Tag travel (54)

Boston trip recap and pictures
Mood: productive
Posted on 2013-06-16 15:02:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 1450

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Monday 6/3/2013 8:30 PM
Whew - we arrived Friday but I haven't written anything until now. I do have some reasonable excuses, as you'll see...

On Friday, our flight was scheduled to get in just before midnight, but it was delayed 90 minutes. Luckily it didn't get cancelled, and our car rental place was open 24 hours (unlike some of them) so I didn't stress much. We were on JetBlue so I got to watch some international soccer (Mexico was playing!) and various old sitcoms. We arrived at 1:45 AM to a mostly deserted airport. Got our bags and our car then drove out to the hotel (at least there was no traffic!), arriving at 3 AM.

The next day we hung out with my relatives, and went to the Winchester Town Day. Saw some cool stuff and picked up a cute mariachi penguin. Unfortunately it was in the 90s and most places don't have A/C so it was pretty tiring. Afterwards, we relaxed and cooled off (including a few rounds of bocce!) and then prepared for my Grandma's 90th birthday party. A few other people came over for the party and we had a good time.


Unfortunately I started to feel sick that night - still not sure whether it was a cold or allergies or what, but it knocked me down.

Sunday we headed down to watch a Pawtucket Red Sox game. Minor league baseball is always fun to watch, and there was even a Rice alum (Anthony Rendon, who was called up to the Nationals shortly after the game!) playing for the other team (the Syracuse Chiefs). Rendon had a good game but the Paw Sox one, so hooray all around! Unfortunately after we got back to Winchester I started feeling worse so we said our goodbytes and turned in early.


This morning we drove into Boston, had breakfast, then dropped my sister at the airport. We checked out the MIT Museum which had some interesting exhibits as well as a small but nerdy gift shop - definitely recommended! The afternoon we spent wandering around Harvard Square with my remaining family, then said goodbye and back to the airport to return the rental car. Very happy to be done driving in Boston!


We then slowly made our way to our hotel in town that we'll be staying at the rest of the week. The first leg was on the Silver Line, which starts as a regular bus but then swaps over to being electric-powered. Interestingly, after that it acts like a subway (the stations look like subway stations) except there are no tracks - it just drives. I wondered why cities don't do that normally - surely buses are cheaper than trains, and then you wouldn't have to lay tracks. But I guess trains can be bigger than buses, and you don't have to steer trains...

Sadly, when I was climbing up the stairs of a subway car while carrying my suitcase I fell and banged up my knee. Aside from the embarrassment I think my knee is mostly OK although it still hurts a bit.

Made it to our hotel (the Boston Park Plaza Hotel) which was surprisingly upscale - I felt underdressed which doesn't happen often, and not because I dress well! Wandered around a bit and saw a few places with Marathon bombing memorials - it happened close to our hotel. There have also been a lot of people wearing "Boston Strong" shirts, which makes sense given that the bombing was less than two months ago.


Tuesday 6/4 6 PM
Had a nice time walking most of the Freedom Trail - lots of very old and famous sights! We bought an audio tour which was nice to have. We also stumbled across a "Panera Cares" store where all the food is donation-based. The Freedom Trail was supposed to be 2.5 miles but according to my fitbit we've already walked 7 miles today, and we even bailed a bit early. We did walk around inside a few museums (Old South Meeting House and the Old State House), but yikes. I was impressed that the museums didn't shy away from topics like slavery and free speech - it was less of a hagiography of the Founding Fathers than I expected, and kudos for that.


Tonight we're seeing the Red Sox play at Fenway!

11:30 PM
Red Sox game was a lot of fun! We walked down Yawkey Way, bought a pair of Red Sox socks, and found our seats. The game was "exciting" in the sense of "outcome never seriously being in doubt" as the Red Sox were up 8-0 by the end of the second inning. But there was a high fly ball turned into a double by the Green Monster, a homer run over the Green Monster, David Ortiz managing to hit a triple, and "Sweet Caroline". The Sox won 17-5.


Wednesday 6/5 2:30 PM
We saw the New England Aquarium today, which was fine except most of the penguins were gone due to renovations :-( Both of our feet hurt a bit so we returned to eat lunch at Pret a Manger (delicious!) and rest in the hotel.


8 PM
We hit a lot of short activities this afternoon. First up was the Mary Baker Eddy Library, which was on our list because it contains a three-story stained-glass globe that you walk into (the Mapparium) which was seriously impressive. Mary Baker Eddy (as I learned) was the founder of the Christian Scientist religion, as well as the Christian Science Monitor. The Mapparium was constructed in 1935 and they decided not to update it, so you see all sorts of fun things like "Siam" and "French Indochina". Since you're inside a sphere it's extremely acoustically live. It was awesome!

Next up was Ward's Map Store (sensing a theme?) which had a lot of reproductions of old maps. It was cool to browse around. Then we stopped by a gay bookstore before heading to the Gourmet Dumpling House - there was a 20 minute wait but the dumplings were delicious. Tonight we're relaxing and figuring out what to do on Friday.

Thursday 6/6 10:30 PM
We spent a lot of time at the Boston Museum of Science today. We were planning to come back to the hotel between that and the 4 PM Duck Tour (which left from the museum) but there was so much to see we didn't pull it off. There was a ton of cool stuff to see, even a few good math exhibits! The museum had an odd collection of exhibits: the nanotechnology one was right next to a bunch of old wooden ship models. Anyway, science!


The duck tour was a lot of fun (we "quacked" at random passersby a lot), and although we had walked by a lot of the sights already when we did the Freedom Trail, we did see some new neighborhoods including Beacon Hill, which still has gas streetlamps. Driving into the water and navigating the Charles River was pretty cool.


Afterwards we had dinner and went to see "Shear Madness", where we had a gay old time. (pun intended)

Tomorrow is our last real day here. We had considered taking the commute rrail out to Salem, but it's supposed to be cold and very rainy. I'm also feeling a bit less well than yesterday, so the plan is to just relax. We'll see if we get bored, but I doubt it as I still have plenty of books to read!

Friday 6/7 11:30 PM

It did rain (and was a little chilly although not too bad) so staying in was nice. Did a lot of reading and packed up our stuff. There was a brief moment of excitement when the fire alarm went off - we just made it down to the lobby (from the 12th floor!) before it stopped. (and we saw a fire truck driving away) I went out to an Irish pub to watch the Bruins game - sadly the satellite signal went out after the first period because of the rain. People seemed remarkably indifferent, and the Bruins won and are headed to the Stanley Cup Finals!

We have a bit of an early morning tomorrow, but nothing too terrible. It will be nice to be home!

Saturday 6/8 8 PM
Well, our first flight to Orlando was delayed, and then our second flight was as well - we actually waited on the runway for 30 minutes or so waiting for a storm to pass. But, we got to watch TV (I watched a lot of the Rice baseball game - they were ahead in the 9th but ended up losing :-( ) and were in no particular hurry so it wasn't too bad.

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India trip: all the posts/pictures
Mood: sick
Posted on 2013-02-22 21:25:00
Tags: travel
Words: 19

For your reading/viewing convenience:

India, weekend 1
India, week 1
India, weekend 2
India, week 2 (the final week!)

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India, week 2 (the final week!)
Mood: sick
Posted on 2013-02-22 21:21:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 1064

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Monday 2/11 late evening

Pretty uninteresting day. I got home a bit late and didn't feel like going out, but hopefully I will tomorrow, at least to the park or something. I am planning on meeting people for breakfast at a small café - here's hoping I don't get sick!

Random India topic: (well, random India building topic) The elevators in the NI building are crazy. On one side of the room are two elevators, and on the other side is another one, but they operate independently! So whenever anyone wants to go up, they press "up" on both sides and whichever shows up first they get on, thus guaranteeing that almost half of all elevator stops are wasted. ("almost" because it's possible someone else enters the lobby in between and catches the second one) This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that the "close door" buttons actually work, and work quickly!

(I was told that they operate independently because the one elevator is the service elevator, while the other two are regular ones. But no one seems to treat the service elevator as special in any way...)

It's also possible there's some sort of crazy elevator algorithm going on. This evening as I was leaving, my driver pressed down on both sides. Both "regular" elevators were above us, and proceeded to go all the way down to the ground floor without stopping for us. The service elevator started at the ground floor and eventually made its way up to our floor and picked us up. So...I don't know?

Wednesday 2/13 morning

Not having a good 12 hours or so. Last night I got the inevitable case of traveler's diarrhea (taking meds for it now), and then I tried to download movies for the trip home but I can't because I'm in the wrong country (gonna try on VPN, I guess?). Then this morning I got locked out of my Nokia account, the lights in the bathroom didn't work, forgot my water bottle when I went up to breakfast, had a frustrating conversation with a hotel worker about the bathroom lights, finished my last Kindle book while waiting for the car so I bought a few new ones only to have trouble downloading them (which I did eventually fix), and now my laptop can't get on the WiFi here.

