New LEGO Color Guide Published

I am proud to announce that the fourth edition of the Unofficial LEGO Color Guide is now available. The printed book is available as a paperback and hardcover from Amazon and other resellers. An eBook (PDF) is available from Lulu. The paper printing process has a limited color space and hence I recommend the PDF if you need to have best possible representation. Head over to Minifigure.org for more details on the book.

Building an off road car with LEGO Technic

It has long been a dream of mine to build a remote controlled LEGO car. LEGO has many Technic cars in their program that use the Power Functions to remote control certain functions, such as opening doors or lifting an arm. Power Functions use infrared light for communication between the sender and the receiver. In the past, LEGO also had remote controlled cars that use radio frequencies, which is much better, since it does not require a line of sight and has a much further reach.

Recently, LEGO released the 4×4 Crawler and it really triggered something inside of me. I ordered the set, but when it arrived I never put it together. I started to build my own cars right away. I looked for inspiration on the internet and found many great off road cars, trial trucks and multi purpose car technology. In particular the work Pawel “Sariel” Kmiec. Check out his book “The Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder’s Guide” or visit his website. LPE Power also has some wonderful instructions on how to build real car technology with LEGO. Continue reading “Building an off road car with LEGO Technic”

Beginners Guide to create a Digital Media Center

Computers and consumer electronics are merging. The first media center PCs have arrived and are slowly taking over the living room entertainment. They offer a wide range of functionality that exceed everything that previous consumer electronics could offer. That is what i was let to believe. This guide documents my experiences of setting up a digital media center based on an EPIA M10000 motherboard in a Morex 2699 case. By the way, i am a stupid Mac user, so be prepared to get some real interesting questions.

Table of contend

Introduction

I do not like Windows I am a Mac person. Still, I actually built a custom PC and dealt with all the great benefits that Windows has to offer. Cracking the obligatory Windows XP registration, installations of drivers, virus infections and updating the BIOS. Darth Wader was not yelling at me “you gonna join us or die – hhmmm ssheeeesss” while pointing his light saber at my neck and neither was my only alternative watching a Scooby Doo marathon.

I had a goal: creating a small and silent media center that can record each and every “Shark attack!” program on Discovery, live radio transmissions of the debates in the German parliament and show the pictures of my last visit to my buddy Saddam. I can already hear you scream: “iLife!” which is indeed an excellent group of programs, but it cannot record video from an analog TV/Radio signal. Yes, there are also TV/Radio tuners for Macs (EyeTV, Studio TVR, myTV, Gravision TVa) that turn your machine into a digital video recorder, but I wanted an integrated solution. Several software suites on the Dark Side combined iLife functionality with a digital video recorder and present themselves with a TV friendly front end (Windows MCE, myHTPC, ShowShifter, Home Theater, Power Cinema). Even the usually not so media oriented Linux community has their front ends Freevo and MythTV. You connect the computer to the TV, sit on your couch and control the system with a remote control.

Another aspect made me sell my soul: size. Ever since Apple stopped building the tiny Cube I longed for a small and silent computer that I could place in my living room. I have to suffer day by day from my G4 MDD Mac, the noisiest Mac ever produced. Even the exchange of the fans did not reduce the noise to a comfortable level. I really wanted a small and silent solution. Some years after the Cube the Dark Side also started to produce small computers. Namely VIA had the great idea to produce motherboards of only 17 x 17 cm following the Mini-ITX standard. These boards are highly integrated and include an onboard graphic chip, ethernet, and a full variety of other interfaces (USB, Firewire, IDE, RS-232, etc.).

Hardware considerations

Several motherboard versions are available from VIA ranging from fan-less and therefore silent 500Mhz boards to more noisy 1Ghz boards that also include an MPEG decoder chip. The basic tradeoff concept is simple: the faster the CPU, the more power it consumes, the more heat it generates the more noisy fans are necessary to cool it.

