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June 23, 2013

Filed under: review,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 23:07

My wife and I have spent the past several days in Belgium and the trip has been outstanding. After some work in Brussels, we made our way to Brugge by train. We had never been to Brugge before and we’re impressed. The architecture, canals, and overall “feel” of the place is like no other we’ve experienced. It is absolutely charming and picturesque almost everywhere you look.

Waffles: Restaurants in the U.S. often refer to breakfast waffles as “Belgian waffles,” but they’re only vaguely similar. Real Belgian waffles are sold in many areas as snacks and they’re outstanding. They can be loaded with chocolate, fruit, whipped cream, and other toppings, but I like them plain. It’s a good thing they don’t offer these treats in the U.S. because I’d weigh a lot more.

Chocolate: Belgium is also known for its fine chocolate and it does not get much better. We sampled some last night and again today and the stuff is mouth-watering delicious. You can easily get it in the U.S., but it’s at nearly every street corner in Brussels and Brugge where tourists are found. If we stayed much longer, I’d gain even more weight because Belgian chocolate is that good.

Beer: At a tour of a brewery yesterday afternoon, we were told that 2,500 different beers are available in Belgium. That’s a lot of variety for a relatively small country. Wikipedia says the country has about 178 breweries, so maybe our tour guide exaggerated a bit. Regardless, it’s not difficult to find a good Belgian beer here. We found that Belgians have a beer or two at lunch, in the afternoon, and in the evening. Some will even drink beer in the morning—probably because it tastes so good.

If you haven’t spent time in Belgium, you should. We could have easily taken time to visit nearby France, Germany or the Netherlands, but we chose to relax and get to know the lifestyle of our Belgium friends. The waffles, chocolate, and beer made it all the better. Soon, we will be returning home and we’ll miss the many pleasures that this beautiful country and its people have to offer.

Urbanization of China

April 1, 2013

Filed under: future,life,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 15:15

I spent three days in China last week and it was one of the most interesting trips in a long time. It was my fifth visit to the country, and I found that change continues in a big way. I spent time in Hefei, Anqing, and Huaining—all in the Anhui Province, home to 67 million people. The three cities are relatively close to one another and located about 500 km (310 miles) west of Shanghai. Hefei to Shanghai is one hour by jet, three hours by high-speed train, and five hours by car.

Hefei has a population of more than 7.5 million and is the capital of the Anhui Province. About 500 million people live within a 500-km radius of Hefei, and the area represents 48% of China’s gross domestic product, so it is a very important region to the country. Hefei’s 2012 GDP was RMB 416 billion ($67.1 billion), which is a 13.6% increase over 2011. A new international airport, with non-stop service to New York and Frankfurt, will open near Hefei at the end of May.

I was especially impressed by the construction of high rise apartment complexes. Clusters of 20 or more buildings are going up about everywhere you look. I doubt more than five minutes passed between seeing a new group of them when traveling by train from Hefei to Shanghai. The expansion is nothing short of astounding.

Urbanization is occurring at a rapid pace. At the end of last year, 52.6% of China’s people lived in urban areas, up from 26% in 1990, according to Wikipedia. A Chinese government official told me that about 10% of the entire population of China (135 million) would move from rural areas to urban communities over the next several years.

China’s success in manufacturing has created tremendous wealth in the country and this has led to much of the development in real estate. When I visited Beijing in 1998, the streets were filled with bicycles. Now, they are filled with trucks and cars, including many expensive European brands. You will see some bikes and three-wheel vehicles, still without lights or reflectors at night, but they are disappearing. Meanwhile, clusters of high rises are covering the landscape and I’ve not seen development like it anywhere else.


November 13, 2011

Filed under: review,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 10:27

My wife, Diane, and I visited this beautiful country in late September and early October. I had visited four times before, but had seen little of the country until this trip. We spent four nights in Leiria, a historic city located about 150 km (93 miles) north of Lisbon. Leiria is home to Polytechnic Institute of Leiria, the organizer of the very successful VRAP 2011 conference on additive manufacturing that I attended. Leiria features the well-preserved Leiria Castle at the highest point of the city and welcoming pedestrian areas near the city center. Fátima, an important religious site, is a short distance away. Leiria is near the heart of Portugal’s vibrant mold-making industry.