Traveling, especially to a foreign country, requires a lot of patience - you have to be very flexible. Usually I'm good at that, but I think I've used up my patience for the day already and it's only 10:30 AM...



Thursday 2/14 evening

OK, things are better now. Went out to lunch and dinner yesterday with work folks, which was fun, although I think I way overate. (and the antibiotic I'm still on bothers my stomach some) Today I did my last presentation-type thing at work, which went better than I expected. This evening I had the driver drop me off at Bangalore Central, and ate at the food court there. (grilled paneer for dinner and gelato for dessert!) Then I walked home. I think one of the big mistakes I made the first week was not getting out of the hotel more - to be fair, I was worried about traffic, but it's really not that big a deal if you cross at lights and are extremely careful :-)



I also got to play some table tennis today at work (in the table tennis room!) - unsurprisingly I'm pretty rusty, but I had a good time!

Hard to believe tomorrow is my last day here (my flight leaves at 8 AM Saturday morning = getting up super-early :-/ ) - I've gotten to know people here and generally had a good time, despite days like yesterday. It's going to be weird readjusting myself to "normal" life and not having someone drive me around everywhere!

(still irritated I can't rent movies for the plane rides home, though...)

Saturday 2/16 morningish

On my way back to Austin! Got up crazy early, checked out, and rode to the airport. I remember just two weeks ago thinking the drive from the airport to the hotel was crazy. Now I think "Lane markers! Nice!" even if they aren't universally respected. Although I did learn that instead of stopping at a red light, another option is to lay on the horn and just drive through.

At the airport there were two security lines separated by sex - it looks like the women's one (which was empty, incidentally) had more privacy for pat-downs. And I guess it's a good thing, because the metal detector beeped for every single person, so everyone got pat-downs. Did a little duty-free shopping to try to spend my last rupees, and then we boarded where my backpack was inspected again.

Been alternately watching movies and napping - seen "Looper" and "The Candidate" so far, and there's still 6 hours to go! Movie selection is pretty good, and we're flying close to Iran - maybe I should watch "Argo" :-) (Ed: I did, in fact, watch Argo!)

Random bits:
- While we were waiting to board, a British Airways person went around and gave candy to the kids that were around. (I wanted candy!)
- I was served breakfast by a flight attendant named Jean Luc! Awesome.
- When I checked in I was offered an upgrade for the equivalent of $250. I was briefly tempted (it is an 11 hour flight!), but that's still $22/hour, and all I seemed to get was a few extra inches of legroom.



Later

I wandered around Heathrow for a while and had some sort of meal. (I think that was my fourth or fifth of the day...) I was starting to feel kind of crappy near the end of the flight, but getting up and off the plane helped a lot. (I think the smells were getting to me)



I'm on the Chicago flight now, and I hit the seating jackpot - window seat with an empty seat next to me! Really digging the extra legroom. Entertainment system isn't on-demand, but they still have a good selection of movies - watching "Arbitrage" now and about to eat another meal...



Afterwards

I made it home. I don't mean to be overdramatic, but maaaaaaan I felt pretty terrible afterwards. I'm getting old! And then jet lag, etc., etc. But that notwithstanding, it was a good trip, and I know some things to do differently next time!

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India, weekend 2
Mood: okay
Posted on 2013-02-12 23:30:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 756

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Saturday 2/9 late evening

Whew, what a day! Kevin and I went to Mysore, which is only around 90 miles away, but took 3 hours to get there. On the way we stopped in Shrirangapattana and saw a temple there.



As soon as we got out of the car in front the temple, there were a bunch of very pushy street vendors that bugged us. Check out my bargaining skills: first I got this pair of elephants for Rs 1000 (~$20), down from 1200:



Then I inadvertently learned if you say "no" twenty times, you can get all this stuff for the same price!



Then I had to say no fifty times to get this one guy to leave us alone.

We walked through the temple and then walked around the city some - it felt very much like a small town (once we got away from the temple). Kevin had a Flat Stanley with him, and he was very successful at getting adults and kids to hold him. Actually, a lot of kids weren't shy and would wave at us. Eventually I started waving at them and they'd wave back, which was fun :-)



After that, we went into Mysore and saw the railway museum (which took about 10 minutes :-) )



And then on to the main event - Mysore Palace, which was the seat of power for the Kingdom of Mysore until 1947. It's breathtakingly beautiful inside, but unfortunately no pictures :-(



Then we walked around a bit to the city market which was fun but crowded. (and somewhat pushy vendors, although having survived the temple in Shrirangapattana I was an old pro at saying "no" dozens of times) We also discovered the latest scam: a kid would walk up to me, say hi, and ask what my name was and where I was from. Then they'd ask for a coin from my country "for a school project" :-) I did happen to have a dime on me, so I gave in one time...



Finally we went up to Chamundi Hill which overlooks the city. Unfortunately by the time we found a good view of the city it was getting dark and the pictures weren't that exciting.



Headed back to Bangalore and I got some evening tea at Café Coffee Day right next to the hotel (which is apparently the Starbucks of India...based on what I've seen, this seems accurate) and now I'm collapsed in bed. I got 21K steps today, and...ow! Going to sleep in a bit tomorrow.

Sunday 2/10 evening

Slept in a bit! I had breakfast at Café Coffee Day just to shake things up (and because I slept past breakfast time in the hotel), and had my laundry picked up. After that I spent some time relaxing, posting pictures/blog entry for the week, and watched the last hour of "The Dark Knight" on TV. (in English!)

After playing a bit of WoW, it was high time to leave the hotel room as I was going a bit stir-crazy. One unfortunate part of this hotel ishere's nowhere to go (other than the two hotel restaurants) if you want to stay in the hotel but not in your room. So I walked to the east, where I thought I had seen some places to shop while driving by. It was a little further away than I thought, but I did find a kind of mini-mall - it had a department-like store on the bottom two floors, then some other random stores, then a food court, arcade, and cinema. I got some gelato as a snack, and then took a look at the cinema to see if there was a movie I could watch. Unfortunately, the thing that displayed what played at what times was kinda broken, and the website was hard to use, in that I couldn't even figure out what location I was in. Apparently Lincoln and Life of Pi were playing at some theatres in English, but I don't think they were at that one. Oh well!



Café Coffee Day also lived up to "the Starbucks of India": there were two of them in the mall, and it really wasn't that big...

I also realized after the fact that there was a McDonald's there and I totally missed a chance to check out the price of a Big Mac. Nooo!

Walked back, and the rest of the day was pretty uneventful except for room service. I did get to watch some cricket and English Premier League soccer, which was fun. Now, to bed!

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India, week 1
Mood: relaxed
Posted on 2013-02-10 17:54:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 1080

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Monday 2/4 evening

First day of work here! I had breakfast at the hotel and the owner came over and chatted with me a bit, which was neat. Then it was time to drive to work during what I can only hope was rush hour, because...wow. The office is less than 2 miles away and it took 20 minutes to get there and it seemed like we nearly got in 5 accidents. At tricky intersections you basically have to almost cause an accident to get anywhere. I was talking about this with people at work some - it sounds like it's mostly because Bangalore has grown so much in the past 7-10 years (there was very little SW industry here even in the 1990's) and the infrastructure hasn't scaled with it. Apparently the traffic is less crazy other places in India.


The NI office is nice - it's less than two floors of one building, but there are neat dance-related things on the walls, and the conference rooms are named after famous Indians, including Ramanujan! The power blipped out a few times during the day, but all the computers are on a UPS.



I had some problems with my work computer, but I did manage to get some work done. Unfortunately I haven't totally beaten jet lag and got pretty tired in the afternoon...

Now I'm back in the hotel room and in addition to the usual honking there's some seriously thumping bass that's been going on for an hour or so. Not sure what that's about. (Ed: I think there was a banquet going on downstairs or something. It stopped before I went to bed...)

Wednesday 2/6 evening

Yesterday was fairly boring: get up, have breakfast, nearly get in accidents on the way to work, do work, nearly get in accidents on the way to the hotel, eat, relax, sleep. I did give a talk at work which I think went decently, although I realized afterwards I omitted a key point. Oh well!



Today was mostly the same. After work, though, I walked to a nearby park. I've been planning to do that for a few days now, but my plan had been to wait until the traffic died down so crossing the street would be less scary. Of course, by the time that happened I would be tired and not excited about leaving the hotel. So, today I went out right after getting back. The traffic was heavy, but the only street I had to cross has a traffic light that is mostly obeyed, and I crossed with a crowd of people.

