Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Home sweet home

It's been a while since my last post. This is not because nothing has happened, quite the opposite so this promises to be a really long one. There are some links to pictures in the end if you don't have the energy to the read it all.

The weekend after I sent the last mail my parents arrived as the first guests from home since I got here. I picked them up at LAX on Thursday afternoon and also changed rental-car one last time. They were in surprisingly good spirits after the long flight. It took them a few days to get entirely settled into the California timezones though. The first weekend we went up and did the whole Hollywood, Santa Monica, Venice and Malibu sightseeing. We even managed to squeeze in the Getty museum at the end of the day.

The next week I managed to get everything settled with buying my new car. I finally settled on a dark red Mustang Convertible. I didn't get the 8 cylinder variety though since they were sold out in the color I wanted and if I wanted to wait for a new one from the factory it would be around 3 months and I really wasn't up to do that. There were an amazing amount of options and paperwork to get fixed. I don't really know what was harder, to get loan for and purchase an apartment in Stockholm or buying a new car in cash here. From what I've heard though, buying a home here is much worse than in Sweden. And in all that paperwork, one thing that I figured out was missing was registration. I don't really know what it is yet since I haven't gotten it, but I know that if I ever get pulled over they will ask for license and registration. Apparently I got some kind of temporary registration papers taped to the inside of my windshield, although it is really securely taped there so I can't remove it and look at it. The real registration will come in the mail from the DMV sometime soon. I have also read up on the how to get a customized license plate and it is really cheap here ($40 initially and then $20 each year). So I'm planning on trying to get "MAURITZ" as a license plate, lets see if it works.

My parents did some sightseeing by themselves during the week like for instance Disney Land since I was working. But as the weather got better they didn't seem to mind just hanging around the pool. The next weekend we all took my shining new car and drove down to a friend of Magnus who had a house on the beach in San Diego. We didn't really realize what he meant by that, but soon found out when we got there. It was a four story house right on the beach. Definitely one of the most amazing houses I have ever seen from the inside. It even had it's own elevator (To Magnus wife Erico's big enthusiasm).

I got my cash card from the bank now so I could finally start shopping stuff from US sites (Most of them don't allow you to ship to a different country than the billing address is on your card, admittedly a problem not many people run in to). I also finally succeeded in transferring my American Express card from Sweden to the US albeit about a week later. Everything went incredibly smooth except that they needed verification of my address by me faxing in a utility bill. After 4 attempts they still hadn't been able to get the fax to the person that actually wanted it. I made a last attempt and faxed it all again to all 4 different fax numbers they had given me during different stages of this whole affair and apparently one of them got through because about a week later it turned up in the mail.

A few days after my parents arrived I also got all the stuff from Sweden. I couldn't have planned it better myself if I'd tried since now my parents were here to help me unpack my boxes (Even better I was actually off working as the movers moved all my stuff into the apartment), the only downside was that I had to sleep on an air-mattress for a few days from when my parents arrived and to when the stuff arrived. Felt really good to finally get the stuff and not only have a big empty apartment, a little bit closer to start referring to it as home. Most of you have probably heard me bragging about how it took 45 minutes after we started moving my stuff in until we were finished when I moved the last time (Including unpacking all but one of the boxes). Let's just say that this time it did not go that smooth, I still have two boxes left mostly filled with cables and electronic gadgets even now (Almost a month later).

After I got the stuff it was time to start filling in the blanks of the furniture I was missing and I started out with making a trip to IKEA to get easiest stuff like some lamps and a bench for the stereo (Which I had already looked out before hand). Also me and my parents went around looking for something I could use on the patio and keep my two server computers in. We finally found some which I am really happy with, the only problem is that sometimes it gets a little bit too hot for the computers in them when the weather is too good. There are a picture of them available in the photo album. One thing I did not find was a coffee table though, which I have really spent a long time trying to find, I think I found something that was OK now actually. I was a bit cautious about if it would really fit, not that it has arrived though this weekend I am really happy with it. It fits perfectly to within an inch or two. I also included an end table to Sofa, which fits it. It has also received good reviews from Magnus and Erico who came down and visited me over the weekend.

Speaking of coffee tables the whole naming of furniture here is really weird. First lets start with sofa table which is what I would guess was the name for a table you usually have in front of the couch if I didn't know better, but that is not the case. A sofa table is a table that is really narrow and usually meant to be standing against a wall. Then there is also the coffee and cocktail tables which I'm not sure if there is a difference between them. The table I bought was in any regards a cocktail table. And despite my best efforts I could not find one that wasn't made of glass, so that's what I'm going with for now, let's hope I can stand cleaning it once in a while.

