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Surfing through my past

posted in personal stuff on July 1st, 2008

When I left Austria, a couple of years ago, I left behind a number of contacts and a few friends; I did not break down camp without saying anything at all, but the way I left was rather … abrupt.

Back then, I knew that those I wanted to stay in contact with, I would somehow manage to stay in contact, even if it would come down to me having to write (actual) letters. Luckily, at the time, Skype emerged, a great tool which made things so much easier.

A couple of days ago, one of the contacts from my past got back in touch with me: we had a little chat about how things were going in our respective lives, but soon stopped talking again, knowing full well that our sense of curiosity was satisfied and neither of us really intended this to be a Hollywood-style reunion.

Be that as it may, the incident got me thinking and piqued my interest as to what my former classmates and roommates (I attended a boarding school for a couple of years) were doing.

Turns out that just about everyone I had a good relationship with did (or: does) something interesting and worthwhile: one has become a(n) (in)famous painter, the other keeps winning competition after competition, yet another one has gone on to help people in Africa and then there is a girl who turned model.

Interestingly enough, everybody I did not have a good relationship with, ended up doing nothing “big” (note that I judge this by my own standards and the amount of information that is available on the ‘net) or worth mentioning: some went into retail and some went into the hospitality sector, but all in all they all seem to be leading a pretty uneventful life.

Please note that there is, of course, nothing wrong with that and I am in no way looking down on those people or judging them in a negative way, but I, myself, crave for a more interesting life.

One of my close friends mentioned that I seem to be very selective as far as my friends go; that I only choose to invest time and friendship into those (few) individuals where the relationship would be a mutual giving and taking, a system where both parties can contribute to the other person’s life.

Looking back, looking at the things that my “good” friends did and do, looking at my current friends, I think that it is safe to say that there is a certain truth to me being selective, yet, at the same time, I find that all my (past) relationships have been very rewarding, in one way or another and I would not want to miss any of them.

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MRE No. 6, Chicken Fajita - the verdict

posted in personal stuff on June 30th, 2008

So, after waiting for more than a decade and finally amassing enough courage to actually consume the MRE, I thought that it would be good to share my thoughts on the current rations the US Military provides their soldiers with:

Chicken Fajita:

The chicken fajita is one of the two bigger items in the ration and can either be consumed cold or hot. Heating it up with the included Flameless Ration Header can take anywhere between ten and fifteen minutes to finish, depending on how hot you want it. I went for a full fifteen minutes, to be on the safe side and was pleasantly surprised:

When you tear open the bag, you are greeted with a spicy smell (although I still had the smell of the chemicals that are used for the FRH in my nose) that invites you to sit down. Chances are that, when you are deployed, that you will be eating the food from inside the bag, which is possible, thanks to the included spoon, but since I had plates available, I spread it out.

Now, on first sight, it does not look like much, in fact, it bears resemblance to dog food and it certainly is no five-star-chef-prepared fajita, but then again, for something that has been stored inside a small, airtight bag, for about a year, it looks acceptable (not that you could actually care how your food looks like when you are being shot at 24/7).

The verdict? The Chicken Fajita tastes great, the peppers really burn on your tongue, the meat tastes like meat and the sauce is not too bad either. Ignoring looks for a second, this came out way better than expected.

Yellow and Wild rice pilaf:

The rice, too, can be consumed hot or cold and again, I opted for the heated version. Judging from the taste of it, I think I either undercooked or overcooked it (hard to decide), and that took away from the taste.

The Verdict? Hard to say really, the pieces that were cooked correctly tasted good, but had a weird texture to it, similar to biting on a rubber band. It was still edible, but nothing like the fajita. The rice would not act as a morale booster in its current form.

Yellow and Wild rice pilaf - UPDATE:

The second time I prepared the rice, I, supposedly, did something the right way and the rice looked and tasted like it should. No lumps, no rubbery flavor, just tasty rice.

Tortillas:

The MRE includes two tortillas, to be used with the fajita. There is not really all that much I can say about them, other than that they tasted like any normal (commercially) available tortillas I have had. They are thick enough not to fall apart when you put the chicken fajita and sauce into them and thin enough not to feel like pita bread.

The Verdict? Tastes like tortillas should taste, nothing more, nothing less.

Spiced Cider (Instant Apple Flavor Drink Mix):

One of two beverages and the only cold one in the pack, the Spiced Cider introduces itself with a faint smell of apples (no oranges though) and spices. Preparation is easy: tear open the bag, mix it with 177 ml of water, stir (preferably with the included spoon) for half a minute and consume.