It took less than 10 minutes to get there (although I walked around three-quarters of it looking for the entrance), and it's a nice little park! I walked around it a bit and sat on a bench and read (on my phone Kindle, the best thing ever for reading on the go) for a bit. It's well-lit and there were lots of people walking and sitting down.



Today's random India topic: ever since I got here, everyone in the service industry (hotel, car, restaurant) has been extremely friendly, sometimes to the point of making me uncomfortable. The first time the driver met me at work to drive me back to the hotel, he took my backpack and carried it for me. All of the drivers I've had open the door for me when I enter and exit the car. The security guard at the hotel opens the door for me. After bringing me a bottle of water, the waiter at the restaurant pours some into my glass (and refreshes it when it gets low).

I'm not sure what to make of this. Is this a cultural thing? Am I getting special treatment because I'm American? (or, at least, clearly not Indian) I'd rather open my own car door, but I don't want to give offense and I'm new here and when in Rome, etc., etc.

Friday 2/8 late evening

Let's see: work over the last two days has been good. I feel pretty settled in now, and I was actually able to fix a bug this morning! (although the lag on remote desktop is somewhat painful) I gave a presentation today that went pretty well, and I had something that wasn't Pizza Hut for lunch. (ordered from a local Indian place, although it's possible I'm starting to get tired of Indian food...) Yesterday was their version of Snack Thursday, at which everyone had some Taco Bell.

Thursday evening I went out walking a different direction (south!) and almost had to turn back - I was waiting to cross the street to come back, but there was 0 chance I was going to do that at anything but a bonafide stoplight. Luckily I eventually encountered one and crossed, and my reward was eating at a KFC on the way. It was...well, a lot like American KFC's. Except the drink I got was tiny (which was fine!), and the menu seemed to have some vegetarian options.



Tonight I went out with Rakesh and played some pool, then went out to a nice restaurant. To get to these places I rode on the back of Rakesh's motorcycle. I was a bit hesitant about this, but the places weren't far away and he gave me a smooth ride!



Random: there's a mosque near to work, so we hear the calls to prayer around lunchtime and early evening. The sound is quite beautiful - reminds me of music from Battlestar Galactica.

Random India topic: I happened to see the new version of the Big Mac Index...and look, India's at the very bottom! According to the index, things should be around 60% cheaper here, and that seems about right. Entrees at the hotel restaurant are around $4. I can get a Coke from the minibar in my room for $1. Tomorrow we're going to Mysore, and we're renting a taxi to drive us around all day for a total of $60. I guess the price of travel and difference in GDP can keep things this way, but it's still surprising.

Somewhat related: apparently it's not uncommon for bachelors to have a part-time cook service, where someone comes and delivers you home-cooked food every day. One person even has a full-time cook who lives at his apartment (although he does live with several other people), and the cook does laundry, cleaning, etc. I'm guessing this is related to the Big Mac Index...

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India, weekend 1
Mood: tired
Posted on 2013-02-06 23:20:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 1014

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I thought for this trip I'd try posting pictures and entries as I went. I'm already a bit behind, though, so I doubt I'll really keep up. But, here's my first Bangalorian weekend!

Friday 2/1/2013 afternoon

I'm on my way to India! I arrived at the Austin airport obscenely early for my Dallas flight, which was uneventful. In DFW I realized that some of my Nokia friends were on their way to an event, so I walked from Terminal D to C to say hi. Then I had to quickly walk back, as it was a longer walk than I had expected and it was getting close to departure time. But I did sneak in a cup of Ben & Jerry's - tasty!

The flight to London was long but fine. I rented four movies on my Surface before I left and watched "The Cabin In The Woods" ("Joss Whedon horror movie" sums it up perfectly) and "There Will Be Blood" which was also good. I'm glad I had those to watch - the 777 entertainment system had movies but the selection was small and none of them tempted me even a little. In between, I chatted with the woman next to me, who was also heading to Bangalore, randomly enough! I also read some, including a book about airplane crashes; fate - consider yourself tempted! Tried to sleep but was mostly unsuccessful, so I was feeling blah when we landed. Walking around Heathrow helped a lot. Terminal 5 is very nice, after having to go through security again (blah) I got some souvenirs and lunch at Pret a Manger, my favorite place ever. The sandwich was only OK (my fault for getting one with avocado as the main ingredient - I love me some avocado but it's a bit much on its own) but the yogurt and fruit parfait was excellent. Mealtimes are so weird on multi-time zone trips, but my stomach's doing OK so far.



Tea at lunch helped, but I'm clearly out of it - while browsing shops I saw a Kindle for a very good price...until I realized it was in pounds. Not two minutes later, I thought that the currency exchange place was offering a terrible deal on rupees...until I realized that was in pounds as well. Going to take some melatonin on this next flight in the hopes it will help me sleep...

Saturday 2/2 evening

Not sure if it was the melatonin or being really tired, but I managed to sleep 5-6 hours on the Bangalore flight, which is easily a personal best. So I felt OK but disoriented (and tired of plane flights!) when we arrived. I did my best at filling out the immigration form, then picked up my luggage and went outside to find my driver.

As it turns out, our flight was quite early so I had to wait a bit for the driver, who drove me to my hotel. Even though it was 5:30 AM, the drive in was still terrifying. We would be on a road with lanes, and then there would be a sign about construction and everyone had to swerve to the left and drive on a part of the road without lanes. Honking was applied liberally. I also did see a cow on the side of the road!

I spent most of the day in the hotel room, getting my stuff set up and trying not to fall asleep. The room is nice, but unfortunately it faces the corner of two rather large roads, which means there is lots of honking all day long. I suppose I'll get used to it in a few days, but I'm glad I brought earplugs for sleeping. I did a tiny bit of walking around, but I'm planning to hang out with NI folk and do some sightseeing tomorrow. After a full night's sleep, of course!



Sunday 2/3 early evening

Ahh sleep. I felt so much better this morning! Unfortunately I seem to have lost my melatonin (left it on the last plane, I guess?) but I didn't need it - went to bed at 10:30 and quickly fell asleep. After showering and a short video chat with David (the WiFi in the hotel is barely good enough for this to work), I had breakfast and met Rakesh downstairs. We planned out where to go for the day, and then got on our way!

First stop was Big Bull Temple, which is a Hindu temple which has a giant statue of Nandi, a bull. After that we went to a big ISKCON temple. It was interesting - there was a long path to walk that went through the main temple but then you ended up at a market downstairs with souvenirs and food and whatnots. Our next stop was Bangalore Palace, where I got a lot of good pictures.



Afterwards we met Kanika and had a delicious Indian lunch, where I got my first taste of paneer here. (it was excellent!) Then we went to a shopping center where I got an Indian shirt and a few snacks, then we had tea and chatted for a good while. It was already 5 PM by the time we were done, so I just headed back to the hotel. I'm doing remarkably well for only my second day - I'm a little tired from walking around, but nothing like the jet lag I went through in Germany. Adjusting times quickly and getting a good night's sleep seems to be a winning combination. My stomach's also been holding up decently.



I've already adjusted to honking all the time on the roads - at first I had a visceral reaction to it, because I'm used to it meaning "something bad is about to happen", as opposed to "just FYI, I'm here" or "drive faster!", etc. Driving is still kinda scary but I just don't look too much. I saw some signs reminding people not to drink and drive, and all I could think was that there would be no way you could drive drunk in this traffic without getting in an accident!

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Going to India!
Mood: excited
Posted on 2013-01-27 19:05:00
Tags: travel
Words: 93

I'm going to India this week! I'm leaving on Thursday and will be working in Bangalore for two weeks.

I've never been there before, and as such I'm excited and nervous in various proportions depending on my mood. Any travel tips would be greatly appreciated!

I've always enjoyed travelling, but as I get older the downsides are becoming more apparent, mostly the whole more likely to get sick/be exhausted thing. Hoping to avoid that this time around, but with more than 24 hours of travel to get there(!) we'll see how it goes...

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Las Vegas recap: AT&T Developer Summit, CES
Posted on 2013-01-12 22:55:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 702

- click for the full album!

Note: the trip was jam-packed with activities, so I didn't actually write in my journal that much

Friday Jan 4 after midnight
Long day! The parts of Vegas I've seen have been, by and large, crazy. Getting a lot of good pictures of famous casinos and such.

After dinner at Texas de Brazil (a Brazilian steakhouse that was good, although not quite as good as Fogo de Chao), we got to hang out in a Skyloft at the MGM Grand.

The curtains and lights are remote controlled and we played foosball. It was over the top, in a good way.

Saturday Jan 5
Today was the hackathon, so I was either coding (working on Know Your States) or helping people all day. Exhausting! In the casino, I did see someone playing computerized roulette (although the ball/wheel were real) and graphing out the results. I (mentally) wished him well - it's theoretically possible that the wheel is misshapen in some way, right?