All of these boards are suited for basic office work email, surfing the internet and even putting the picture through the video out onto a TV. The biggest model even can playback DVDs with the help of the integrated MPEG decoder chip. If you only want to playback media you are all set, but if you want to play live TV or record TV programs you need a TV tuner. Since the whole system should be as small as possible a graphic card is the weapon of choice, preferably none of those gamer monster cards that have a fans that can blow-dry a pack of poodles in a few seconds. The Hauppauge WinTV PVR350 appears to be a good choice since it has the distinct advantage of an onboard MPEG2 chip. It encodes the incoming TV signal before it stores it on the hard disk. The CPU of the Mini-ITX motherboard would never be able to do this in real time. In addition it also has a radio tuner. Why bother about the size of the movies, you may wonder, the capacity of hard discs become bigger by the minute and according to our estimations we will be able to store the entireinternet on it by next Tuesday. But again, size matters. Standard 3.5″ hard disks, especially the fast ones, produce heat and noise. The small 2.5″ laptop disks are much better suited, but unfortunately have much less capacity. This TV card has one disadvantage, you cannot use its video out with myHTPC. It only works with their own WinTV application. Therefore you must have another video out to see anything on your TV. The Mini-ITX boards usually have video out, but their quality is not overwhelming.

The PVR350 also has some disadvantages: it is a full size PCI card and produces a considerable amount of heat. This card had therefore a considerable influence on my choice of the casing. Even though you can store all the equipment in the most unlikely places I was not prepared to invest my complete vacation in it. Given that I would use the VIA M10000 mother board, a slim line Combi Drive, a 2.5″ hard disc and the PVR350 four cases appeared suitable: the Hoojum Cubit 3, Travla 137, Travla 138, and the Morex 2699.

After talking to an expert at HRT the Travla 138 stopped being an option since there would be too little space left in the case to guarantee enough airflow to cool the card. The Travla 137 appeared to have a noisy fan in a special dimension that cannot easily be replaced by other standard fans. The Cubit 3 looks excellent, but it would not fit into my TV rack. It is simply too high. The Morex 2699 fits nicely into a standard TV furniture and in black color it is not as ugly as other computers. The biggest disadvantage of the Morex 2699 is its two small fans, so I bought two silent Papst fans and built them in instead. Detailed reviews of Travla 137, Travla 138 and Morex 2699 are available.

Complete systems are of course also available, such as the Tranquil or Hush systems. Surely, they are much slicker and designerish, but where is the fun in that? Why invest more than a thousand euro when you can enjoy customizing the system yourself? That way you get to know the inside of the computer much better and doing extensions or upgrades later on become a swift.

I ordered the Morex 2699 case and the three Papst fan from my favorite Mini-ITX dealer and after only a few days it was delivered. Detailed instructions on how to build all the hardware in is available and in case of doubt it is always good to consult the motherboard’s manual.

Hardware installation

The biggest challenge was building in the Hauppauge WinTV PVR350. The card does not fit through the PCI slot hole of the case. The little pins and the screws are too big (see Figure 1).

Pins

Figure 1: The problematic pins of the PVR350

The first step was therefore to take out the screws and detach the silver metal blend of the card. Then I grinded a notch at the top side of the slot hole. I also had to make a small notch on the right top side to allow the card to fit in perfectly (see Figure 2). It is a good idea to put some paper through the PCI Slot hole to prevent any metal dust to fall into the fans.

Nodge

Figure 2: notches in the Morex case

Also, the silver metal blend of the card was slightly too high on the corner. I grinded off a bit to make it just fit (see Figure 3)

Edge

Figure 3: Grind of the corner

Next I put the card through the slot hole and attached the silver blend back on (see Figure 4). The screws are now inserted from the bottom of the card. It has a little bit of a slack, but together with the riser card it will be tightly fixed at the end.

Insert card

Figure 4: Inserting the card with the screws still out

Before putting the card into the riser card it is a good idea to first put it into the black card holder that came with the case (see Figure 5).