The verdict? Great tasting beverage, really no difference with other “commercially” available stuff. It may have some added ingredients though, because after drinking it (one or two gulps will suffice), I actually felt like I just had consumed at least sixteen ounces of water. Nonetheless, the drink is not unpleasant at all. And it is worth 60 calories, not too shabby either.

Nut Raisin Mix:

One bag contains about 56 grams of peanuts, raisins, walnuts, almond and some other stuff as well as a little bag with an oxygen absorber. The whole bag is good for 310 calories and needs no preparation at all, so you can just eat them on the go.

In fact, I am eating the nuts right now and you can tell that they are meant as part of a healthy diet by the fact that they do not give of fat when put on paper (for comparison: put a walnut on paper and wait a few minutes, you will most probably see some kind of liquid on the paper).

The verdict? The nuts (and raisins) tasted great, they are easy to eat and did not smell funny at all. The mix also does not contain any added salt which gets a big thumbs-up from me.

French Vanilla Flavored Cappuccino:

After finishing a (good) meal, most people usually tend to grab a coffee or tea, to aid the stomach during digestion (or so I hear) and the MRE does not disappoint in this case. The ration includes a bag of vanilla flavored cappuccino that is good for a small cup of (preferably: steaming hot) coffee.

The verdict? Now this is what I call a morale booster. Nothing better than a hot drink when you are freezing and longing for some sweet lovin’. Easy to prepare, easy to consume, a definite thumbs up.

Chewing gum:

Just a quick note on this one: every MRE contains two chewing gums with a peculiar flavor I cannot readily place. It might be cinnamon, which makes sense considering the other selection of spices, but in any case: it tastes okay. The pieces are smaller compared to my usual brand of chewing gum and that might be the reason why you get two. No mention of the amount of calories in there.

The Verdict? The chewing gum tastes great during the first ten minutes or so, but then, as it starts to dissolve in your mouth, it releases a strong spicy flavor that quickly gets unbearable up to the point where you need to consume a bit of water to wash your mouth.

Flameless Ration Heater:

When man discovered fire, many things became possible. When your enemy discovers your (camp) fire, many things for them become possible, too. As to not give away a soldier’s position, the MRE contains a flameless ration heater, which operates on a basic principle: mix two substances (in this case: magnesium and water) and you will get an exothermic reaction, which results in your meal being heated in approximately ten to fifteen minutes.

The verdict? The heater is insanely easy to operate, but emits a certain smell that tends to hang around. I had the good fortune of being able to cook this in a room with many (open) windows, and I would expect the smell not to be an issue outside.

The overall verdict:

For $1 to $5 a meal, these packages contain a whole lot of great, healthy and most importantly: tasty food. They are fairly easy to prepare, easy to split up and easy to store, which is a definite win in high-stress situations, which is, obviously, what these meals were prepared for.

The common consensus of the civilian population is that military rations suck and taste shitty, but after eating two of these meals, I can tell you that they are well worth trying.

MRE No. 6, Chicken Fajita!

posted in personal stuff on June 29th, 2008

I guess that my TreasureMyText textstream really says it all:

The USPS guy just delivered two original Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) - military rations. Have been looking forward to this for years now.

I have indeed been looking forward to this for twelve long years now, ever since I first read a book written by Tom Clancy where military rations where mentioned.

Back in 1996, I did not have the same facilities as I do now and I just could not get my wish fulfilled and when I was in the US the last time, during the summer of 1999, I flat-out forgot to grab a pack of MREs.

This time around however, I got myself a set and they just arrived. So far, they are looking quite good. I wonder how the taste is…

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Live from the city that never sleeps

posted in personal stuff on June 28th, 2008

One more day to go and my first four weeks in NYC will officially be over. Does not really seem that way from my point, because I can still remember the day when I go there:

On the day I left the Netherlands, I had to get up at 06:15 am, way too early for my taste, but thinking that it would all be for the greater good, I put up and made do.

After a quick breakfast, I was off to ’s Hertogenbosch Central Station, where I would meet up with a friend of mine who wanted to accompany me to the airport and wave her goodbyes.

Following a short ride on the train, we entered Shiphol Airport, which seemed to be quite an experience for my company, mostly because she had never been to an airport before, much less flown a plane.