Sunday Jan 6
Today was the hackathon part 2. I helped a few people out and managed to finished (enough of) Know Your States, an app to help you learn state capitals/birds/trees/etc. Not terribly exciting (and not related to AT&T at all), but I like it. After the 2PM deadline, the 70+ teams(!) got to demo their app for 90 seconds. I think my demo went pretty well. Around 18 teams developed Windows Phone apps and 10 won prizes, myself not included. I can't really disagree but I'll admit to being a little disappointed. Oh well!

Afterwards, we had drinks at Rain (our favorite hotel bar), and some folks went up to a club. I was a little tempted, but instead tried my hand at blackjack. Two fine-looking women were my dealers (they seem to change shifts/tables often!) and helped me figure out what I was doing. I mistakenly chose an empty table, which meant that hands happened very fast. I was briefly up but then I ordered a (free!) drink, so I felt obliged to stay until the drink came and by then I was down a lot. More people came to the table, which slowed down my descent but the dealer was on fire. Vegas!

Monday Jan 7
The AT&T Developer Summit proper was today, and I ended up working the Nokia booth for a long while. It was fun to talk to people about Nokia/Windows Phone, but tiring. Went to see a session that was held in one of the casino movie theaters - neat!

After that was the Nokia party, which was awesome. 8-bit games, and artists making 8-bit versions of people - it was a nice theme!

After that was The Killers concert where I paid for a drink for the first time in quite a while.


In the meantime, I got to try out two new table games. Roulette was OK but I was the only one playing most of the time. Also I kept betting on black and it kept coming up red, so...yeah. Craps was fun, though - a lot of people were betting so there was a lot of camaraderie. Also, I ended up a bit, which was nice! You don't get the same one-on-one interaction you do in blackjack, but between the camaraderie and the fact that it can take a long time to know whether your bet wins or not (read: you lose money slower), I think craps wins. There were a lot of complicated bets people were making, but I stuck to betting on "Pass".


Tomorrow is CES! It occurred to me today that I haven't been outside in three days, and that doesn't see weird, which in itself seems weird.

Tuesday Jan 8
CES was pretty neat, although I spent all day just walking from booth to booth and my feet ache like nobody's business. (glad I got new shoes recently!) Saw a lot of cool stuff, though.

Afterwards I took the monorail and walked to Caesar's Palace instead of taking a shuttle back. This sounded like a great idea last night, but I was tired and my feet hurt so it was less appealing at the time. Did get a few other random casino pictures, though.

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Italy recap: Day 13 (the voyage home)
Mood: cheerful
Posted on 2012-10-13 18:57:00
Tags: travel
Words: 835

[Ed: this is the last Italy post! I'm as happy about this as I'm sure you are.]

Friday "afternoon"

We're on our way home! Of course, we're only 4 hours into our 10 hour flight (and I think I'm out of new books to read - ack!), but it's a good start.

This morning went well - we got up a little early, checked out, and lugged our stuff to the bus station. I bought tickets, and was a little proud of myself for expressing displeasure at a woman who blatantly cut in front of me. (my more usual M.O. is to pretend nothing happened) We got to the airport ridiculously early, so much so that we had to wait 20 minutes to check our bags. We had a pretty tight connection in Paris (a little over an hour), and my big fear was that we'd have to recheck our bags to go through security again. Luckily this turned out to not be the case, although figuring this out and checking our bags took 10 minutes with a helpful but kind of rude Air France agent.

First flight was uneventful, and we quickly found the shuttle we needed between terminals 2G and 2E in Paris. The shuttle driving alone took 20 minutes(!) so I was very glad we didn't have to do anything extra - we were a little late to board, but no biggie. The plane was also 30 minutes late taking off which makes me feel good about our luggage's chances. Here's hoping!

We're sitting together on this flight but there are no individual TVs which is disappointing.

"evening" for real
We're on our last plane! The rest of the flight to Atlanta was relatively uneventful. The poor lady sitting in front of us was travelling with three kids ages 3 to 6 - I overheard her saying that someone else was supposed to be travelling with her but something happened. The kids behaved reasonably well, I suppose. Before we took off, the boy was crying and so the flight attendant took him up to see the captain, and pitched it by pointing out that his sisters wouldn't get to go. Sounds like she has some parenting experience! (and yes, I was a little jealous I didn't get to meet the captain...maybe you do in first class?)

When we landed in Atlanta, the in-flight instructions informed us that we would indeed have to get our checked bags, bring them through Customs, then recheck them, making a liar out of the rude Air France agent. We had just under two hours to make our connection in Atlanta, but having to do all this stuff made me nervous - so many more points of failure. But everything turned out fine - our bags were basically there after we got through passport control and we were both asked only a few questions. (of course we had to go separately because we're not a family in the eyes of the US government...boo)

Aside - I will say this: people in the Atlanta airport were super-friendly and helpful. It was partially the language barrier, but in Italy I often felt unsure about where to go (or what line to wait in) and whenever I asked someone it felt like I was imposing.

Interestingly, the inflight instructions made a big deal out of the fact that you always have to recheck your bags at the Memphis airport in particular, which took me aback. Is Memphis some super-important city or airport? (0.5%) Or does FedEx being based there have something to do with it? (1%) Or is the Memphis airport just laid out in a stupid way? (98.5%)


Anyhow, our trip is nearly at an end, minus the catching up on sleep part. A bit of navel-gazing:
- Going through AAA to book hotels has been generally successful. In the future I'm really going to try to find ones with WiFi in the rooms. (yes, yes, I'm a nerd)
- One hour is not enough time for a connection, especially involving international flights. (*especially* in foreign airports!)
- 90 minutes is the minimum time for a connection at our first city back in the US.
- Look at nearby airports! There were tons of buses from Florence to the Pisa airport, which I gathered was bigger.
- This vacation we did a decent job not overscheduling ourselves - most days we were tired but not exhausted.
- The plan of reserving tickets for things with long lines, but leaving other plans flexible worked great. We brought a spreadsheet with activities/hours/etc. and this let us back off on days we were tired.
- We need to do a better job finding activities that weren't art museums. (this may be an Italy-specific problem)
- Useful apps on my Nokia Lumia 900: the international data plan, Kindle, compass, Rome and Florence guides, and Photosynth (for taking panoramas).
- Knowing some Italian was helpful but not strictly necessary.
- I can't really sleep on planes.


All in all, it was a good trip and we had a great time :-) Thanks for reading!

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Italy recap: Day 12 (bus tour, Bardini Gardens)
Mood: relaxed
Posted on 2012-10-13 18:33:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 200

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Thursday 9 PM
Our last (real) day in Italy! Today was beautiful with no rain, so we went on the bus tour. It was nice and relaxing and I took a bunch of pictures. [Ed: see above!] We also drove through Fiesole, a nearby older town of 15K people, and by the Soccer Museum, both of which would have been nice to visit. I'm not sure whether our guide books or ourselves were at fault, but we definitely picked out too many art museums and not enough other stuff. Oh well! Lesson learned.

In between bus tour we walked to the Bardini Gardens - unfortunately there were few flowers (this is not a good time of year for them) but it was still pretty and a nice change of pace.


After a nap break, we went to our last Italian dinner where I had a bit too much wine. (which I'm shaking off now :-) ) Our last Italian gelato is later, which is sad, but I think we're both looking forward to being home. I plan on having plenty of caffeine tomorrow so I can stay up and go to bed on Austin time; we'll see how that goes!

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Italy recap: Day 11 (Uffizi Gallery, movie theater)
Mood: tired
Posted on 2012-10-12 20:32:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 412

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Wednesday 10 PM
The plan was to go to the science museum (really more of a geology/biology museum) this morning, but it was raining and neither of us were that excited about it - we assumed that most things wouldn't be labeled in English. So we stayed in and read and napped and then went out to lunch before going to the Uffizi museum.

The ticketing for the museum was a bit nonsensical. We had made reservations for 2:15, but we weren't sure where to go so we waited in a line, the culmination of which was being told to wait in a different line to exchange our reservation for tickets. But, in the line we had just waited in (which was quite short) you could buy "reservation" tickets for...right now. I'm not really sure what "reserved" means in this context, I guess. Anyway, we waited in line to get our tickets, then we waited in line to get in with our tickets.

The Uffizi museum is big - like really big. We went through at least 60 rooms of art, and probably more because some weren't numbered. There was some good art there (like Botticelli's "Birth of Venus") but I'm just not a person that can enjoy 3 hours of art, especially after all the other hours of art.

