I’ve had many posts I’ve been wanting to write, but I haven’t because I want to put so much into them. I’m taking a different approach now. I think it’s better for me to just write down a little bit to get it “out there”.  I can always go back and add more later. So, let’s get started…

The Vienna airport in Austria is quite good great!

It may not have butterfly gardens or koi ponds like Singapore (I may post more about this later), but there is one thing it does have: convenience for tech travelers.

It is the first airport I have been in that had dedicated desks for laptops without being inside an airline lounge.

Also, they have comfortable “beds” so you can actually have a nap without shoving some chairs together like a homeless person.

Finally, their WiFi is fast and to the point! You log in and it immediately takes you to a page that shows the the status of flights in order of take-off time (ascending).

Thanks for being Awesome, Austria!

airport_beds airport_desks austria wifi portal

I’ve often had an internal complaint about modern-day big cities. I see all the issues with them (high cost of living, unemployment, underdeveloped infrastructure, etc.) as entirely man-made. There was a time when location was critical to a business and there was no option but to crowd. For example, if you are moving large quantities of material it is beneficial to be close to a body of water for cheap transportation. If you sell lumber, then being close to a large forest where you can cut wood is also imperative.

Let’s take a look at the tech hub San Francisco. There is almost no reliance on the natural resources of the area. All of the desire to move there is intellectual rather than physical.

It wasn’t until I was working on a project budget that I understood a big advantage to a big city. If I have a small project, I cannot afford to have specialists in each discipline full-time. Furthermore, I must pay a premium to have those specialists support less than full-time. How does this translate to a big city? Food!

I love 拉面 or “la mian” – hand pulled noodles which are very common in China. In the US, I am a minority for this. I cannot personally fund a noodle shop with just my love for noodles. So, what happens if there are millions of people around me? All of the individual desires add up so we can have la mian, dim sum, shawarma, crepes, sushi, and so on. So, based on how hungry I am, I am more understanding of big cities now…

 

Derek making La Mian

Derek making La Mian

Where to go?

 

As I’ve traveled, I’ve noticed a few things that make me realize my love for travel.

Ask yourself these questions. Depending on the answers, you may be afflicted with wanderlust.

My friends are encouraged to add to this list 🙂

  1. Do you know where your passport is?
    • Is it in your backpack?
      • Is your backpack within 10 feet of you?
    • Do you know the numbers by heart so you don’t have to get it every time?
  2. Do you have an international phone?
    • Do you have an international SIM card?
      • Do you put the country code on all your contacts?
  3. Do you catch yourself randomly checking travel websites for good deals?
    • Do you set alerts?
  4. Do you reserve time off work without a destination in mind?
  5. Have you ever booked a hotel while sitting in the airport?
    • Have you ever booked a hotel while sitting on the plane?
      • Have you ever booked your return flight while in the airport or plane?
  6. Do you have a universal power adapter in your backpack, just in case?
  7. Do you have multiple time zones set on your phone / watch?
    • Do you know the time zone offsets by heart?
      • Do you relate most things to UTC time?

 

To say I’ve been busy would be an understatement.

Many things have changed for me in the last few months – but one has not: I still have the travel bug.

I’ve been incredibly busy on a project here in Israel, and I’ve managed to see many things on the weekends.

However, I wanted to get out to a few more countries while I”m here!

I finally booked a flight to Croatia. A hotel / car-rental booking soon followed. All of this is on my new Chase Sapphire card, of course. I’ll report how well the points / features work in other posts.

I’ve also updated my Couch Surfing profile and reached out to see if someone would like to host me or show me around.

  • Flight cancellation / change is covered by Chase Sapphire Card
  • Car Rental can be cancelled within 24 hours, and insurance is provided by Chase Sapphire Card.
  • Hotel can be cancelled within 24 hours.

So – this trip is booked and planned (for under $800), but could be cancelled with very low risk or costs!

This may seem like a bit of an advertisement for the Chase card – and it sort of is. That’s partially because I’m pretty upset with their competitor (Barclaycard) for some shady dealings they put me through.

But really, this post is a hint that there will be more posts soon.

Walking in to Petra with Blue Sky

I took a tour to Jordan while in Israel and I wanted to take some time to “give back” to the wonderful Jordanians by telling others about it.

First, I’ll give the short version for those who want just the details, and then I’ll give the long version.

