Posted in Uncategorized at 7:59 pm by Martin

Over the last few weeks I had two anniversaries to celebrate. The first was my 30th birthday where me and a couple of friends went to a really expensive restaurant in La Jolla called George’s at the Cove. Usually I don’t go to these kinds of exquisite places, but I thought “what the heck, it’s my 30th birthday after all”. Surprisingly, the food was actually really good and plentiful! Anyway, a lot of people have asked the oh-so-predictable question “Now that you’re 30, what has changed?”. Well, sorry to disappoint you, but nothing really. I still feel the same and am in no significant way wiser than I was a year ago.

The second anniversary that I can celebrate is my 1-year anniversary here in the US. I arrived in the US on October 9 a year ago. My first day at work was on Monday, October 16, and I still remember like it was yesterday. It was quite an exciting day. The first DVD I bought here in the US was at Frys (a huge electronic store here aka the store where “you simply have to buy something once you go in and you’re a guy”) and it was Kung Fu Hustle. Just in case you were wondering 😉

It’s been an exciting year. I did a bit of traveling (most notably to some of Utah’s national parks and the Grand Canyon) and I work at the best company I’ve ever worked at. But boy, did this year fly by quickly. I still remember when I was in Australia for 8 months and it seemed like a really long time. Maybe because I was still a student and had a lot of time to go exploring, traveling and just hanging out. Now that I’m working, time just passes by incredibly quickly and I spend most of it at work…ah well.


Oh My God! It’s Raining!

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:07 am by Martin

It’s raining! It’s raining! I almost forgot how that feels like after something like 3 months without rain. Today, it’s really raining for the first time in a loooong time.

Rain from our Balcony

Oh my God! What are we going to do? We could, hm, stop on the freeway and look out of the window with a scared face waiting for the rain to stop. Or we could just continue to drive 90 mph on the freeway without worrying about the rain and potential hydroplanning. That’s what a lot of people do here when driving in the rain. It’s scary actually. But who can blame them. They’re not used to it. If you only ever have to drive in the rain for four to five days a year, you won’t have any experience with it.

Well, it definitely sucks for me that it’s raining today because we’re going to the Red Bull Air Race held in the bay in San Diego today. It’s funny how here when somebody throws a summer BBQ or a party or whatever they never think twice about a bad-weather plan like we used to do back home. Every invitiation you’d get to a part there would be a bad-weather plan on it, something like “In case of rain, we can go to our neighbors big cellar room…”.


My First Earthquake (Or: What Drinks Did I Have Last Night?)

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:48 pm by Martin

Yesterday at 10:30 in the morning I felt my first earthquake here in California. The epicenter was north of Temecula, which is about 45-60 minutes north east of Carlsbad. The earthquake reached 4.7 on the Richter scale. It wasn’t anything big here in Carlsbad. I was still lying in bed and just about to get up when I heard the wood of the house and the wooden shutters in my room make some noise. I also felt the bed shaking a little bit. Here’s a map that shows where people said they felt it:

The original source of the above image is: http://pasadena.wr.usgs.gov/shake/ca/STORE/X10275733/ciim_display.html

Looking at the map of recent earthquakes in California at http://quake.usgs.gov/recenteqs it’s actually surprising I haven’t felt any other earthquakes so far.


Comic-Con 2007 Madness

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:20 pm by Martin

Two weekends ago I went to the world’s largest comic and popular art convention, Comic-Con, which is held every year at the San Diego Convention Center. It was pretty amazing. You could get anything from really old comics to shiny new comics, all sorts of action figures and toys, books, DVDs, T-shirts, and a whole bunch of other stuff. The exhibit hall was packed with people. Attendance was pretty good last year and this year the number of people seemed to fill the convention center to its capacity limit again (something around 120000 people, or a middle-sized town). Enough words that wouldn’t do the event justice anyway; here are some pictures:

G.I. Joe Action Figures

Optimus Prime Statue

Indiana Jones Statue

Boba Fett Statue

God of War Action Figure

People in the Exhibit Hall

Batman Lego Statue

Miss Piggy Costume

I didn’t take a lot of pictures of the people in awesome costumes on the exhibit floor, but you can check out Stu’s blog for more.


Waiting for Something? How about a Green Light.