As the movers arrived I also finally got back on line (In the sense of the servers), the only problem I discovered was that my ISP blocks the ports 21 (ftp) and 80 (http) so now you need to use the following address The photo album is thus located at I have removed the download user from my jukebox though because I want to have a little better check on who is getting the stuff (I have been giving out the download account to way to many people anyway). If you don't have an account and want one to my jukebox let me know and I'll set one up. Since I had been missing most of the TV stuff that had happened since the computers had been turned off and put in the container I also spent the first week or two pretty much working on the backlog of television episodes that had built up. My broadband connection was maxed out for about two weeks trying to catch up. To keep going a little bit more with the techno babble one problem with moving the stereo web server to https instead of regular http is that almost no phones support WAP over https so I had to spend almost a day working on a way to get my WAP (Cell phone) stereo remote working again, but in the end I overcame and can now change songs through my phone again. That problem was also typical since now for the first time I actually have free GPRS that is working (I had it for a few months at Spinbox, but then Telia shut it off again).

Another nice surprise when my stuff arrived and with it my scales I realized I had lost 5 pounds (2.5kg) since I moved from Sweden. Not typical for people move here and eating more crappy food. So now I have only 3 pounds (1.5kg) left until I have won my bet with my father regarding being the first one below 78kg. I credit it to not really changing my diet (Since I already always ate in restaurants my diet hasn't really changed compared to most other people who move here and can't find the ingredients you need to cook the dishes you are used to) and also the fact that I have no social life which makes it so much easier to find the time to exercise. I have pretty much gotten back to the level of exercise I did as best about 2 years ago of going running or skating 5 days a week. So as long as I am lucky and don't make to many friends it shouldn't be a problem of loosing the last few pounds to win the bet.

At the end of the week when my parents were here I had to leave to go to a computer related conference in Oracle. The conference was about MySQL which either you've heard about it in which case I don't need to explain it or otherwise you probably don't want to hear about it. Extremely geeky stuff. It was fun though being at a conference as an exhibitor for the first time, I've never done that before. Also it helped that what we had in our both was something that a lot of people seemed interested in and we were easily the busiest booth at the conference. When the dust had settled before we left I think we had around 10 free CD:s left so it was good we weren't more popular (And I think about half the participants of the show had gotten a copy of the program that I had been working on since I moved here). I also got to meet a lot of the Qt and MySQL people (Which are funnily enough Swedish, Finnish or Norwegian most of them since MySQL AB is a Swedish company and Trolltech which also had a big presence is a Norwegian company).

The whole Orlando trip was mostly work, I took one evening off from the nerding and hooked up with some friends of Madde which happened to live there and they gave me a short tour of Orlando before we went and ate. They also showed me a really good ice cream place. For those who know me you know I take my ice cream very serious and have so far only found two really good ice cream places in Sweden (Ölandsglass in Gothenburg and Kungsholmens Glassfabrik in Stockholm, and also off course an honorable mention of Fyrudden... But that is more quantity than quality). And I'm not talking about that crap other people take for good ice cream like Häägendas or Lejonet och Björnen, they are not even close.

Once I got back from Orlando I also started really getting into my new hobby project which I'm hoping I will be able to start selling on the side in about a year or two. I don't remember if I've mentioned it before, in that case I apologize. It is meant to be another niche program that probably very few of you would ever be interested in which is a program to make backup of computers over a network. I've really gotten into it now (Actually the last week it's been stalling a bit since I needed quite a few new software features for my stereo software) and I've got almost 10K lines of pretty much working code and am getting nearer having a "tar" like utility ready for testing by those of you who know what I'm talking about any day now.

As I finally got my American credit or cash cards I went off on a veritable shopping spree. Most of the stuff I had already looked up before hand and it was stuff that I really needed like power converters so I could run most of my old kitchen and stereo equipment. A new TV, a bunch of cables to hook it all up and finally another computer for my stereo. The new computer is one of the coolest I've ever seen. It's completely black with one blue light showing if it is on and a thin slot for a DVD burner. It features a dual head video card and two sound cards, one pretty high end and one pretty basic. Sum it all and this computer can feed two different video channels to the rest of my stereo setup (One for the bedroom and one for my living room). Not very useful since I'm the only one who lives there, but still very cool stuff. Oh, and the last killer feature of the computer is that it is completely fan less so you can't here a whisper from it unless when the DVD is running in it.