Upon our departure from Leiria, we picked up a rental car and headed to Obidos, a small medieval town surrounded by an impressive fortified wall. I had ridden past Obidos several times when going from Lisbon to Leiria. Locals and others said that we should definitely visit and I’m glad we did. We pulled into Obidos at around dinner time and walked the cobblestone streets and walkways through this intriguing place. The following day’s blue skies made it perfect for walking the wall and seeing the buildings, many of which were constructed in the 12th century. The small streets were lined with shops and small restaurants, but the merchants have done well to keep the feel of commercialism to a minimum. With more cork harvested in Portugal than anywhere else, many products made from cork were available for sale. Obidos was a wonderful place to visit and we now know why people have raved about it. We wish we could have stayed longer.

Our next stop was Nazaré, a coastal town of 15,000 people north of Obidos. The main attraction for us was the cliff overlooking the town, beach, and sea. The sights from Sitio, which means an old town on top of a cliff, were spectacular. All of the white buildings with orange tiles roofs were something special to see. Sitio had many shops with hand-crafted products, such as wood boats and automobiles. I purchased two skillfully-made cars and one truck, each about 28 cm (11 inches) in length, for about 12 euros each, as gifts to bring home. We were in Nazaré for only a few hours, barely enough time to see and do what we wanted.

The next and final destination was Porto, also known as Oporto, which is known for its port wine. Porto is one of Europe’s oldest cities, dating back to the 4th century, and for Diane and me, one of the most interesting. The large Douro River runs through the city center, with beautiful architecture and buildings lining the banks and hillsides. We found that views from the Luís I Iron Bridge, located near the city center, were exceptional. One of the highlights was a boat trip down the Douro River. We took a train upstream into the wine region where we boarded a boat that offered fine dining and excellent views of the vineyards. We experienced two major river locks, one said to the tallest in Europe at 35 m (114 ft), at the Carrapatelo dam. The all-day trip was relaxing and definitely worthwhile.

The trip to Portugal could not have gone much better. Our Portuguese friends are wonderful people and gave us good advice on interesting sites to visit. The history, architecture, landscape, wine country (and wine), beaches, and the people make Portugal a great place to visit. We recommend it highly. Click here to see 11 images from the trip.

Melbourne, Australia

June 13, 2011

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,event,review,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 04:23

The purpose of my recent six-day visit to Melbourne was business, but I had some free time to explore the city. I was there a year ago, but the stay was too short, making it impossible to see as much as I had hoped. Sydney has long ranked as my favorite Australian city, but Melbourne is now a strong contender for the top spot. The place offers a wide spectrum of restaurants, shops, night life, entertainment, history, and architecture that had me wanting more.

What struck me the most about the city was its energy and vibrance. By mid afternoon on most days, the city would come alive with people of all ages. Street entertainers, some that are very good, made my walks from place to place amusing. Last Saturday, for example, I watched a young guy (maybe 12) and his little sister draw a crowd of hundreds. He played a keyboard and sang impressively with the support of a sound system not typical of entertainers in pedestrian areas.

I found Asian and Greek restaurants to be plentiful and some superb. My favorite was Stalactites (the souvlaki is excellent) where a queue outside developed early. I also visited the Victorian Market more than once. I found it to be excellent for buying gifts to bring home to family and friends. The weak US$ makes prices in Australia very high for Americans, but the Victorian Market offered some good bargains.

I also visited RMIT University, which is spread across parts of the city. The university launched its impressive Advanced Manufacturing Precinct (AMP) last Tuesday, which I had the privilege of attending. This $15 million facility is equipped with some of the finest CAD/CAE, additive manufacturing, and CNC equipment that money can buy. More than 3,000 square meters (32,292 square feet) of space is spread across four floors in this beautifully renovated building.

During my stay, I had the privilege of participating in the first Pacific Additive Manufacturing Forum (PAMF) in Melbourne, which coincided with the opening of AMP. PAMF was organized by Dr. Milan Brandt of RMIT University with support from many organizations including CSIRO, the Defense Materials Technology Centre (DMTC), Enterprise Connect, and Formero. PAMF events were also organized for Adelaide, Sydney, and Brisbane.

If you visit this fine country, Melbourne should be on your list. There’s so much to see and do and the place becomes electric as the day progresses. If design and manufacturing technology is your thing, a stop to RMIT’s new AMP building is a must. You will not be disappointed.