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:18 pm by Martin

While on the subject of traffic lights, here’s another oddity that traffic lights in the U.S. exhibit: they have incredibly long red and yellow phases. Of course, when you think about it, it kind of makes sense. It’s because most roads here have multiple lanes in each direction (some even have 3 or 4, which is very unusual in Europe) and the speed limit is fairly high, usually around 55 mph, which is about 88 km/h. Naturally, if you approach a light that has just turned yellow at such high speeds, you need quite a bit of distance to bring the vehicle to a full stop. Therefore, the yellow phase is quite long.

Red Traffic Light

But that doesn’t explain why the red phase on some traffic lights is insanely long. Sometimes I find myself listening to your regular 3-minute, radio-friendly song on the radio while waiting for a red light to turn green – and I hear the entire song, start to finish, just waiting there! It drives me nuts.

Since the yellow phases are so long, and people of course know that, a lot of times you see someone from far, far away accelerating the car still trying to make the yellow phase. And sometimes they just barely make it, or when the light has already turned green for cross traffic. And since you see this quite often here, the city of Carlsbad is doing the only thing it can do: try to make a profit from it. So they put up red light cameras on pretty much all major (and a lot of the times even really minor) intersections. So remember kids: when you’re in Carlsbad, try not to run a red light or it will cost you (around $400 as one of my housemates had to find out – the hard way ;))


Turn on Red

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:01 pm by Martin

One of the unique things here in the U.S. traffic-wise is that you are allowed to do a right turn when the traffic light in your direction is red. Apparently, this was introduced in the 70s to safe fuel. When you want to turn on red you have come to a full stop, yield to any other traffic that has green and pedestrians crossing the street, and when safe you can proceed.

This whole turn-on-red business took me quite a while to get used to. When you’ve been driving for more than 10 years with a red light meaning “STOP and wait for the green light to proceed”, it is kind of hard to get rid of the guilt that you feel when suddenly you’re allowed to violate one of the basic traffic laws (at least in your home country). So the first few weeks of driving here I always felt I was doing something wrong when turning on red and unconsciously caught myself looking around to see if a cop would be just standing around the corner waiting to give me a ticket. Now that I’ve gotten used to it I think it’s great!

Although, it does have some downsides, mostly for pedestrians. Drivers sometimes are too concerned with traffic coming from the left and don’t see the pedestrians crossing the street on the right. Or they pull up too close and block the pedestrian crossing.

Traffic Lights


Online Banking? What’s That?

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:18 pm by Martin

The U.S. might be a world leader in many things, but when it comes to the banking system here you feel taken back to the middle ages compared to, for example, Europe. The first surprise for a European like me is the common usage of checks. A check, for those not familiar with them (which I’m assuming includes most of my European audience), is a piece of paper that has your bank routing and bank account number on it. You write the recipient’s name and the amount of money to pay on it, sign and date it, and give it to the person or company that you want to pay.

While in Austria the concept of checks is pretty much unheard of (and you probably wouldn’t be able to pay with them anywhere), here in the U.S. they are far more common. They are often used to pay rent, utility bills, mobile phone bills, and many other types of bills. Also, employers use them to pay their employees (i.e. the pay check). In many instances, checks are the only form of accepted payment.

Direct payment via automatic transfer from one bank account to another bank account has just recently started to gain popularity, but (as a European) you wouldn’t believe how incredibly hard and painful it can sometimes be to set that up.

An example: My housemates and I have just recently moved to another house, so we had to set up a new water account with the local water district. Of course, I wanted to pay the water bill automatically from my checking account. In Austria that would be the normal thing to do. When you sign up for your water account, you give them your bank account details and direct payment is set up within one or two bank days. Here in the U.S. you also give them your bank account details, but in addition they usually require you to include a voided check (wtf?) with your application for direct payment. But what’s worse, it usually takes between 30-45 days for the direct payment to become effective. So for our first few bills I ended up paying manually, i.e. by check or credit card. 30-45 days? “That’s ridiculous”, you might say and you’re absolutely right. However, it’s the way it works here in the Land of Opportunity.

Another example of where I consider the U.S. banking system to be archaic is direct transfers between personal bank accounts. In Europe, if you owe a friend money you can easily pay her via online banking. You log in, type in the bank routing and bank account number of your friend, enter a TAN (for my American readers, a TAN or transaction number is used for security reasons to authorize online banking transactions) and off you go. Your friend will have the money electronically transferred into her account within a few days. (The transfer actually happens instantaneously, but banks have to make money somehow and so they use your money for a few days for investments on financial markets).