Blend

Figure 5: Attaching the blend

There is still enough space left at the end of the card to insert a small slim 3.5″ devise into the front slot (see Figure 6). I will try to build in a card reader, but that is another story.

card reader

Figure 6: Space for a card reader

I closed the case and voila, a small decent computer (see Figure 7). The case also comes with a foot to position the case upright. So far so good. Until now this has been quite fun.

case casecase

Figure 7: Front, top and back view of the case.

The fans are still far to loud for my taste. The CPU fan and System Fan are supposed to be temperature controlled, but I cannot confirm this. They run at a constant speed no matter what. This is supported by a posting in the VIA forum. If this was to be true then i have to admit that this is a rather big screw up. These motherboards are intended for small silent PCs. This cannot be achieved when you cannot control the fans. No wonder that Zalman is already selling a manual speed controller. You can get it from mini-itx.com. Alternatively you can change the speed of the fans by changing the cabling or by inserting a resistor. I put the CPU fan and one case fan in a serial connection (see Figure 8) and thereby halved their Voltage/Power. It makes a big difference if the fans run at 12V or 6V.

serial

Figure 8: Serial connector for two fans.

I put a temperature sensor into the case and monitored the heat right next to the CPU. In addition i recorded the noise of the computer at 30cm distance. The ambient noise level was at 41dB, which is rather quiet. The CPU was put under 100% usage.

Setting Noise in dB Temperature in Celsius
1 case and CPU fan at 12V 55 35
2 case fan at 6V, CPU fan at 12 V 55 44
1 case fan at 6V, CPU fan at 6V 45 58

Table 1: Noise and temperature of the computer

The conclusion of my little test is that as soon as any fan runs at 12V you get the full noise. However, it still sounds subjectively quieter if the only the CPU fan runs at 12V. For normal tasks it is certainly enough to run the fans at half speed. I will continue to monitor the temperature in my normal every day use.

Software installation

System software and drivers

The next step is to install Windows XP. That is no fun and takes quite a while.Once it is up and running the next step is to install all necessary Windows updates because there are just too many viruses, worms and hackers out there. Welcome to Windows!When I looked at the device manager it still found an unidentified VGA compatible device. Trying to install drivers from the Hauppauge CD or the Windows CD failed. Great! So lets call up my personal Windows master Hu Jun. He informed me that I still had to install the drivers for the motherboard. That is the most absurd thing for a Mac user. Well, Via had them posted on their VIA EPIA M web site and once I was at it I also downloaded the other drivers for USB2, Ethernet and Audio. After the installation the device manager appeared to be ok.

The next step was to install the drivers for the TV card. Hauppauge posted updates on the web site which are important to install. In particular the MPEG decoders and infrared receivers. I installed the Win TV software that came with the PVR350 card and was able to tune some channels. So far so good.

Setting up the Hauppauge remote control to work with myHTPC was confusing, but at the end rather easy. Hauppauge already provides an infra red control software and one only has to add the myHTPC settings to that file. The instructions are available in the support forum.

All my media files, such as photos, music and movies are stored on a Mac. Since you can enable windows sharing it is also not problem for myHTPC to access them. However, my files are not stored in my home directory on my Mac server. I have two additional hard disc on which i place my music, movies and pictures. I found an article that explain how you can make any directory or disc available through windows sharing by changing the Samba configuration file.

This worked fine through the cable ethernet, but when i wanted to use the wireless lan usb stick i ran into trouble again. Setting up a Windows XP PC to connect to an Apple Airport Base station is not trivial, because neither Apple or Microsoft document it well. After extensive research i found this excellent instructions. Take great care that you get the HEX password right! This information was not in the hand books or on Apple’s web site. If Apple emphasizes its Windows compatibility then they should also provide the proper documentation.

Another part of the puzzle is the digital audio output of the system. Considering the quality of the line out and the requirement to playback DVDs it was necessary to change the default video cinch out to operate as an SPDIF digital output.This setting has to be jumpered on the mother board and set in the operating system. Detailed instructions are available.