The check-in was quite painless, with a friendly ground stewardess explaining, in great detail, where I had to go, once I arrived at London Heathrow and ensuring that I understood the directions. Makes me wonder if many people are actually able to get lost on that five minute walk…

The day before I left, I spent, I think, at least two hours packing stuff the right way and stripping out anything that would not be needed, and it paid off: once I entered no-mans-land and walked through the first checkpoint, one of the security officers actually complimented me on my packaging skills - score one for the home team I guess.

Another funny bit is that, since I am traveling with an Austrian passport, everybody felt the need to talk to me in German, which felt kind-of weird to me, but still: a great service.

The flight to London was easy, had a little chat with one of the stewards who talked to me about the planes that were already outfitted to allow cellphones during flight and how the plane we used was not yet upgraded to add this service. No child sitting next to me (in fact, nobody sitting in my row at all) meant a nice fourty minutes of relaxation.

I got a little bit freaked out when the pilot mentioned that the flight would take fourty minutes, because that would mean that I would be too late for my connecting flight and I kept stressing out until I arrived in London and finally realized, thanks to an announcement stating the local time, that the UK was in a -1 timezone. Phew!

Once in Heathrow, I made use of the instructions I got earlier and quickly found the gate where my plane to JFK would be departing from but first had to go through a security checkpoint (the fifth one at that point) where I was, once again, complimented on my compartmentalized packaging technique.

A lighthearted security guy frisked me (he skipped on the body cavity search though) and asked me for the address that I would be staying at during the first night. I had everything prepared the way it should have been (mostly thanks to tsa.gov and got through the whole ordeal in two minutes as opposed to ten (which is what the next guy took). Apparently, doing what the security officer asks you to do and not resisting can make it a whole lot easier.

During the flight itself, I discovered Virgin Atlantic’s in-flight entertainment system called v:port, which a selection of great movies and while consuming the food, a selection of chicken with mushrooms, pasta salad and pudding with 53% chocolate, I watched and very much enjoyed Into the Wild.

Some six-seven hours later, when we landed, people started clapping, which reminded me of the kind of audience you would expect in a Turkey-bound airplane. People, the pilot is supposed to land the plane, successfully; that is what we pay him (or her) for…

And quite a good pilot he was (or maybe just plain lucky): we got to JFK twenty minutes early, which meant that our gate was still occupied, so we just parked in the middle of a runway; if that ain’t pushing your luck, I would not know what is.

While disembarking the plane, I had a little bit of a déjà vu experience, the gangway which led us to the customs hall had the exact same ads as the one we used in Heathrow, even at the same spots.

Getting through customs was easy, the whole process not taking any longer than twelve minutes, of which I spent ten in a line leading to the actual officer. I was prepared for everything, needed nothing other than my passport and index fingers. Friendly and professional are keywords here. So much for the FUD most people tried to instill in me.

In order to combat jet lag, I decided not to sleep on the plane and complete the day/night cycle according to East coast time, which resulted in me, technically speaking, going for an all-nighter. Nonetheless, I woke up very refreshed the next morning and had, at that time, already adjusted to the local time.

The day after my arrival, Pak-Kei and me went to a few of the events that were part of the Internet Week New York, one of them being Mashable’s exhibit hall, where I discovered a couple of nice services (more on that some other time) and got rick-rolled by the DJ, which sparked quite a few laughs from the attending audience.

I also got to meet a few people from The Hatchery, which is basically an American Idol for companies, it would certainly be great to put those connections to use some time in the future…

As past of the Internet Week New York, Pak-Kei and me also went to a panel on Net Aesthetics and did some more stuff, like attending (yet another) “Diggnation does IT live” recording, where I even got interviewed, based on the fact that I was, apparently, the one fan that travelled the farthest of all attendees.

Shortly after that, the first semi-heatwave (we only had four out of the required five days to be actually allowed to call it a heatwave) of the year hit us, with temperatures averaging 32 deg. C (89.6 deg. F) and even peaking a whooping 37 deg. C (98 deg. F).

Once the heatwave was gone and our Internet uplink was restored, I finally got a chance to sit down and get dirty with the likes of CodeIgniter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, IMEEM and Last.fm, in order to build what I came here to build.

A few more, noteworthy things are the thunderstorms (and lovely warnings that weather.com provides you with) and the home cooked style meals that are so fat that they can easily give you a cardiac arrest, but still taste amazingly good.

For some visuals, check out my gallery or my Flickr photostream.

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