November 11, 2006

Commuting from Linz to Salzburg

As we stayed overnight in Linz on the 1st November, which was a holiday here in Austria, it meant I had to commute from Linz to Salzburg on the Thursday morning.

This meant a very early start, with a 6:30am breakfast, and on the train by 7:30. A cold snap had descended on Austria, and when we left the hotel the electronic thermometer nearby was displaying -3C.

The journey to Salzburg takes a little bit over an hour, and as we headed west through Austria it gradually began to get more frosty, and then more frozen, and then positively snowy. In fact, with our sojourn into Linz we had missed Salzburg's first snowfall of the winter :-(

Untersbergfirstsnow We had to hang around a bit at Hauptbahnhoff for the 170 to Neideralm before I could get to work, and I took this picture of the Untersberg on my way into the office that morning.

It was quite a sobering thought that the hotel-to-office commute from Linz of around 2 hours 15 minutes, plus the evening's 5 minute walk home to our guest house, was still less than the time it would sometimes take me to commute door-to-door from east to west London to the BBC!

November 10, 2006

Not getting the Linz City Express

Linzyellowtrain We had planned the finale of our day to be a trip on the Linz City Express or Stadtrundfahrt. This little yellow road-hogging "choo-choo" takes you on a 25 minute tour of the city, which would have taken in all the bits we hadn't got around to seeing.

After a drink at the cafe at the Lentos Kunstmuseum we dashed to Hauptplaz to catch the 17:00 penultimate ride of the day.

Well, it would was the penultimate ride according to our ticket-book, but when we got there the driver was just packing away.

"9:30 tomorrow" he said.

"Oh, but we leave Linz tomorrow", said Claire, with her best doe-eyed face.

127815241_0b7cb3d9cd_mNothing doing. Despite the timetable at the train stand saying that it was due to run at 17:00 and 18:00 - with an additional run at 17:30 if there were too many people - our man was going home.

So the little yellow train pulled away without us.

The irony in all this is that depite the proliferation of this kind of tourist train in Crete, I've yet to manage to get on one this year - not even the one that patrols Hania harbour.

November 09, 2006

Lentos Kunstmuseum in Linz

After the disorientating virtual reality end to our visit to the ARS Electronica Centre in Linz, we headed straight to our next sight-seeing stop, the Lentos Kunstmuseum of modern art. This involved a quick dash across a bridge over the River Danube.


Having visited Vienna, Bratislava, Belgrade and Budapest twice this year, Claire observed that if she hadn't known that it had been around for thousands of years already, she'd swear that the river was following us around Europe.

The Lentos Kunstmuseum is a new building, almost entirely covered in reflective glass with the museum's name etched into it.


And that, of course, meant we had to take the inevitable photo of us reflected in the building. It is shaped like an upside-down U, so you take a picture of your image looking up at the underside of the gallery's second floor.


There was a bit of confusion when we entered the museum. We had our Linz City Ticket, but there didn't seem to be anyone on the cash desk, so we just blundered through. We headed downstairs where a grumpy looking woman on a chair wanted to look at our ticket. An outburst in German followed, that we figured meant we had to go back upstairs to get it stamped or something, so we turned around and headed back up the stairs. Then she shouted a load more at is in German, and pointed into the room next door. We went back down and realised that she meant we had to put our coats and bags in the lockers in the room to the right. With that done, and feeling thoroughly chastised, we went back up to get our tickets stamped.

Then we had to go down and face the old dragon again. She spent ages looking us up and down and inspecting our tickets, and then begrudgingly waved us through. Into a room that seemed entirely filled with small geometric shapes made out of polystyrene in glass cases. We only just managed not to collapse with the giggles, having gone through such a rigmarole to get into the exhibition. In seriousness they were studies for building 3D models of futuristic cities, but we were in danger of losing control.

We got the lift to the top floor to look at the main collection, mostly so we could avoid having to walk past the dragon again. I have to say that on the whole I was quite unimpressed. They had defined "modern" art quite broadly, and so the small permanent collection housed a lot of 18th century portraits that I personally wouldn't really associate with "modern art". The collection was also devoid of any major works ro even minor works by major artists.

