun on my pasty, white body (obviously, in small doses only, as the UV index here is off the scale!!!). And let me tell you, my bright orange swim trunks have been a real hit with the staff here!!! Everyone who has seen them has commented positively on them!

I think it's also worth mentionning that the flowers here are absolutely gorgeous:

There are so many varieties, of all shapes, colours and sizes. The staff of the hotel creates daily arrangements in the small interior garden and throughout the hotel, as you can see below:

I've just come back from lunch and a great discussion with Gopinath, my favourite waiter, so I think I will go back outside, grab a little cappucino (which gives Starbucks a run for it's money) and get a little more sun! I've planned to spend the evening reading over my material in preparation for my turn with our Indian friends!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

World Cup Fever and another day in India...

Although I had been invited to the German soirée, I decided to head to Distil, the hotels' very trendy bar. As the World Cup is presently on, the bar was packed with patrons, to watch the main game of the evening, England vs. Paraguay. Pretty good match, which ended 1-0 for England. I stayed to watch the second match, which was Sweden vs. Trinidad and Tobaggo, and it turned out to be a great match indeed, although the final score was 0-0.

On Sunday, on the advice of our friend Preiya, we visited a South Indian cultural center, called Dakshina Chitra. A 30 minute drive from the hotel, and we arrived. Let me tell you, it was a very warm day indeed, although a very enjoyable one. We learned a tremendous amount of information regarding South Indian culture, architecture, clothing and more. The entire complex is built of several old South Indian buildings, which I learned were moved from several parts of South India and brought to this center, piece be piece. I took several photos, and I thought that I might share a few with you:

And on a sad note, I am beginning to feel the effects of our wonderful friend, the common cold. I think a small epidemic has started, as Louis is also feeling the effects. I guess that a little too much recycled from the airplanes must have contributed. I just hope that Renaud doesn't go through the same thing! We will just have to see...

Friday, June 9, 2006

Our second day in India...

India is really an interesting country; there is so much to see, to hear, to smell and taste... And it truly is a diverse culture. For those who are not aware, there are 22 official languages spoken in India. The primary language in Chennai is Tamil Nadu, although as our friend and contact Lorraine indicated, the primary language of India is Hindi. Lorraine indicated that she only spoke 11 of the 22 languages!!! I guess being bilingual just doesn't cut it here. Interestingly enough, Sanskrit, which is probably one of the oldest recorder languages (3500 years), is the basis for every Indian language, which probably explains how one could possibly speak 11 languages.

We took some time to visit our partners today, and view their training facilities; let me tell you that the drive was a real blast, and really is not for the faint of heart. I counted no less than 20 really close calls, and maybe 30 times where we came within an inch of trucks, cars, motorcycles, mopeds, bicycles and of course, the ever present autorickshaw:

The visit to the Training center, which is located in Velachery, was really a great experience. After a couple of hours, it was time to return to the hotel, and we experienced what is bound to be a fairly common occurence. An unfortunate motorcycle rider was hit by a bus that simply did not stop on an obviously red light. Since almost no riders wear helmets, and the impact was almost 30km/h, I can tell you that it was a pretty tough to watch. The funny part to this story is the traffic officer (which are stationned at every important intersection), running not to the injured motorcyclist, but rather to the bus driver, who he then suddenly clubbed into submission for his error. Lorraine indicated that there are deaths on a daily basis on the streets of Chennai, and I believe her.

Since I've only had about 4.5 hours of sleep today, I am going to hit the sack in a few minutes, but I wanted to get something up on the blog for today. I will take some time tomorrow to add more, as our hosts are planning a trip for us, to view the region known as Madurantakam.

Thursday, June 8, 2006

We have finally arrived in India...

Just thought that I would let everyone know that we had arrived in Chennai, India. The trip, although long, was not that bad! Getting through customs and picking up our baggage was a breeze. Our contacts were waiting for us (although our flight was almost 45 minutes late); as we stepped out of the rather humid airport, we hit the much more humid weather outside (at 1h30am). Our contacts were not kidding when they told us that driving here was interesting! There is no real concept of traffic laws here; most drivers simply honk the horn and flash their headlights to indicate that they are about to overtake. Turn signals are simply not used, and everyone drives at whatever speed seems appropriate to them! It was a blast getting to the hotel!

The hotel is very old, and has some very interesting history. It was previously the residence of the Raj (in the pre-independance days of India), and then became a very luxurious hotel in the days of the English colonisation. With constant improvements, the Taj Connemara has become one of the most luxurious hotels in all of Chennai. The level of service here is beyond description; I have never in my entire life, had so many people waiting on beck and call for any possible request I might have.

Here are a couple pictures of the hotel:

These are only a few of the pictures I have taken so far; I will update the blog with more details of the hotel in the coming days.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

We have arrived in Frankfurt...

Just to let everyone know, we have arrived in Frankfurt... We had a pretty uneventful flight, and we have a couple of hours before the next one!

The Business Class lounge has a number of interesting amenities, such as on tap beer and unlimited gummy bears!?:

I also realised that I had not taken a picture of myself since we left, so here is one, 13 hours into our trip and about to leave Frankfurt:

Since we couldn't get a clear view of the plane that would take us to Chennai, I snapped a picture of this other 747-400, just like ours, as we were about to leave:

I also got the chance to snap a couple of pictures as we were about to take off:

We had really clear weather when we left Germany, so I snapped a couple pictures of Frankfurt and the German countryside:

I also took this particular picture for Nathalie, as I thought she might enjoy the view from the level of the clouds:

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

It's crunch time...

So now we are a couple hours from the beginning of our voyage... Almost 18 hours flying, and overall, about 26 hours; I imagine that we will also take a couple of hours to get out of the airport and get to the hotel when we get to Chennai. I was getting a little concerned about the weight of my luggage, so I broke down and bought a scale; good news, my bag weighs in at 66.5lbs!!! Both of my carry-on bags are below the 12lbs mark, so I can safely fit a few more items. I'm a little wary of the scale, as it seems to be exagerating my own weight!!!

I also took a few minutes to get some last purchases, such as a voltage converter and a Compact Flash card reader. I want to be able to get the pictures out of my camera and posted here! I have to be at the airport at 13h00 today, and I have a few last things to take care of, so I will go, and post more if I can today!

See you all in a month and a half!

Monday, June 5, 2006

About where we are going...

I realised that I have already mentionned that I was going to Chennai, I have never bothered indicating where exactly it was located:

Here is a link to the Wikipedia page on Chennai, which contains quite a bit of excellent information. On the way there, we get to fly over a number of different countries on the way, although I am not exactly sure about the flight plans. If I get some details on them, I will make sure to post them.