Last not least a bit more Mac user nativity. I thought that Windows XP (experience?) is a true multimedia operating system. So, in goes the DVD, and the media player starts right away. But it cannot play it because it does not have the right MPEG2 codecs. Apparently Microsoft did not want to pay the licence fee. You actually have to install a third party software for it. This is simply ridiculous, but then again, maybe I am an spoiled Mac user.

myHTPC

Microsoft Media Center Edition’s (MCE) front end software takes too much CPU power from an VIA EPIA M10000 board. The playback of a DVD in the stand alone Media Player works fine, but from within MCE it is impossible. MCE alone takes about 70% CPU time. ShowShifter is a very good front end software, but it does not support hardware MPEG decoders. An EPIA M10000 has to rely on the MPEG2 encoder chip of the Hauppauge PVR350 to record TV in real time. For the time being, only myHTPC works in the given configuration under windows.

One of the problems of myHTPC is that it is badly document. There is no handbook and only little official instructions compared to the hundreds of problems you might run into. The quick start guides are simply not enough. The support of myHTPC is therefore based on forums. If you can read German i strongly advice you to read the installation instructions on the German myHTPC forum. Overall I must admit that the instructions in the German forum are even better than the original English myHTPC documentation. If the Germans do it, they do it right ;-)

gotTV

Again, you should read the detailed instructions on the German forum. They are very detailed. After I installed gotTV it was not possible to tune the channels in the goTV plugin. I tried all options and dug through the forums without finding a solution for my problem. Finally, i connected the computer to the TV in our living room instead of in the office room and viola, it worked. We have internet through the TV cable and apparently the devices installed through our internet service provider corrupted the TV signal somehow. But still I had to add all the channels manually with their frequencies. The auto tuning did not work. I took the frequencies from our cable TV provider’s web site.

Watching live TV on a computer screen is fun for about two minutes. The real value lies in the Electronic Program Guide (EPG). I used TVgids_to_XML to grab the Dutch TV program information. Worked like a charm.

Girder

It is possible to control myHTPC with the Hauppauge remote control, but when you also want to use gotTV you run into trouble. I could not find a way around not using another good software: Girder. Again, the German myHTPC forum has detailed instructions.

Conclusions

I connected my digital media center to my TV in the living room and started the system. However, I could not remove the computer screen, mouse and keyboard yet. From time to time errors occur. Sometimes the wireless network breaks down, the scheduled EPG data grabbing did not work or myHTPC crashes. The system is not yet mature and still has many shortcomings. For example, it is not possible by default to delete recorded shows. You either have to download an visual basic script and integrate it into myHTPC or use a remote desktop software to maintain the software from another computer. myHTPC is a very good free software with a strong community behind it, but it is not yet mature enough. The installation and maintenance requires considerable computer knowledge.

A word about the noise. I had the two case fans sharing one power source and thereby reducing their speed. While this solution is much much quieter, it turning out to be problematic in every day use. The computer got really hot while recording shows, due to the heat the PVR 350 generates. As a consequence, the network connection crashed several times. It appears as if the ethernet adapter does not handle heat very well. I had to fall back to connecting one fan to the full 12V. This made a major difference. The case now remains at a reasonable temperature. The people at HRT already mentioned this to me when i bought the case, they really know what they are talking about! Also, it is really annoying that the fans are not temperature controlled. They run all the time at full speed and produce an intolerable amount of noise. I only take the computer out of standby when I really need it.

But is this digital media center worth while all the trouble, I ask myself. I spend weeks figuring out all the details and I got frustrated so many times. My answer is NO. The whole system is not mature enough for me to really enjoy it. The noise, reliability and maintenance are not yet suitable for my living room. However, it is a nice hobby for the working room. I learned a lot about Windows, driver problems and how to troubleshoot a windows computer. But do I really want to know all this? NO! I want an easy to use and highly reliable Mac system. Apple made a first step now by introducing Airport Express with Airtunes, which at some point might be extended to also stream video. Lets hope for another of Steve’s keynotes…

Academic Conference Travel Guide

Being an academic allows me to travel to conferences and other events every ones in a while. After some time, I became aware of strategies and items that make trips more bearable and I hope that my insights help you on your own journeys. Please send me an email if you have comments or tips.