As all the stuff started arriving I started planning for hooking up my stereo again. It took around 1 hour of planning and another 6 hours of crawling around with cables to finally get it hooked up. I was still missing the TV though since that hadn't arrived yet, but I had the cables all draw out where I was hooking it in. Another new cool thingy I've gotten for my stereo is a combined Tivo and DVD burner. Tivo is a thing they've had here for a while now which I have been really jealous of until about a year ago when I found a way to get pretty much the same stuff working through the net (Not entirely legal, but still what can you do... Tivo isn't available in Sweden). It is basically like a VCR with a built in program guide. You can tell it you like Seinfeld and it will record any Seinfeld episode that is sent, regardless of channel. Instead of tape though it uses an 80GB hard drive (Good for up to 50h of TV depending on the quality you choose to store it). Based on what you have selected to watch through it it will also start recording stuff it thinks you might like if there is enough room left and there is nothing else for it to do. Basically I see now that it is pretty much recording stuff the whole time. It is really clever though regarding erasing old stuff if you are not interested in it. If you want to store something for a longer time you just pop an empty DVD in it and you can burn it down with a few clicks of the remote, having worked a bit with authoring DVD:s in the past (Which is ridiculously complicated) it is refreshing how easy it all is and how good the result generally gets. All in all a really clever little gadget. The only downside is that in the earlier versions the Tivo also automatically stripped commercials, but they were forced to remove that feature after lawsuits from the networks who for some reason really want people to watch the commercials (Can't imagine why).

A bit after this I finally received my TV. The people who delivered unfortunately refused to take it up to my apartment if I didn't have an elevator (Which I don't). I thought that was really silly until I actually saw the package that the TV came in. As one of the deliver guys described it over the phone "It's bigger than I am", and it weighed over 200 pounds (>100kg). So in the end they had to deliver it to my garage. It took me 3 days after I got it until I managed to get one of the people I work with to come with me home and help me move it up to my apartment (Can you imagine the agony of having such an amazingly cool toy just standing around in your garage for 3 days). Once you got it out of the box it isn't that big and heavy though. I think the TV part was only around 80 pounds ( ~40kg). As you can see on some of the pictures at the end, it is pretty impressive though. And it's HD (High definition) TV ready so it got a resolution of 1280x768. Looking at regular TV though is kind of a disappointment since the TV got so good resolution you really see how crappy quality a regular digital TV transmission is. Where it really shines though is when connected to my computers which is where I am usually going to be using it. One big disappointment with it though is that it doesn't support PAL (European TV standard), in Sweden you can hardly buy a TV for over $100 that doesn't support both NTSC and PAL. Let's just say that this TV cost way more than that and the thought that it didn't support PAL didn't even cross my mind. It isn't really that much of a problem though except that I can't see color on my VCR (Which I never ever use anyway), worse though is that I can't watch region 2 DVD:s on it. I have worked around that problem by using the computer to play these though so I at least doesn't have to get even more stuff (I now have three places in the stereo where I can insert and play a DVD, that really should be enough). The only thing I'm still missing is a sub woofer. I had actually already ordered a Sunfire sub woofer, but everyone I talked to gave me really bad feedback on it so I canceled it before they shipped it. My main concern regarding the sub woofer though is that it can't be too big to fit where I want it. I'll have to see what I figure out there. Anyone got a good tip on a sub woofer which outer measurements are smaller than 12"x12"x12" let me know.

Another thing that happened as I went on my on line shopping spree as I got my credit card was that apparently I tripped some kind of fraud alarm at Bank of America. They tried calling me once and left me a message to call them back around 12pm on a Friday afternoon (This was while I was still in Orlando). Since they couldn't get a hold of me what did they do? They blocked my account! I'm half a continent away traveling and because there had been some purchasing out of state they made it impossible for me to access my account (This didn't mean just canceling my credit card, they also blocked access to my internet banking which would otherwise be a great way to inform me of what had happened). It gets even better since I didn't manage to get back to them until they closed at 5 (2pm in Orlando) so I had to spend the entire weekend without any cash before I could get down to the bank in the morning on Monday and ask what the hell was up. To my astonishment they told me that it is always a good idea to let your bank know when you are traveling out of state here... I thought hell no! So now they have a note on my account that they can't cancel it before they at least get a hold of me to ask permission first. But here is the kicker, the purchase that triggered this whole thing (The computer I talked about above) was still let through the system. So if it had actually been a fraudulent purchase it would still have gotten through. To me it would make more sense to actually block the suspect purchases, not the whole account after a suspect transaction has occurred and been approved. This is not the only problem I've had with the bank though during this time. They have also managed to get the name on my credit card. I know I listen to a lot of names (Mauritz, Henrik, Persson, Johnson etc), but Jan H Jonsson is not me. That sounds more like my father. Fortunately it seems like they like the amount if money I've been handling on my account because they seem really eager to please when I actually get down there with a problem and I got a new card with the correct spelling right away no hassle what so ever (Another place where good service has prevailed, not that uncommon here). I've now got credit cards coming out the wazoo. 1 from FSB, 1 from Skandia Bank, 2 from AmEx Sweden, 2 from AmEx USA, 4 from Bank of America (Two of each name)... All still valid. I'm going to start cutting them up though, no need to leave stuff like that around for burglars to find.