April 15, 2011

Filed under: life,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 11:42

I’ve never had a bad experience in Japan. I credit the people and Japanese “system” for this. The people there are very friendly and helpful. Relatively few Japanese speak English well, but they will do all they can to provide assistance. With a very low rate of crime, I always feel safe when visiting the country.

Almost everything in Japan works exceedingly well, from the train system to the doors and faucets in the hotel rooms. My experience has been that Japan has taken perfection to another level. You can precisely set your watch based on the arrival and departure of trains—a major mode of transportation in Tokyo and other part of the country.

I recall a visit to Japan when our group of four forgot to bring some papers to an important meeting. We discovered this on our way there, so we phoned the office from which we departed. A person put the papers in the overhead storage on a particular train. As the train stopped at the station closest to us, one of us jumped onto the train, grabbed the envelope, and jumped off before the train departed. The train system served as a courier service that bailed us out. A paid courier could not have done as well, under the circumstances.

Twenty years ago, many in the West feared Japan as a superpower, especially in manufacturing. Indeed, Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, Mitsubishi, Honda, Subaru, and others are some of the most respected brands. It turns out, however, that Japan was not the country to fear.

My heart goes out to the people of Japan. The country is encountering a very difficult time, especially the region north of Tokyo that was overwhelmed by the recent earthquake and tsunami. Please do what you can to help because they really are among the best people in the world. They are our friends and allies.

Heimlich Maneuver in Sydney

March 20, 2011

Filed under: life,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 10:56

The wide body aircraft that I boarded an hour earlier at Sydney Airport returned to the gate after the captain reported a mechanical problem. He had not canceled the flight, but based on his comments and past experience, I was expecting him to make the announcement any minute.

Suddenly, I heard some yelling and commotion directly behind me. It was so abrupt and loud that I immediately jumped out of my isle seat. A rather small woman was trying to do the Heimlich maneuver on a large man. I later found out that it was her husband. She was frantically pleading for help. I had only seen the Heimlich maneuver on television, but I immediately took over. After a half dozen or so lunges, she shouted, “Stop, he’s okay!” Maybe she thought I was doing more harm than good.

While I was doing what I thought resembled the procedure, I was thinking, “What if the guy doesn’t make it? Will they come after me for performing a procedure for which I’m not qualified?” My instincts told me to act and act quickly and not consider such ramifications, although it definitely came to mind. Fortunately, he recovered and sat back down in his seat directly behind mine.

Flight attendants and medical staff rushed to our area of the plane, but it was all over by then. Minutes later, the captain canceled the flight and everyone exited the aircraft. The choking guy, nor his wife, said a single word to me.

Four Years in Hotels

March 6, 2011

Filed under: life,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 15:01

In my previous blog commentary, I answered the most asked question: How did I get started in additive manufacturing more than two decades ago? The second most asked question is: How many days of the year am I away from home?

I take about 18-20 business trips by air per year. In 25 years, that’s approaching 500 trips. In recent years, about one-third of them have been outside the U.S. The domestic trips average two nights, while the international trips average about one week in length. This means I’m away about 60 nights per year. Put another way, I have spent about four years in hotel rooms over the past 25 years.

Some people don’t like to travel. I hear them complaining at airports and on planes, so I’m not sure why they do it. Maybe they have no choice. For me, I enjoy getting out and meeting people and seeing new things. Do I like airports, planes, and hotels? I take a lot of work with me and enjoy catching up on my reading. Often, when traveling, I get into a “zone” where I’m almost oblivious to what’s going on around me.

One of the few negative parts of travel is not getting sufficient rest at night. The day goes so much better when you get a good night’s sleep, although it’s surprising how well the body and mind can function on little or no sleep. Packing is not a favorite part of the trip, nor is catching up after being away. With these exceptions, I look forward to trips, especially when traveling to new and interesting places.

11 Days in Where?

October 3, 2010

Filed under: event,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 15:31

My wife and I arrived with little sleep to meet friends from South Africa and England. We traveled together the next 48 hours to some of the most beautiful sites we had ever seen. The Julian Alps of western Slovenia are as spectacular as mountains can get. When I visited parts of this small, but scenic country two years earlier, I was impressed by the splendor, but there was more. Rivers, stone bridges, quaint villages, lakes, and waterfalls lined the routes we traveled by car and foot.