Hand luggage

You should take these items with you in your hand language. Try to keep limit yourself to as few items as possible so that you can store the bag directly under your seat.

Maps – Most destinations, such as airports, conference centers, hotels and universities have their maps online. Alternatively you can use Google Maps to gain an overview on where to go. With these maps you can find your way much easier compared to relying on signs or the advise of people on the way. It is, for example, a challenge to find the train station at the Stansted airport. The signs are misleading and the personal send me off in all kind of directions. Also, it is utmost useful to have maps of the subway or bus system. They are even available for your iPod.

Schedules – The schedules of trains, trams and busses are available on the web. It saves much time to already know when they leave and you have the chance to catch an earlier train or bus. Make sure that you also know on what platform or terminal you need to be (see maps).

Passport – Needless to say that you need to have your passport that is valid for at least another six months. Check several weeks before your departure so that you can get a new one in time if necessary.

Visa – Yes, we still need them – sometimes. Take into account that certain embassies require many documents and plenty of time to grant you a visa. Webguides for the European countries are available.

Tickets – This might be obvious, but check if you have an electronic ticket or if you need to pick it up somewhere. The travel agencies are not always explicit on this issue.

Ticket and Passport holder – You will have to show your ticket, boarding pass and passport several times during your walk to the plane. This holder keeps them neatly together and you can even keep you frequent flyer card in it. You should keep the boarding passes anyway so that you can claim mileage in case your airline “forgot” to credit them on your frequent flyer account.

Passport holder

Wallet – A wallet with multiple sections for coins and bills help you to keep your currencies separated.

Cash – In some countries cash is still the preferred payment method and hence not many cash dispensers are available. These few might then only accept domestic cards. You should have enough cash with you to survive the first couple of days before you located an ATM that accepts your cards. My local bank usually has to order foreign currencies, which takes several days, but at most airports you can exchange larger amounts. Make sure that you get small bills, since big bills are not always accepted. Taxi drivers, for example, often refuse large bills.

Book – During landing and take off you are not allowed to use any electronic devices. A good old book is the only way to keep you entertained during these periods. I prefer an easy read over Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason”.

Laptop – Besides presenting your slides, your laptop is the ideal companion to survive boring flights and presentations, in particular if you have wireless internet access. I am writing this paragraph while sitting in a presentation of a Korean student that barely speaks English. See my point? It also makes you look busy sitting in the corridors hacking on your keyboard, while you are actually waiting for some friends to show up.

Airplaine power adapter – Even in economy class some airlines now provide power in the seats following the EmPower standard. You will need an adapter to be able to charge your laptop, iPod or PDA.

iPod – Music makes the whole trip more pleasurable and listening to your iPod it also prevents your seat neighbor to start a conversation with you.

Headphone – Airplanes are noisy environments and several noise shielding and canceling headphone are available by now. You no longer need to blast over the noise; you can listen to even softly playing music.

Earphones

Adapter for headphone – Several airplanes have special sockets for headphones. They have two 3.5 mm sockets and when you plug your headphone into one, you will only receive the right or the left channel. The headphones provide by the airline have these special plug, but their audio quality suck. To be able to listen to movies with your own noise-canceling headphone you need an adapter. This adapter is not easy to find but can be ordered in online stores or bought in bid electronic stores at airports.

Audio adapter

Aspirin – The airplane’s noise, the dry air and the general stress often cause me a headache. An aspirin makes the trip more bearable.

Sleeping pills – With sleeping pills you can get a good sleep in the airplane and you can ease the effect of the jetlag. Being awake at three in the morning is boring and it also ruins your next day. The freely available pills are useless. You need to have prescribed pills from your doctor, but make sure that the pills are not too strong. If you would take a strong pill in the airplane you might still look doped when approaching the immigration officers. This may cause certain “delays”.