We did like one of the temporary exhibitions though - a collection of work by Johanna and Helmut Kandl. The material on display included some video clips and physical objects, but chiefly centred around some almost photo-realistic scenes of poverty and despair in the former Communist states of Eastern Europe, marked up with the kind of slogans you see on office "motivational" posters.


We stopped at the cafe/wine bar in the gallery to have a drink before making our way to the grand finale of our day - the Linz City Express.

November 08, 2006

Visiting the ARS Electronica Centre in Linz

Linzars1 After our uninspiring visit to Linz's Grottenbahn we got the Pöstlingbergbahn back down to the city, and then made our way to the ARS Electronica Centre. Billed as a "Museum of the Future", the exhibits consisted of prototypes of various different computer based technologies.

The museum was very interactive, and one of the first things you could do was talk into a microphone, and watch an avatar on a giant screen mimic your words and facial expressions in real time.

The first floor we really explored had a really attentive museum guide called Krystina who explained and heped us with all the attractions.

Linzars2Claire tells me she was more than a little attractive herself, but surrounded by so much hi-tech computer gear I didn't notice. They had robot arms operating on a pneumatic principle, an Eye-Toy style video game involving strawberries and spiders that Claire played, and a fantastic drum rig where the rhythms you played were represented on screen by crazy robots hitting futuristic percussion instruments in real-time.

They also had a cube of silicon gel with air vents, where you could use a computer to schedule the release of the bubbles in order to make 3D shapes.


On other floors the guides were not so attentive, so there were a lot of things we didn't quite get the point of or understand. There was a glass table which had projections of snow and ice onto it, and when you touched the table it made the image crack, and you could also feel different temperatures generated on the glass where you touched it. But we didn't know why.

There was also an interactive game where you ran around shapes projected onto the floor, but frankly we didn't really get it, and were shamed when a 10 year old jumped onto the play area after us and showed us how it should be done.


When we entered the ARS Electronica Centre our tickets were stamped with a time to experience something in The Cave. We got there for our appointed time, and found a whole floor devoted to virtual reality.

It was very clever, and all of the exhibits worked together. There was a big screen, and that displayed what was going on in the virtual world. The position of the objects and the camera were represented with cubes with barcodes on a table, and each of those was defined by another exhibit on the floor, where people could construct virtual shapes, or record video of themselves to be placed into the scene.

The main attraction though was the Cave itself. At the appointed time around 14 of us went into the room, put on our polarised glasses, and entered a 3m x 3m virtual reality cube.

The demonstrator then took us through a couple of worlds.

One consisted of a 3D environment constructed out of children's drawings - and it could be interacted with so that disturbing a yellow crayoned beehive caused a swarm of badly drawn bees to chase us around for the rest of the demonstration.

On a technical aside when the ARS Electronica Centre first built the unit it had to run off an expensive dedicated graphics rendering mainframe, but now they can run it off of 4 PCs in parallel runing Linux.

On a practical aside, they have called the system ARSBOX, and they really should have asked a native English speaker about that name before designing a logo and implementing it.

For the next part of the demo we visited a virtual perfect renaissance city, which started with the baptistry and cathedral in Flornece, and went on to Da Vinci's Last Supper in Milan. Here we were able to walk into the painting, and move around the table whilst the characters in the scene were rendered as 3D wireframes.

It was just about this point that I felt really travel sick, had to take the glasses off and have a sit down. Whislt I was impressed with the speed of the rendering of the images, the effect was like being trapped in a 3D version of an early PS1 game. When things got close they were heavily pixellated, and the movement really lurched from side to side. Because you yourself weren't moving but everything in your field of vision was, it was really, really disorientating.

Claire wasn't also feeling great, so for the last part of the demo some people spent their time whizzing through 3D tunnels as part of a virtual ant colony, and we both looked at the floor and hoped it would finish soon.

When it did we were both feeling a bit shaken up, and so I suggested we go and get a drink and have a sit down in the cafe. Feeling a bit unsteady we decided to get the lift up to the 3rd floor cafe rather than walk up.

Imagine then our horror as we got in the lift, already feeling travel sick and wobbly after the virtual reality experience, when the Star Trek door closing noise happened, the floor lit up as a video screen, and our ascent through the building was accompanied by the ground beneath our feet turning into a video of an aerial view Linz rushing away from us as if we were in a rocket speeding away from earth...

A lemon tree of our own

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