  • I toured with Desert Eco Tours, and they were AMAZING.
    • If you don’t leave from Eilat, you can also talk directly to Jordan Experience which is their Jordanian counterpart.
  • I drove to Eilat from Ashkelon, which took about 3 hours.
  • I stayed in the Blue Hotel for about $60. It was a nice hotel with an OK breakfast, and OK WiFi.
  • Desert Eco Tours picked me up at 7:05 AM the next day and drove me to the border.
  • At the border, we were the first in line. There was an Eco Tours person there to help us through the process
  • We walked through the border and got on a tour bus.
  • The tour bus drove us by Aqaba and the guide gave us some interesting information about Aqaba, and Jordan overall.
  • It took about 2.5 – 3 hours to get to Petra – we arrived a bit before 1 PM.
    • This is partially because they are great about making stops for pictures and bathroom breaks
    • This is also partially because one of the other members of the tour had passport issues at the border and we had to wait for them
  • If you are on the 1 day tour, you need to leave Petra at 3:30 PM and you don’t get lunch until then.
  • If you are on the 2 day tour, you need to leave Petra around 4:30 PM and you get lunch in Petra at about 2:30 PM.
  • We did the 2 day tour, so we walked to the Jordan Experience office from Petra at about 4:30 PM. It was about 500 meters away.
  • They arranged a Taxi to our hotel and checked us in.
  • We walked around the town at night and enjoyed the food and WiFi at the hotel. Dinner was quite good, and the service was excellent.
  • The driver for Wadi Rum arrived at the hotel at 8:30 AM
  • We left for Wadi Rum and arrived at about 11 AM.
  • We took a break at the Visitor’s Center and then continued
  • We arrived at a Bedouin camp at 12 PM and enjoyed some of their tea
  • We drove around stopping at various sites, took many pictures, and enjoyed the stories from our Bedouin guide.
  • At 1 PM we arrived at another camp where our Bedouin guides prepared lunch. We ate at 2 PM. The food was awesome.
  • We drove around more, took more pictures, and enjoyed more of our guide’s humor.
  • We left Wadi Rum and drove for about 90 minutes to the Israel border, arriving at 4:40 PM.
  • We crossed the border, and were greeted by Eco Tours staff and a Taxi.
  • We were back at our hotel by 5:30 PM
    • This was despite the hard time Israeli customs gave us
  • We left for Ashkelon and arrived at 9:00 PM.
  • I would highly recommend this to anyone!

Jordan – The long version

No, not a person – the country.

What comes to mind? Something like this perhaps?
desert plant

Yes, Jordan is mostly desert – but it’s not all spiky and ugly.

I was a bit nervous about traveling to Jordan while I was visiting Israel. I think we have The Media to thank for that. My advice regarding to travel to any country is that you must talk to locals, or people who have traveled there for true information.

My advice? You should absolutely go to Jordan. If you are in Israel, going via Eilat is a great way. If you hook up with Desert Eco Tours (Eco for short), they have the entire thing planned out for you. All you need to do is get to Eilat and enjoy the wonderful nightlife for an evening.

eilat at night 1  eilat at night 2eilat at night 3 eilat at night 4 eilat at night 5

You have to buy your hotel the night before, but this gives you the ability to save some money, or enjoy a very nice room.

In the morning, Eco picks you up and takes you to the border. They have someone there waiting to help you through the process. On the other side, they have another ride waiting for you.

You get to enjoy a little scenic drive through Aqaba and then on to Petra. They provide water, and plenty of rest stops. I was quite surprised at how accommodating they were by making stops for pictures, bathrooms and snacks. You’ll drive by some pretty striped mountains, and stop at a rest stop with a great panoramic view:

striped mountains

pre petra panoramic

The drive to Petra is a few hours, and then a brief stop at the Jordan Experience (Eco’s partner in Jordan). If you are staying overnight, they give you the opportunity to leave your stuff in their office. Petra is just a few hundred meters from their office.

When you enter Petra, you will be greeted by a few shops. Shortly after, you will be greeted by a plethora of children offering to sell you post cards, and other trinkets. The rules here are the same as traveling in any other country, so be wary.

Our tour guide did a great job pointing out things in Petra and explaining the archaeological significance of many of the carvings.

After a while, you arrive at the image that everyone knows: The Treasury.

derek at petra treasury

After this, you will continue walking and realize that Petra is GIGANTIC. There is NO WAY you can see it all in one day, or even a week. This panorama gives a slight idea of the size of it.

petra panoramic

There’s not much point in me posting the pictures I have, because it doesn’t scratch the surface of what is there.

When you reach the end of the tourist area there are some buildings. One of which is the place with the lunch included in the tour. It is served buffet style, and it is quite good. I had meatballs, falafel, spicy couscous, and many more things. Don’t forget to try the dessert!

petra lunch

After this, we walked back to the Jordan Experience office, taking pictures as we went through Petra. They got us a Taxi to our hotel and checked us in. We decided to walk back down to the tourist area for some of the shops and a pub we passed. Unfortunately, the pub only served one kind of Jordanian beer. I decided to go a few shops down and try a local dish: Makloubeh.

Makloubeh

Next, we went back to the hotel and I tried the food there too. The food was very impressive for a hotel in a foreign country. It far exceeded my expectations, especially considering it was included in the price of the tour. The hospitality of the staff at the hotel rivals the best of any country I’ve been to.