Earplugs – To be able to sleep in the airplane you should use noise-reducing earplugs. Most of them work so good that you need to take them out to be able to order your drinks from the flight attendant. Some people even use masks, but I just close my eyes.

Ear plugs

Toothbrush and paste – During a long flight with several meals it just feels good to brush your teeth and freshen up. Toothbrushes and pastes are available in small sizes, so that they only take little space in your luggage. Alternatively you can use a mint, such as Fisherman’s Friend.

Pens – Often you need to fill in immigration forms or customs forms before landing. Take two pens with you since one always breaks. If not, your neighbor will probably need one. Plastic pens are less problematic with metal detectors and other security checks.

Watch – An essential tool, preferably made from plastic so that it does not trigger the metal detectors. It is also nice if your watch has two time zones, so that you can easily estimate what a good time to call your friends at home would be.

Mobile phone – A general commodity, however, Europe, America and in particular Japan have incompatible networks. Only recently mobile phones have become available that work around the globe in all networks. Global providers, such as Vodaphone, even offer global roaming schemes. While it is certainly expensive to make international calls, it is sometimes necessary. Just make sure you switch it off in the airplane.

Comfortable clothes – It does not take a genius to be uncomfortable. Traveling is not about winning a beauty competition. Relax. Use comfortable clothes with no metal so that you do not trigger the metal detectors. Also, a sweater with a zipper is ideal to adapt to the local climates. Air-conditioned airports, steaming buses and planes at 10.000 meter altitude require different clothing.

Frequent flyer cards – Join the frequent flyer programs and you get a flight for free. Someday.

Water bottle – Airplanes have very dry air since there is not much water left in the atmosphere at 10.000 m altitude. It is essential to drink plenty of water and you do not want to wait until the flight attendant comes around. This way, you can also take your aspirin whenever it becomes necessary.

Check-in luggage

Power plug adapter – Different countries use different plugs and voltages. While cheap plug adaptors are available at every airport, it remains a bit more difficult to change the voltage. However, most laptops and mobile devices accept 220V and 110V, so take a close look the their specification.

Network cable – Many hotels and conferences offer internet access, but not all use wireless connections and not all offer the otherwise necessarily Ethernet cable. Take a short cable with you, just in case.

Swimsuit and goggles – Some hotels and universities have sport facilities and it is rather relaxing to have a good swim or any other exercise you may prefer.

Alarm clock – Your mobile phone or watch might already feature an alarm clock. If not, take one with you. Not every hotel has an alarm clock and not all wake up call services are reliable. You really do not want to miss your flight.

Chargers – All your mobile electric devices need to be charged. Make sure that you take the chargers!

Apple display adapter – This may not apply to PC laptops, but Apple uses adapters to connect to the VGA ports of projectors. Newer Mac Laptops feature DVI outputs, but most projectors still only accept analog VGA input. I forgot my adapter several times and had great trouble to bring my presentation to the projector. iBook G4 to VGA or 12″ PowerBook G4 mini DVI to VGA

Business cards – Utmost important, in particular when attending conferences in Asia.

Digital camera – Not just to gather evidence of your drunken colleagues that you can use later to blackmail them to accept your submissions, but also to take pictures of the sometimes beautiful conference sites.

USB stick – A true life savor to quickly exchange files across computers with different operating systems. In particular if you forgot to bring your Apple display adaptor and need to resort to a PC to show your slides.

Card reader – You may also want to have the digital pictures your colleagues took of you.

Travel guides – Knowing what to see where is the start of your sight seeing trips. The Lonely Planet series has a good reputation. It is also useful if you travel guide includes list of common words in phrases in the local language. I also found the Point It book particularly useful since a picture can be worth a thousand words.

Cloths – Obvious, but get information on the local climate to pick the right ones. For the flight it is recommendable to wear a sweater with a zipper and a hood. It allows you to quickly adjust to the change of temperatures in the airport, in mid‑air and on the ground.