The natural beauty made an impression. It was the people, however, that made our recent visit complete. This trip confirmed what I learned some time ago: meetings and conferences are about personal interaction. Igor Drstvenšek of the University of Maribor (Maribor, Slovenia) led the organization of iCAT 2010, which set the stage for new business relationships and friendships. The three-day conference, held in Nova Gorica, Slovenia, was about as good as it gets. People from Africa, Asia, the former Eastern and Western Europe, and North America attended.

After five nights in Slovenia, we headed to Pag Island in Croatia along the Adriatic Sea. We stayed with some of the finest people you could meet, with home cooking that would rival the best restaurants anywhere. Better yet, we shared stories and laughs that could only occur with good friends and relatives. It was truly a special time with memories that will last a lifetime. We are grateful to those who made it possible.

We are also thankful to the individual that provided the motivation to visit Novigrad, Croatia. There are two places in Croatia named Novigrad and the one we visited is located about 30 km (19 miles) east of Zadar. This small, sleepy village, nestled along an inlet of the Adriatic Sea, is striking. It’s not a place you would stumble upon and that’s partly what makes it so interesting.

If you have not visited Slovenia or Croatia, add them to your “Bucket List.” They may be considered out of the way to some and it may take extra effort to organize and travel there, but it is absolutely worth it. And, have plenty of storage space on your camera because you’ll be taking scores of pictures. Click here to see 10 of the more than 300 that I shot.

Internet at Hotels

September 17, 2010

Filed under: Internet,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 13:33

For many years, nearly all hotels in the U.S. charged for Internet access. Today, most U.S. hotels provide it at no cost, although some of the most expensive still charge for it. It took time, but I believe most hotel owners finally understood that by offering complimentary Internet access, they could be more competitive—that this perk would help sell their hotel. I also suspect that the revenue generated from charging for Internet access was an insignificant amount of the total revenue generated by the hotel. They likely discovered that once the broadband network was in place, the cost to maintain it was negligible.

What is it going to take for hotels outside the U.S. to figure this out? In Europe, it is not unusual to pay €10 to $20 euros ($13 to $26) per day at a hotel for Internet access. In Australia, expect to pay as much or more. The same is true in Israel. Paying for it is not only expensive, it’s a hassle. You often have to get instructions from the front desk and sometimes the instructions are incorrect, which translates to wasted time. Weary travelers do not want to mess with codes, passwords, and unclear instructions.

I hope that hotels around the world begin to understand what business they are in and that offering free Internet could give them an edge over the competition. Whenever possible, I reserve a hotel room where Internet access is complimentary. Also, I recommend this hotel to others. So, hotel owners and managers: wake up and take note. Giving away Internet access could help make more money for your hotel, not less.

Tel Aviv

July 24, 2010

Filed under: travel — Terry Wohlers @ 13:22

It had been some time since I last visited Israel. A recent visit reminded me of how nice Tel Aviv had become. The beach front is especially appealing, with bustling restaurants and activities for beach goers. The walkway along the coast spans as far as one can see to the north and south. I shot this picture from the Renaissance Hotel where I stayed. The ancient city of Jaffa is shown in the distance in the upper left area of the image. Jaffa was inhabited 7,500 years ago and is believed to be one of the oldest ports in the world. A friend and I followed the richly paved walkway from the hotel to Jaffa.

I arrived mid-afternoon on Wednesday of last week. I quickly checked into the hotel, dropped my bags in the room, and headed to the beach. After a short walk across the fine, white sand, I found myself submerged and relaxing in the warm and clear Mediterranean. I could not think of a better way to spend some time after being on planes and in airports for nearly 20 hours.

Israel offers some of the most interesting history anywhere and it is among the most advanced nations in the world. The Israeli people are highly educated and speak English flawlessly, even the taxi cab drivers. What’s more, Israel has more high tech startup companies than any country in the world, except for the U.S. Also, it has the largest number of NASDAQ-listed companies outside of North America, according to Wikipedia.

I was told that Israel recently set a record for the greatest number of tourists visiting the country. I’m not surprised, given what this small but fascinating country has to offer. I did not visit Jerusalem on this trip, but I have a few times in the past and recommend it highly. Plan to spend a minimum of one day there and hire a guide. They are excellent and well worth the investment. If you’re staying near the beach in Tel Aviv, you can be standing in the Old City of Jerusalem in about an hour. And, it’s like stepping back in time thousands of years. Add Israel to your “Bucket List” if you have not done so already.

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