Afterwards we had a quick dinner and went to a 6:30 showing of "The Dark Knight Returns". The theater was very posh - it looked like an old one with a stage. Also, in the movie Alfred talks about vacationing in Florence and that's totally where we are!

That's about it exactly for our nightly gelato/tea where I saw that Juventus was playing Chelsea and by some miracle it was showing on one of the few channels we get in our hotel, so I watched the end of that game. Even saw a few familiar faces from the Italian national team on Juventus - Buffon and Chiellini (smiley guy)!

Florence is famous for its leather, and street vendors sell a ton of it - it can smell quite strong! David got a new wallet and a leather-bound notebook, and I'm considering a belt...

Hard to believe that tomorrow's our last full day here. Like any good vacation I had a great time but I'll also be excited to be back home. Tomorrow we have a pretty light day - taking a bus tour and spending some time in some gardens, assuming it doesn't rain again.

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Italy recap: Day 10 (Archaelogical Museum, Accademia)
Mood: hopeful
Posted on 2012-10-11 19:22:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 263

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Tuesday 9 PM
David's allergies were pretty bad today so we hung around the hotel this morning for a bit before going to the Archaelogical Museum. It was pretty meh - few things were labeled in English and the museum itself didn't seem terribly well kept up. Afterwards we had a late lunch and sat for a while - we had tickets to the Galleria Accademia at 3 so we had time to burn (why did I make those so late? Oh well...) then got in line for the Accademia. (which houses Michaelangelo's David)

The street outside the Accademia is pretty crazy - long lines to get in (although the line with tickets is much shorter!) and a ton of street vendors selling art and whatnots. The gallery itself is pretty good (and not too big - a plus!) but of course the highlight is the David statue. One thing that pictures don't convey is how big it is - I believe it's around 15 feet tall, and so it's very imposing. It's an amazing piece of art and I'm glad I was able to see it again.

Not much else today - had a late dinner because tonight is Fashion Night in Florence, so a lot of restaurants are full or have weird menus. Tomorrow we're going to see The Dark Knight Returns which should be fun.

Oh, and apparently Mitt Romney said something about the 47% of Americans that don't pay federal income taxes. I feel like I've written about this before, but if not: write about it, future me! [Ed: Done, past me!]

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Italy recap: Day 9 (Il Duomo, Santa Croce)
Mood: accomplished
Posted on 2012-10-10 21:53:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 323

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Monday 5:30 PM
OK, I'll admit it - I'm starting to suffer from art fatigue. I feel bad thinking "Ho hum, another beautiful 15th century piece" or "Yup, there's a majestic cathedral built 400 years ago; I wonder if there's a cafe nearby?" (actually, that one doesn't happen - there's always a cafe nearby!) Breakfast at this hotel is quite good - nice selection of teas and delicious muesli cereal with low-fat milk (I'm really not used to whole milk). We walked to il Duomo, the giant dome on the church of Santa Maria del Fiore and looked inside but didn't climb up the 200+ steps to get to the top.

Then we saw the Bargello museum which was decent - had some nice ivory pieces as well as some beautiful ceramic plates. (sadly, this was where art fatigue started to set in) After lunch we walked out to Santa Croce, a big cathedral with memorials to famous Florentinias, I'm guessing. Michaelangelo and Dante made sense, but I was surprised to see Galileo (I wonder if it was constructed after the church pardoned him?) and Macchiavelli(!).

On the way in, we saw a painting at an art stand that matched our living room nicely, but it turned out to be quite pricey. Oh well.

Did a lot of walking today so we've been reading and relaxing at the hotel - we're out on the terrace right now.

Something happened to my Kindle and the screen doesn't seem to work - not a big deal now as I can use my phone, but I'd really like to have it for the plane trips. Will do some research when I have WiFi later...

11:30 PM
Kindle's fine, just needed to reset it. I may have been a little grumpy before, but - one thing I will never tire of is pizza/pasta for dinner and lingering at meals and reading because we have nowhere in particular to be. Good times!

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Italy recap: Day 8 (Arrive in Florence, Galileo Museum)
Mood: happy
Posted on 2012-10-09 22:23:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 365

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Sunday 9:30 PM
We're in Florence! This morning we ate breakfast, checked out of the hotel, and made our way to Termini (the train station) with all of our luggage. Luckily David had packed an extra duffel bag - we've already gotten a lot of souveniers! - but it's a bit of a pain to move it all around. We had plenty of time to walk around and get lunch, then we got on our train. It was a little crowded but the ride was very smooth, and it was an express so we got to Florence in an hour and a half. We walked to our hotel and after a few tense moments where they couldn't find our reservation (ack!), we got our room. The room is very nice (there's a fresco above the bed!) but sadly the TV channels are still poor and there's no WiFi in the room (although there is in the lobby).

We were also planning to do laundry here, but instead of a laundry room they have a laundry service with the ridiculous prices you would expect of such a thing. So, we will *ahem* make do.

After unpacking for a bit we decided to walk over to the Galileo Museum. The center of Florence is very compact, so I think we're going to get by without using the bus, except for maybe some gardens that are south of the river. The museum is about as far away as anything from our hotel and it's only around a mile. (although: walking a mile, then walking around a museum, then walking a mile back can still be tiring!) We had around an hour before the museum closed and spent it all - there were a lot of cool old instruments and informative video demonstrations of how they worked. Definitely worth the trip!

Afterwards we had dinner nearby, walked back to our hotel and are now on our nightly tea run. Florence is definitely a smaller city (around 450K compared to Rome's 4.5 million) and a lot of stuff seems to close earlier, although that could also be because it's Sunday night. So we got gelato earlier, just to be safe!

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Italy recap: Day 7 (Museo della Civilta Romana, Catacombs)
Mood: okay
Posted on 2012-10-08 23:02:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 264

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Saturday 7:30 PM
Our last full day in Rome! Kind of sad, but I'll admit I'm looking forward to a nicer hotel. I'm writing this on the rooftop garden which is pretty beautiful tonight - no rain today which was handy. Our morning was free, so we took the subway to near the end of the line to EUR, which is a "permanent exhibition" built by Mussolini. Aside from the streets having interesting names (Europe, Africa, Art, Architecture, Shakespeare) it looked like a typical suburb to us. We walked to the Museo della Civilta Romana and saw some good exhibits about the history of Rome. It really cleared up some timeline issues I had, and there were some cool scale models.

Afterwards we went to the main train station and got lunch nearby, next to where our Catacombs tour began. We took a bus out to the Catacombs of Domitilla and got to walk through a small part of them. The whole catacombs under this church are over 10 miles; the original discoverer got lost for 3 days trying to find his way out! (and there are more than 60 different catacombs in Rome!)

We then saw two other churches (with no catacombs) and that was it. Had dinner and afterwards firmed up our plans for Florence a bit. Luckily our train doesn't leave until 12:45 tomorrow so we have plenty of time to pack, etc.

Oh, and we used the compass on my phone! Between that and the Kindle and the data plan, the my Lumia 900 has been very helpful :-)

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Italy recap: Day 6 (Pantheon, Spanish Steps)
Mood: tired
Posted on 2012-10-07 22:08:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 370

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Friday 11 AM
The plan was to go to the Pantheon this morning, but when we woke up it was raining pretty hard, so we decided to wait out the rain. So, here are some general travel tips for Rome:
- The subway system is crowded but fast - we've never waited more than 4 minutes for a train. It goes a lot of places but there is an old part of town it doesn't go to (just east of the Tiber river), so you may want to get a bus map too.
- A Roma Pass is an excellent investment! You get unlimited public transportation for 3 days plus 2 free museum entries.
- Things are expensive - possibly even more expensive than in New York City.
- Meals, especially dinner, take a long time.
- Everywhere we've gone people have spoken at least a little English. I'm trying to work on my Italian but most of the time it's not necessary.
- People park wherever they want. Traffic is kind of terrifying!

3 PM
The rain stopped so we made our way to the Pantheon - very pretty!

It didn't take as long as we thought to see it (it's pretty small compared to museums), so we wandered over to Piazza Navona and then over to an Irish pub (with WiFi!) for lunch. It seemed authentic - I had a Guinness and there was rugby on the TV. Afterwards we came back to the hotel to play a game and rest.


9:30 PM
We walked over to the Spanish Steps and sat and read for a bit, then headed over to a bar for dinner.

There's a TV showing news in Italian at our nearby subway station, and the text at the bottom said "Texas" and the images were pictures of UT! Later we read there was a bomb threat. I was surprised it made the news all the way over here...
We were going to go see a movie again but apparently it's dubbed in Italian so no dice. But, gelato later!

(later)
We stopped by a nearby video poker place and played a few rounds - it was a little confusing but we got the hang of it in time to lose 5 Euros.