The next morning, our Bedouin driver arrived at 8:30 AM to take us to Wadi Rum. Words and pictures cannot describe the beauty of this place or what an experience it was to hear about life from a Bedouin man.

There are endless beautiful rock formations and mountains. Every turn produces another unique and awe-inspiring monolith.

derek at wadi rum 1

wadi rum visitor center panorama

We saw countless sites, enjoyed some off-road 4×4 in the desert, met Bedouins in their camps, and enjoyed a lunch hand-prepared by our Bedouin guides. The food was delicious and fresh.

bedouin lunch

After lunch, we saw a few more sites and then went back to Aqaba.

We said goodbye to our guide and went through customs. From here, a taxi took us back to our hotel and we drove back to Ashkelon.

derek and muhammad

It was an amazing trip that I find myself struggling to write more about because there is just so much to say.

In short, you have to go experience it.

I needed another linux server …

I needed to test some new hardware to stay up to date …

I wanted to play with a new toy and I may be traveling soon, so it has to be compact. I decided on the Intel® NUC Kit D54250WYKH and ordered the parts off Newegg (instead of Amazon because Newegg was $50 less due to taxes).

First off, Kudos to Intel on the unboxing experience:

Now I have a compact, i5 based machine with an SSD and 16 GB of RAM. I’ve used VirtualBox in the past and recently I’ve been playing with clouds like Azure and EC2. So, why not make my own little cloud with this shiny new box? This way I don’t have to worry about shutting down my virtualized servers when I want to run to a coffee shop with my laptop.

I wanted to expand my knowledge on the topic, so I looked into some more heavy-duty Hypervisors like: Xen, ESXi, and Hyper-V. It was a long weekend with lots of pain, tweaking, and it resulted in some realizations.

The two criteria that ultimately made the decision were: I need to be mobile and may have to rely on wireless, and I’d also like to use this box as an HTPC to play the occasional movie on my TV.

Xen

I’ve left this purposely vague, because it requires a bit of explanation. In short, Xen is still going through some changes involving Citrix’s proprietary version (XenServer), XenServer.Org, XenProject, and XAPI. The short of it is that Citrix’s XenServer has a great GUI management tool (XenCenter). I was really hoping for a GUI since this is just for my home lab.

Here’s the problem: I need to be mobile and may need to rely on wireless. The version of Linux used by Citrix’s XenServer uses a kernel that is too old to support my wireless card. I was able to install the XenProject’s version of XenServer on a newer Linux distro, but this doesn’t have a GUI management interface by default. On top of this, there is currently some shifting going on between the tool stacks used to admin Xen through the command line.

This only covers the wireless part, now what about connecting to a TV? Xen actually seems to have good support for this type of pass-through, but I wasn’t able to get this far. Long story short, Xen left me feeling like I was in a store that was doing some serious remodeling.

Hyper-V

I started out with Hyper-V Server which is a stripped down version of Windows Server running only Hyper-V. The issue with Hyper-V is that it doesn’t come with a GUI to administer it on the server itself; you have to connect remotely. What’s more, it doesn’t have any wireless capabilities built in. I can attest that installing drivers and the wireless services in the Server Core environment is no picnic, but it is doable. Next, it turns out that remotely controlling Hyper-V (pretty much) requires a Domain to be set up. Again, this is getting beyond the complexity of what I want for an initial home lab. I tried Windows Server 2012 + Hyper-V and the results were about the same

Though, I am happy to report that Hyper-V Server took under 500 MB of RAM and had little CPU overhead. The Windows Server 2012 + Hyper-V had similar requirements, which I was pleasantly surprised by.

The Choice

The weekend was nearing the end, and even though I knew after Xen that I would probably not be able to use any of the enterprise-grade Hypervisors for my home lab. On the bright side, I was able to play with an unused box to get a taste for them.

My ultimate decision was that if I wanted to be able to do HTPC and Virtualization with WiFi support, I’d probably be stuck with VMware Workstation or VirtualBox on a Linux host machine. A bit of research showed that both of these products seem to have closed the performance gap when compared to the Type 1 (bare metal) Hypervisors. Furthermore, VirtualBox seems to have closed some of the performance gap with VMware – one article I read showed only a ~10% difference in a few benchmarks.

So, I decided to use VirtualBox for now – and if I really need some extra features and performance I can pay to switch to VMware later.

Remember I said I wanted a nice GUI? Enter phpVirtualBox. This gets me closer to running a headless virtualization server because it’s SUCH a nice web interface.

End Result:

Here’s a screenshot of phpVirtualBox on my NUC with Xubuntu as the host OS, a Windows Server 2012 VM with IIS and an Ubuntu 14 LAMP server. All of that packed into this tiny box, and using less than 4GB of RAM!

NUC Picture

phpVirtualBox

 

I think I’ll be giving Xen another try someday.