While it seems to be possible to do the same thing with most banks here in the U.S., it is still somewhat complicated. Here’s how it works: If your online banking supports it, you follow the same steps I outlined above (with the exception of not using TANs; they haven’t heard of those here yet). But what happens then is kind of incredible: If my friend has a bank account with a different bank than I do, you actually have to enter the bank’s name and address (and add “c/o Friend’s Name”) instead of just using your friend’s name. Then my bank will send a paper check (!!!) to her bank, which the bank will then cash and deposit into my friend’s account. Again, I’d like to emphasize that they actually send a paper check! It seems that they haven’t heard of electronic databases and all the other electronic software gimmicks European banks use for this kind of stuff.

So now I’m in charge of paying the utility bills for our house and my housemates mostly pay me back with checks. That of course means that I have to go to the bank and cash them in (argh!).

Why can’t they have easy, electronic direct deposit in the Land of Opportunity? Why has no one used the opportunity to develop proper online banking that allows me to do all sorts of transactions myself online, such as direct account-to-account transfers, international transfers, investments in funds and stocks etc.?


Christmas Eve in the Sun

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:37 pm by Martin

So this is my first Christmas in Southern California, and what can I say, it’s very different from what I’m used to. First of all, the weather is just not the way it should be. We had around 70 degrees Fahrenheit (around 20-something degrees Celsius) and the sun was shining. So I decided to spend a good part of the day reading at the beach in Oceanside. Here are some pictures I took with my mobile phone:


Sunset, Oceanside Beach

Mind you, this isn’t the first time I have a Christmas in the sun. During my time in Australia in 2001 we spent Christmas Eve at the beach in Surfers Paradise at the Sunshine Coast. It was even hotter then, because in Australia it’s really summer now, whereas here in San Diego it’s winter…at least, officially. For me, it’s still kind of warm considering the season.

So the weather doesn’t really help in getting into a Christmas mood. Another difference from Austria is the food. In Austria nobody I know of ever has Turkey for dinner on Christmas Day. What’s up with that? Wasn’t turkey supposed to be the thing to have on Thanksgiving. Christmas is just a month later and apparently people here in the US use that as an excuse to stuff themselves with turkey again. Poor turkeys. They get chased down, killed and eaten twice a year. Must be tough being a turkey 😉

Anyway, wherever you are in the world, have a happy Christmas. Oh, and don’t forget to check out my new Christmas Medley that I recorded over the last few days.


Christmas Decorations

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:37 pm by Martin

There are some things on this earth that will forever remain a mystery to me: the difference between Persil and Ariel washing powder and this…

Christmas Decorations

…the Christmas decorations that Americans put on their houses during this time of the year.

You see electric light chains on the entire house, lit reindeers, Santa Clauses, snowmen, other weird animals of which I fail to see the relevance for Christmas, and many other things that you would usually not expect to see in a European front garden.

On the other hand, you have to look on the bright side (no pun intended) of all these lights: they do provide quite a bit of light in the dark, even in the street our house is in where there are not many street lights. So it has become much easier to find my way back to the house in the dark…not that I would ever have the need to do that.

Still, one has to wonder how much electricity all these lights use. I’m guessing the electricity bills of some of our neighbors are going to be a Christmasy surprise.

But then again, there are even crazier people…


National Park Hiking Tour

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:58 pm by Martin

Two weeks ago over Thanksgiving I had the pleasure of going on a 6 day hiking tour through some of the most beautiful national parks the USA has to offer. The tour was organized by Aztec Adventures and we were a group of 9 people from all over the world. There was Noel Llopis, a coworker originally from Spain, someone from Italy, Taiwan, California, and of course me from Austria. The parks we visited in order were: Joshua Tree, Zion, Cedar Breaks, Bryce, and the Grand Canyon. We spent Thanksgiving in a town called Kanab at a nice mom-and-pop-type restaurant called Grandmother Tina’s (and yes, there really was a Tina there :))

Since the others took so many pictures, and because the batteries of my camera died after I had taken two pictures, I didn’t really take any pictures. But do not fret, there are many pictures available online already, so I don’t have to go through the trouble of putting them up. So please feel free to browse the following picture galleries:

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