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Italy recap: Day 5 (Colosseum)
Mood: cheerful
Posted on 2012-09-30 21:58:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 381

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Thursday 5 PM
We slept in a bit and made our way down to the Colosseum, which is a pretty impressive building. Spent a bit walking around inside - there were a lot of informative displays, which was nice. (Fun fact: for a while they would flood the floor and conduct naval battles!) Afterwards with our newly-acquired bus map we took a bus to the Campo di Fiori, which is an outdoor market. After doing a little shopping, including a Balotelli jersey and turning down some "Bunga Bunga" sauce max, we sat down for some lunch just as it started to rain. Score! The lunch place had a TV showing a soccer match, which I eventually deduced was Inter Milan vs. AS Roma. The channel that was broadcasting the game had literally no information on screen - no score, no "who scored that goal", no "who got that yellow card", no "who is being substituted in". They didn't even show the final score when the game was over, although it was clear AS Roma had lost.

The WiFi at our hotel occasionally works now, but only occasionally, so I was using my international data plan when I saw I had a voicemail. Turns out it was from ADT saying our burglar alarm had been set off! I tried to call them but I wasn't able to make international calling work - luckily some friends checked out the house and it looks fine. (thanks friends!) [Ed: after a few more false alarms this past week we had someone come out and fix the system. Yay!]

We took the bus back to the hotel and then went out for some wandering - it started to rain harder so we ducked into a cafe and got some hot tea, from where I write these words. [Ed: and as I type these words I'm drinking hot tea! Although not in a cafe.]

Aside - we've seen a few places now a calendar called "The Vatican", but would be more accurately called "Attractive young priests doing things around the Vatican". Weird.

Aside - I swear, we were offered umbrellas by fifteen people on the mile walk back to our hotel!

Later

Walked around the corner for dinner, but it's been a quiet night other than that - resting and relaxing.

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Italy recap: Day 4 (Borghese Gallery, opera)
Mood: cheerful
Posted on 2012-09-30 21:01:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 391

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Wednesday 2:30 PM
Today was the Borghese Gallery (you make reservations for a timeslot - ours was 11 to 1). It was a bit of a walk to get there but was saw some nice parts of Rome, including the US embassy. We arrived early, which was good because first we had to wait in line for our (already bought) tickets, then in a line for an audio tour, then in a line to check our bag/cameras/phone. They seem very protective of the Gallery (although there were no metal detectors like in the Vatican), and after we entered we could see why - the place is absolutely stunning. Not terribly big as museums go, but many beautiful sculptures, paintings, and mosaics. My favorite sculpture was "Apollo e Dafne" by Bernini - Apollo has just caught Daphne, who is being transformed into a tree. David's favorite was "Paolina Borghese" by Antonio Canova, a sculpture of a member of the Borghese family reclining on a couch. And we got a kick out of the painting Danae by Correggio, which is so dirty in subject matter (according to the audio tour) that I won't describe it here (but ask me if you're interested!) Jupiter was a tricky god...

So the organization of the museum was a bit of a mess (it was unclear which line you had to wait in first) and the museum is on the small side, but I enjoyed it a lot. Afterwards we walked back, had lunch (and gelato!) and are resting for a bit before deciding what to do next - we have tickets to the opera (La Traviata) but nothing planned until then.

6:30 PM

We decided to walk down to the Time Elevator, which was a short movie about Rome with moving seats, "special effects" (i.e. wind blowing at you), etc. It was cheesy but fun. We also read the plot to La Traviata so hopefully we'll be able to follow along tonight, since it's presumably in Italian!

9:30 PM

La Traviata was good but we bailed early because it was in Italian, but also the theater was miserably hot with no A/C or fans. It was a nice little theater, though, with a bar inside so you could drink wine at your seat!

Then we had delicious gelato. (I should really end every day with that sentence!)

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Italy recap: Day 3 (bus tour, Museo Capitolini)
Posted on 2012-09-27 20:24:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 283

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Tuesday 9 PM
Not having any particular plans today (and being somewhat tired from staying up for the movie last night) we decided to take it easy today, sort of. Slept as late as the hotel breakfast would allow, relaxed a bit (I'm getting a ton of reading done!) then decided to take a hop-on hop-off bus tour that the hotel recommended. We've gotten in the habit of taking these when we travel places - it's a great way to see the city with no stress about walking or finding our way around. It also stopped near the Museo Capitolini, which isn't too close to any subway stops. So we took the bus there and ate lunch, then went to the museum. It is (by some measure) the oldest operating museum in the world, and so the audio tour we got would talk not only about the art, but about the museum itself. The museum covers a lot of ground, and I fear I'm beginning to reach my limit with respect to art/history museums. (The Borghese Gallery is tomorrow, so I guess we'll see!)

After a few hours at the museum we were both fairly tired, so we got some more tea, sat down for a bit, then took the bus back near the hotel and had dinner. This evening has been reading and relaxing and writing and hopefully gelato later! The hotel WiFi has been down since we got here, so I used a bit of my international data plan (thanks AT&T!) so we could both check email.

After getting a good view of traffic from the top of a double-decker bus, I'm even more excited not to be driving!

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Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty review
Mood: cheerful
Posted on 2012-09-23 16:23:00
Tags: reviews travel books
Words: 722

(I read this on vacation, and enjoyed it enough to write this review out longhand!)

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and PovertyWhy Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoğlu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book attempts to explain why there is such a huge difference in income and standards of living between countries. Its thesis is there are two kinds of economic institutions in a country: extractive, which extract incomes and wealth from one subset of society to another, and inclusive, which encourage participation for everyone and lets people make choices. There are also extractive and inclusive political systems, which correspond roughly to how democratic the system is. Extractive political systems are highly correlated with extractive economic systems, and these are the poorer countries.

A lot of the book examines particular countries and how they got the way they are. For example, because there were existing native civilizations in Mexico and Latin America when the conquistadors arrived, they were easily able to make an extractive society by taking almost all of the existing wealth and income, and even today most of these countries are still fairly extractive. In the US, there were no societies for the English to enslave (although that was roughly their plan!) so instead the settlers had to start their own development, and they weren't willing to be enslaved. (I'm grossly oversimplifying here - the book goes into more detail)

Some interesting notes:

- One of the big reasons extractive economies don't do as well is that they don't allow the creative destruction of new technologies, since the rulers are getting rich off of the existing technologies.

- But, economies can still grow under extractive political systems, such as the Soviet Union from 1930-1960 (or China now). A centralized government can still allocate resources more efficiently than they were before, but not as efficiently as a free-market system. However, this can't last, and the author predicts China's growth will slow down unless their political system changes.

- There is both a virtuous cycle where inclusive economies/political systems tend to stay that way, and a vicious cycle where extractive economies/political systems do too. Even when extractive governments are overthrown, the framework is still there for whoever runs the country to make a lot of money and have a lot of power - this is known as the "iron law of oligarchy", and it's a good reason to worry about the countries that underwent the Arab Spring. Of course it's not guaranteed to happen - Japan is a good example that broke the cycle.

- There's an interesting contrast between Bill Gates and Carlos Slim. (the Mexican billionaire, currently the richest person in the world) Even at the height of Gates's power, Microsoft was sued by the Department of Justice and lost, even if the penalties weren't extremely damaging. Slim made his money by buying Telmex when it was privatized, and using its monopoly. Telmex has been found in court to have a monopoly, but Mexican law has the idea of "recurso de amparo" ("appeal for protection"), which is a petition saying the law doesn't apply to you(!). Slim has used this effectively. An anecdote - Slim bought CompUSA in 1999 and promptly violated a contract. The other company sued and won a big judgment against him in the US.

- Random: Convicts sent to Australia were sent to Botany Bay - the name of the starship Khan was exiled on! Why did I not know this?

- There's a section about how the US South was somewhat extractive during segregation. Alabama's constitution has a section requiring schools to be segregated (obviously not enforced anymore), but in 2004 it survived a vote in the state legislature! Sheesh.

- Control over the media is essential for an extractive system to survive. When Fujimori ruled over Peru in the 90's, he would bribe Supreme Court judges and politicians on the order of $5-10K per month, but he paid TV stations and newspapers millions of dollars!

Anyway, the book is quite good and I would have given it 5 stars, but it's a bit long. (which is great if you're trying to prove your thesis to political scientists (there are lots of case studies!) but less good for casual observers like me) If you're at all interested in the topic I'd recommend reading at least the first 3 or 4 chapters.


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books I read on vacation (minus one)
Mood: cheerful
Posted on 2012-09-23 16:05:00
Tags: reviews travel books
Words: 473

I read a lot of books on vacation. Here they are (minus one that gets its own post!)

In Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing DisastersIn Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters by Merrill R. Chapman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Basically a collection of tech companies doing stupid things in the 80's and 90's. Pretty entertaining and possibly helpful!