I've also had a lot of problems with my phone since I got here. For one thing here you can get wrong numbers when you are dialing numbers from your phone book. I never think that has happened to me in Sweden using a cell-phone. I also get at least 1 wrong number every day, I'm guessing from the same reasons. Also I've repeatedly had problems with T-Mobile deactivation my GPRS service so I have to call them up say there is something wrong and the do something in the switches and it's up and running again... It's just annoying. The conspiracy theorist inside me off course thinks that they are trying to get my cell phone usage down, since I am definitely a high end user of data traffic (The biggest rate plan from AT&T includes 8MB per month, I use around 40MB per day... It's unlimited so why not use it). Once I also experienced an outage where I live. I usually have great cell coverage where I live, but for two days there was no coverage at all. I had to drive to another part of town to make a call that I needed to make. And it was definitely bigger than one "cell", so I'm guessing some kind of higher lever network element had gone POOF. After two days it was back to normal though, so no biggie. All in all I have to say cell phones here in the southern California work much better than what people are saying. Because people here are always complaining about how bad cellphones work. I was out hiking in one of the mountains out here this weekend though and the coverage there was really poor, but if you stay in developed areas it usually works. I have heard though that if you go to more rural parts of the US the GSM network is not nearly as well developed and you really need to use Verizon (Non GSM, I think it's TDMA or something) there to get even poor coverage.

I also took my driving test. Kind of funny, because I was so relaxed and sure about myself. Especially after wards because I thought it had gone great. I passed, no problem there. But when I read my "report card" I realized I had 15 remarks out of 15 possible. Not bad for a 10 minute drive. I think most of them stemmed from two things though. I was wearing shades and the instructor couldn't see when I checked my mirrors (Kind of stupid of me not to realize this since they really hammered that into you when you were to take a driving license in Sweden: "Exaggerated head movements"), so I got a lot of remarks of not keeping track on the traffic. The second one was that I thought you were not required to stop on "right on red", which you apparently have to. So for every right turn I got one remark. I also a managed to get two remarks for speeding which I am quite proud of. The drivers license showed up in the mail only about a week later which I was really impressed with compared to the social security card (Which I still haven't gotten yet).

The weekend two weeks ago was a really busy one. I started on Saturday morning at 8:30 when we set of for Magic Mountain which is a huge amusement park (They probably have around 20 big roller coasters) with some people I know from work. I had actually been there once before when I was in LA a few years ago. It was great, although there sure were a lot of people and a lot of standing in line (I think I was there during a weekday last time I was there). One kind of unorthodox happening was when they had to stop one of the roller coasters I was on because there was someone up walking on the tracks. Also, as I remarked to one of the people there that a trip to an amusement park isn't complete if you don't leave there feeling a bit nautious and ripped off and I wasn't disappointed (A bottle of water was $4.5).

Sunday I had to get up even earlier at 5:30am to go to a Nascar race up in Fontana with another work college. This was really a different slice of Americana than I have experienced so far. So far most of the Americans that I have run in have been pretty sophisticated and in general much more in touch with reality in general than I would have given them credit to before moving here. A Nascar race on the other hand is redneck heaven. This is probably one of the first times in my life that I was on my second beer at 8 in the morning on a Sunday (Unless those times when I hadn't gotten to sleep yet, but those doesn't count).