Toiletries – Take small sizes with you that do not easily open. A shampoo swimming pool in your bag is not much fun. For shaving cream and deodorant, plastic bottles are better than metal ones, since they do not oxidize, are lighter and are not pressurized.

Glasses and contact lenses – For a blindfish like me, my glasses are of essence to any endeavor. But glasses can break and contact lenses get easily lost, so take spare ones with you. Sunglasses might also be useful in certain locations.

International driving license – If you want to drive any car you need a valid liscence. Some countries insist on an international license.

Cards – We are living in a plastic world. Take you discount cards, insurance cards and membership cards with you. Limit yourself to the ones you really need.

Envelope – My university loves receipts and I collect them in a paper envelope. My wallet appreciates it.

Surviving the flight

I know that everybody already told you to be at the airport early, but I can truly confirm the standard advice. Roads can be blocked, trains late and subways closed. It has also already happened that flights were suddenly scheduled to departure earlier than originally indicated. Being in a rush always makes a trip unpleasant and you are more likely to make bad decisions when being under pressure. Leave early and relax! You especially do not need to rush at the gate itself. You do already have a specific seat and when you followed the advice above you do not require additional storage space.

When you arrive early at the airport you can also have a good meal before the departure. The organic materials served in the airplanes do contain calories, but it often does not deserve the name food. Airports offer a wide range of restaurants and you will be able to skip the first in‑flight serving. You should also drink a lot of liquids in the airplane to avoid dehydration and headaches. Alcohol is not recommended and neither is tea or coffee, since it increases the need to visit the bathroom frequently.

But since you have been early at the airport anyway you also have the chance to get an aisle seat. From there you can easily walk to the toilet without bothering anybody else. The best seats are in the middle column of seats that allow your neighbors to exit on the other side in case you should be asleep. It is wise to visit the toilet before you are being served “meals”. You will be stuck behind your tray for some time and afterwards everybody will want to go.

Space is very limited in the economy class. Your seat will have a pocket with many booklets and advertisments in it. Have a short look at the movie list and then put all that crap in the overhead compartment. You can then use it to store your own stuff.

All of these tips are of course only valuable if you are actually in your flight. Airlines overbook their flights on a daily basis. Even if you arrive at the gate in time they might still not allow you in. They must offer compensation and it is important that you insist on a cash refund. Experience has shown that airlines are quickly to forget about these incidents and their telephone support centers are, well, telephone support centers. Every time you call you get another person and all the information you gave them is lost. Even if you get into the flight you must keep your boarding passes in case they forgot to credit your frequent flyer account.

Surviving the conference

Not every presentation is interesting and there are two strategies to deal with it. You can sit in the very back of the room right next to the aisle, so that you can quietly disappear if necessary. Alternatively, you can bring your laptop and work or entertain yourself. For this strategy to work you should acquire a seat close to a power socket so that you do not run out of battery power.

You also need to be careful when asking questions. Japanese avoid open confrontation and sometimes have a limited understanding of English. Asking them a critical question might only result in an embarrassing confusion instead of a vivid discourse. Other speakers have a tendency to answer your questions with a monologue that continues until you give up. This is not much fun either. In any case, it is good practice to mention your name and affiliate before stating your question or concern so that the poor speaker at least knows what hit him/her.

All the talking and discussing results in considerable hunger and therefore the conference banquets are quickly emptied. Even more so, if free alcohol is offered. Be early to have at least a chance to grab some calories.

Check List

Hand luggage Check-in luggage
Maps Power plug adapter
Schedules Network cable
Passport Swimsuit and goggles
Visa Alarm clock
Tickets Chargers
Ticket and Passport holder Display adapter
Wallet Laptop
Cash Business cards
Book Digital camera
iPod Card reader
Headphone USB stick
Adapter for headphone Travel guides
Aspirin Cloths
Sleeping pills Toiletries
Earplugs Glasses and contact lenses
Toothbrush and paste International driving license
Pens Cards
Watch Envelope
Mobile phone  
Comfortable clothes  
Frequent flyer cards  
Water bottle  

Godspeed to all of you!