Anything for a Vote: Dirty Tricks, Cheap Shots, and October Surprises in U.S. Presidential CampaignsAnything for a Vote: Dirty Tricks, Cheap Shots, and October Surprises in U.S. Presidential Campaigns by Joseph Cummins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summaries of every presidential campaign and how sleazy it was. (it's not an exclusively modern phenomenon!) Pretty entertaining although a bit long.



Be Good: How to Navigate the Ethics of EverythingBe Good: How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything by Randy Cohen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ethics advice that doubles as entertainment. I agree with him on most questions but not all (specifically, he recommended publicly posting salaries of other employees that someone happened to stumble across, which I think is a bad idea).



A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other StoriesA Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O'Connor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interesting short stories - I feel like I didn't fully get the symbolism (maybe I'll do a little research) but they're definitely well-written and I enjoyed them.



Seven Keys to BaldpateSeven Keys to Baldpate by Earl Derr Biggers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good mystery novel, although the language is a bit archaic.



The Little Book of String TheoryThe Little Book of String Theory by Steven S. Gubser
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A good summary of string theory. A bit hard to follow even though I have a little physics background, but still informative.



Straight Man GayStraight Man Gay by Danny Culpepper
My rating: 3 of 5 stars



The Agony ColumnThe Agony Column by Earl Derr Biggers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars



The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our FutureThe Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future by Joseph E. Stiglitz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good book although a bit long and depressing for a vacation read. One thing I've heard people say is that there's nothing wrong with inequality - a rising tide can lift all boats. Unfortunately, in the US the rich have been getting richer while the middle class and poor have been doing worse. And Stiglitz points out that extreme inequality is harmful even on its own due to societal effects.



The Infinity Puzzle: Quantum Field Theory and the Hunt for an Orderly UniverseThe Infinity Puzzle: Quantum Field Theory and the Hunt for an Orderly Universe by Frank Close
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interesting account of how we discovered Quantum Field Theory. I didn't quite understand all of it and I gotta be honest - particle physics is pretty crazy. I miss the proton + neutron + electron model, but progress marches on...



Flight Of The Intruder (Jake Grafton, #1)Flight Of The Intruder by Stephen Coonts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars



Silvio Berlusconi: Television, Power and PatrimonySilvio Berlusconi: Television, Power and Patrimony by Paul Ginsborg
My rating: 2 of 5 stars


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Italy recap: Day 2 (Vatican tour)
Mood: okay
Posted on 2012-09-23 15:08:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 691

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Monday 5 PM

Ahh sleep. I feel much better than yesterday, and the dizziness is almost entirely gone!

This morning we had breakfast in the hotel - the breakfast area is small but good enough, and I got a cup of tea to start my day which is always pleasant. (caffeine was a major reason I was able to stay up until bedtime yesterday!) We took the Metro over to the Vatican for our four hour(!) guided tour, and got there way early. Luckily we've been using our phones as portable Kindles - even in airplane mode it's wonderful having a bunch of books to read when we're out and about; it makes planning for things less necessary and stressful. I also got a cappucino at a nearby cafe; here the generaly way this seems to work is you order at the cashier, pay, then bring the barista your receipt. Hovering over the barista without a receipt accomplishes nothing (especially if you don't speak Italian!) as I've forgotten a few times now.

The tour was decent but long. (and we never stopped for any sort of break) The tour guide had a CB-like radio that he talked into and we all had earphones so we could hear, which is necessary since the Vatican is the most-visited museum in the world. An average of 20K people per day visit, and today seemed like no exception.

I had forgotten that there's a lot of ancient art in the Vatican, even (to my slight amusement) statues to Greek and Roman gods!

Unfortunately, the tour guide talked both too much and too little, so it was hard to figure out what was important/interesting about each room. But of course the art is amazing, so it was fine. After the tour was done at 2:30 we quickly found a lunch place and ate and rested for a bit, then came back to the hotel for a nap.

Aside - I was reading "Be Good" (a book about ethics) while we waited for the tour to start. Then on the tour, a woman with three kids, two of which rode in a stroller most of the time, was in our group. After a while of being on the tour I began to wonder whether it was ethical to bring the kids along. (and I swear I'm trying not to be a stereotypical kid-hating gay man - hear me out!) Firstly, there are a lot of stairs on the tour, so people had to help here carry the stroller around. The museum was also crowded, so it took longer for the group to get anywhere because of the stroller. The kids (who ranged from ages...umm, 4 to 9 maybe? I'm terrible at kid age estimation) were relatively well-behaved, but by the end they were getting loud and cranky. (not that I blame them - I was getting cranky too!) So, I dunno. I just hope that when she bought tickets she knew that there were a bunch of steps. And I'm not sure how much the kids got out of it anyway...

Aside - There are two rules in the Sistene Chapel - no pictures and no talking. (although I guess tour guides are allowed) These seem like reasonable rules - the no-picture one is not terribly common but not unheard of, and it is a chapel so I'm fine with the church making the rules. But - visiting the Chapel is a great way to lower your opinion of humanity - there is lots of noise (to the point where every few minutes the guards say shhh and "Silenzio!"), and lots of people taking pictures. Sigh.

Aside - I saw more than a handful of people taking pictures with iPads/other tablets. What's up with that? Cameras on tablets are generally terrible, right?

After a bit, we walked over to the Trevi Fountain, which was crowded but pretty. Then we ate dinner at a nearby restaurant where they presumably forgot about us, so it took an hour and a half. (dinners are slow here but usually not that slow!) Then we went and saw The Bourne Legacy with Italian subtitles - fun times! Now it is late.

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Italy recap: Day 1 (travel, arrival in Rome)
Mood: tired
Location: home!
Posted on 2012-09-22 19:38:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 482

We're back from Italy! There will be many posts about the trip. This is one of them.

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Saturday, somewhere over NYC, 5:30 PM Austin time

We're on our way to Italy! The first flight to Atlanta was pretty uneventful, and we had a bit of time in the airport to eat lunch (Arby's!) and walk around some. That is one big airport!

Unfortunately, we didn't get assigned seats on this flight - I tried to choose them last week but Orbitz's website errored out and wouldn't let me. So I'm sitting right behind a bulkhead, which means I don't get to put my backpack at my feet, which I hate. Also, David's sitting way in the back of the plane and we couldn't get people to switch. Oh well. I thought I didn't have a personal TV at first (since there's no seat in front of me), but it turns out I do.

The plan was to be tired today so we could sleep on the plane. Unfortunately, I don't sleep well on planes and now that I'm here I'm kind of excited, so I'm pretty sure I'm going to be exhausted "tomorrow". Also, I bought a ton of Kindle books so I feel like I should be reading, but instead of that or sleeping I'm watching "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol". Oh well - vacation!

Sunday, 9 PM

Yup - exhausted today. But things generally went well. We landed in Rome, and after waiting half an hour for our bags we stopped in the airport for some breakfast - one of the nice parts of not having a schedule today is we didn't have to rush to our hotel. We took the express train to Termini (the main train station) and then the subway to our hotel. Sadly, Termini is under construction and it took a ludicrous amount of walking to get down to the Metro. Pretty sure six distinct escalators were involved. All told we walked more than two miles by the time we got to our hotel, which is small but nice.

Took a short nap and then I realized I was feeling pretty bad, probably because I was tired, hungry, and thirsty. Got lunch at a place right around the corner - I guess this is a touristy area (Piazza Barberini) because there are tons of restaurants around. Walked to an ancient art museum, but it was mostly closed. So we decided to make the trek out to a modern art museum, which involved a lot more walking than we had anticipated - hopefully the four hour Vatican museum tour tomorrow goes OK! Also, apparently in Rome "modern art" means 1800 and later. Came back and had a pizza and wine and gelato for dinner. Now: bed!

I'm been dizzy on and off today, which happened the last time I took an overseas trip (Germany in 2010). Hopefully sleep will cure it...

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a typical Texas summer: in three acts
Mood: quixotic
Posted on 2012-06-27 13:06:00
Tags: travel essay
Words: 70

Act I: Yesterday I was at a Microsoft event in Dallas. From 1-6 PM I was in the same freezing room. The thermostat must have been set at 65 or something...it was unbearably cold.

Act II: Walking outside into the 100+ degree heat felt glorious for the two minutes it took to get to my car, which had been sitting outside all day.

Act III: Enter car; face melts off.

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on personal responsibility and the Coast Guard
Mood: irritated
Posted on 2012-06-26 09:18:00
Tags: travel essay
Words: 214

(I'm in Dallas today for a Windows 8 thing)

When I woke up this morning, I turned on HLN (nee Headline News) to wake up. They were doing a segment about a woman whose family had to be rescued by the Coast Guard - it looked like they were staying in a beach house on the coast of Florida when Debby hit.