We were joining in the great American tradition of tailgating which basically means that you get to an event way before it starts, sets up a tent, chairs and a barbecue in the parking lot and start getting drunk as soon as possible. One problem I ran into during this trip though is that the people I was there with in difference to me were really in to cars. In some ways I envy them, because they really got a kick just traveling on the freeway and seeing the apparently cool cars that went by. Trucks was the vehicle of choice for these guys off course, although one of them had just gotten a BMW and got endless shit for not buying American by the others. The problem was that I often didn't have a clue as to what they were saying. And it isn't because I didn't understand their English (I understood that fine), I just didn't have a clue as to what they said meant. I'm thinking it might be like being a fourth person present when me, Stefan and Johansson start talking about computers and networks.

After a while the race started and that was sort of an anti-climax. The cars go 250 laps on a 2 mile long round track and they basically drive so fast you can't even see the markings on the cars so you have no idea of what is going on. I actually slept through the better part of the race. When the race had finished we went back to our party in the parking lot since trying to get out of there would just mean standstill queues for the first hours anyway. There I met an interesting young man from as he called it "The 909" which means south-eastern LA I guess. When he heard I was from Sweden he immediately started to refer to me as Amsterdam. I told him that calling me Amsterdam was like calling him "Dallas" since he lives in LA, but that didn't deter him. He was also very disappointed when I told him that all drugs were not legal in Europe as he had apparently heard. I don't really get why he was so hooked up on Amsterdam if he though drugs were legal in all of Europe, but then again I don't think that kind of cerebral activity was his forte. He worked as a bricklayer and specialized in marble. After about an hour he staggered off, sat in his car and drove away (He could barely focus before he got into a car and drove away) and I said wistfully to the rest of the group: "One day that will be me!". Other activities that took place were off course mooning, people pissing on other peoples cars and a few women flashing their tits (Not really anyone worth looking at unfortunately).

Last Thursday I also spent the entire evening following the national tragedy of the Friends series ending. It has been advertised on pretty much every commercial break the last couple of months now I think and tonight is the night. How did it go, will Rachel and Ross get each other in the? The other way of saying it is that the plan was to organize the amazing amount of paperwork I have accumulated since I moved here (I don't know, but I think they have way more paperwork for everything here than in Sweden) and put it in binders while Friends is on in the Background. Good thing I managed to scramble to get my stereo and TV ready for this momentous event in TV history.

I also went and got my second haircut. The hairdresser I got to know here just as I got here has now started working in a salon (I think I mentioned that she is just starting out as a hairdresser) as an intern. The guy she is working for seems really good at hair cutting I have to say and it is really interesting listening to him describing how she should cut my my hair. I had no idea that cutting hair could be so complicated. I can also say that I would not be able to work in those kind of conditions. An intern is pretty much as close to a slave you get here in the US. It probably is a good introduction to whatever trade you are interested in, but you usually work for minimum wage (Or in some really coveted positions for free) and at least in this case there was always very pronounced master and servant relationship. I don't think I could ever work in an environment of equals which is pretty much as it always have been all the places where I have worked so far for me.

This weekend I managed to book another activity which required me to get up before 6am Saturday morning. As I mentioned before I went hiking in one of the Santa Ana mountains. I don't really remember which one though. It was kind of interesting to get away a bit (Only a few miles though) from civilization and also as we got up on the mountain (We climbed almost 3000ft, 1000m) and see that in difference to the impression you get when you drive around here actually very small part of this area where I live is developed. I also saw a rattlesnake for the first time on this hike, which are apparently very common here (Which has also led me to reconsider running around in the canyons with headphones on during the day). The kind of rattlesnake they have here though is not very poisonous in comparison to the ones they have in the deserts of Nevada and Arizona which will kill you. The ones they have here you can get sick from if you get bitten, but you probably wont die. Another interesting business opportunity turned up during this hike as the colleague I went hiking with has this idea about some kind of visualization of web services (To be honest I didn't get all of it being described during a climbing a mountain) with which he needed development help, so I'm gonna take a look at what he got. You got to keep yourself occupied you know.

I am also thinking about going start playing some golf. Interestingly here in the US they have no rules about needing green cards or golf club memberships to play. Here anyone can shell out around $25 and play a round (An extra $10 to rent the clubs). So now it looks much more appealing to me to at least try it a few times. The problem with starting to play golf in Sweden s that you need to become a member of a golf club and I really didn't want to get stuck with another training related expense of a few $100. I pay enough already on gym membership and skates. One of the people I know down here has also just started working at the closest golf course to where I live. I'll let you know how it all turns out if I ever get my thumb out and actually do it.

With that I think I'm going to end this letter and try to send shorter letters than this one a little more often instead. I'm going to end with some links to some images in my photo album you might like to look at.