I assume that this sort of thing is in the Coast Guard's mission, and yay for them, but: nowhere in the half of the interview I saw was it implied that maybe the family shouldn't have been, you know, on vacation in a beach house when a freaking Tropical Storm was scheduled to hit. The tone of the interview was oddly light - the interviewer asked the woman how she kept the dogs from running away, and if their vacation had been "ruined".

Being rescued by the Coast Guard should not make for an amusing family story - they (presumably) risked their lives to some extent to save the woman's family because they were stupid or stubborn and put their own lives in danger. It felt like the interviewed glorified their stupidity instead of pointing out that people really should stay out of the way of tropical storms and not stay on the beach. Sheesh!

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Pictures from Utah
Mood: content
Posted on 2012-02-11 21:49:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 14

I finally got around to posting pictures from last week's trip to Utah. Enjoy!

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New Mexico vacation
Mood: content
Posted on 2011-10-16 21:36:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 709

David and I took a mini-vacation this week to New Mexico. Here's all about it!



We left Saturday morning and drove through to Carlsbad. The drive was fairly uneventful, except that I had forgotten that the speed limit on I-10 in West Texas is 80! That made things go faster than planned, and made the 55 mph limit on some roads in New Mexico feel ludicrously slow.

We arrived in Carlsbad around 6, so we had time to check in to our hotel before heading to dinner. Based on advice in the AAA guidebook, we went to The Flume for dinner, which we never would have done otherwise since it was (we discovered) located in the Best Western down the road. It was nice, though, and we relaxed and shook off the drive while being served by a rookie waiter. After dinner we spent the evening in the hotel room and read and watched TV. For food timing reasons, we decided to stay on Central time (after discovering NM is on Mountain time by seeing the alarm clock in the hotel room!) so we went to bed on the early side.

Sunday morning we got up earlyish, checked out of the hotel, and headed to Carlsbad Caverns. The drive down there was slow (darn 55 mph roads for no reason), and we saw mention of "cherry cider" which sounded intriguing. After getting in the park we drove the 7 miles up to the visitor center, stopping at a few sights along the way. Unfortunately, it was pretty clear there had been a recent fire of some sort, as a lot of the vegetation was heavily burned.



At the visitor center, we had a bit of time before our Left Hand Tunnel tour started, and we learned about White nose syndrome, which luckily hasn't spread as far west as Carlsbad yet.



The tour was neat - there were only 11 of us plus the ranger guide, and we got to carry candle lanterns to light the way. The caverns are very impressive in terms of scope, although in terms of formations we had seen more elaborate ones at Natural Bridge Caverns.



After the tour, we went back up to the surface, had lunch, and then went back down to the aptly-named Big Room. It's 1.25 miles around the outside of the cavern, and it's easy to get blown away by the sheer size of everything. The path around the room ends back at the underground visitor center, so we took the elevator back up, did a little souvenir shopping, walked along a nature trail and called it a day after trying a cherry cider. Which tasted good in small amounts.



We drove to Roswell and made pretty good time again, so we did the usual have dinner and relax in the hotel room thing. We've been bad on previous vacations about not taking enough time off to relax, but I think we did well this time. (especially since my feet were killing me after Carlsbad...)

Monday morning we toured the International UFO Museum. It was pretty well done - lots of eyewitness accounts about the infamous Roswell incident with some competing theories about what happened. It seemed clear to me that the Army covered up something, but what that was we may never know. (although one recent theory is that it was an experimental Soviet craft with a midget pilot!)



We looked at some gift shops, then went to the very small Walker Aviation Museum at the old base (now the Roswell Airport) where the "alien" debris was brought.



Honestly, at this point we were mostly out of things to do in Roswell. We read in a coffeeshop in the local Hastings, and after dinner tried to go bowling but it was a league night. The next morning we had planned to spend the whole day in Roswell, but decided to head back early. We did see two interesting art museums before we left, though. Spent the night in Fort Stockton (after cancelling our last night's reservation at the hotel in Roswell) and then drove back to Austin on Wednesday.



All in all it was a quick trip, but we got a lot of reading time in and it was quite relaxing!

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recruiting trip, excitement to come!
Mood: relaxed
Posted on 2011-09-25 21:12:00
Tags: travel work
Words: 274

I just got back from recruiting at Penn State, and boy are my arms tired! Wait...that's not right. Anyway, I'm exhausted, and hopefully recording my itinerary will make me think twice next time I volunteer for a trip:

Tuesday:
- 2 PM: leave for airport. Realize flight is delayed and am probably going to miss connection in DC. Hang out at Austin airport for a good while.
- 11:30 PM: arrive in DC. Get hotel and taxi vouchers from United. Take taxi to hotel. Order 5:45 wakeup call.

Wednesday:
- 5:45 AM: wake up, be unhappy, go to airport
- 9:30 AM: arrive in State College
- 11 AM-4 PM: career fair day #1 (interns). 5 hours standing and most of that talking.
- 6 PM: Eat dinner, look at giant stack of resumes, drink beer, chat about NI.

Thursday:
- 9 AM: Wake up with throat dry and feet sore. (but glad for the extra sleep)
- 11 AM-4 PM: career fair day #2 (full-time). 5 more hours of standing and talking.
- 4 PM-7 PM: finish info session presentation, look at some resumes, order pizza & drinks for info session.
- 7 PM-10 PM: hold highly engaging, but long, info session.
- 10 PM-12:30 AM: finish looking at resumes, call people to set up interviews.

Friday:
- 7 AM: wake up with worse throat and feet. Curse the early hour.
- 8:30 AM-5 PM: survive interviews somehow
- etc.: drink beer, finish paperwork, collapse.

--

On the whole, I still enjoyed myself, and enjoy finding good candidates to work at NI. But, man, it's really tiring.

--

In unrelated news, I think two exciting things will happen this week, but don't want to jinx them. So, watch this space!

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webOS Dallas event trip report
Mood: good
Posted on 2011-07-26 14:58:00
Tags: travel palmpre
Words: 382

Last Friday I went to the webOSRoundup Dallas meetup/developer event. (you can see me in a few pictures there - I sat in the second row)

I had a pleasant drive up that morning and arrived in plenty of time to eat lunch and read on my TouchPad before showing up to the conference center.

The developer event was first, from 1-5 PM. Most of the material was fairly basic stuff, which I had expected, so I worked on my own webOS apps, adding a feature to Simple Alarms (yikes, I need to update that page!) and finishing the port of State Lines to Enyo and the TouchPad. (hopefully coming soon!) I did say hi to the people next to me and chatted and helped them out a bit. And Ben Combee (@unwiredben) showed off a Vectrex emulator that he had ported to the TouchPad and added iCade support. (code available here)

During the breaks I chatted a bit with HP and webOSRoundup folk, which was nice, although I didn't have a lot to say.

After that, I checked into my nearby hotel, then went over to the meetup event. It was at the Blackfinn, which seemed like a nice place (and had good beer!) but it was really, really loud. I had a few short conversations, but the noise combined with my natural introversion kept me from talking to too many people, and I left kinda early. I stopped by Best Buy to get a Touchstone (since I didn't win one :-) ) and returned to the hotel for a night of light coding and relaxing.

The next morning I just drove back, stopping for lunch at a Mexican place in Waco.

The trip was fun, but wasn't as successful as I had hoped. The next time I do something like this, I need to:
- have more specific projects to work on or features to add in my apps. I kinda felt like coding Friday night but didn't have much that I was inspired to work on.
- make more of an effort to network and talk to people. I've done better on previous trips, but maybe the lack of a plane trip/overnight stay hurt here? I kinda felt like the event snuck up on me, and maybe preparing for it more would have helped.

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cave pictures!
Mood: cheerful
Posted on 2011-05-12 23:29:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 40

During our staycation last week we went to Natural Bridge Caverns right outside of San Antonio. It was fun! We took pictures; here are some:
- David in front of the Natural Bridge
- creepy me
- a cave!
- a very big room

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Palm developer session
Mood: happy
Posted on 2011-05-03 11:12:00
Tags: pictures palm travel
Words: 399

I just got back from a Palm developer session and had a blast! Details below...

Pictures from the trip and from Easter are here:

I arrived Wednesday night late and took a cab to the hotel (the Best Western Silicon Valley) which was a little plain but comfortable enough. Except they had a coffee maker in the room with no tea bags! Should have brought along my own like David suggested...

The hotel was under a mile from Palm HQ, so the next morning I packed up my laptop (which has since died - thank goodness it survived the trip!) and walked. The morning was a few sessions and the afternoon was just a time to work on your app with a bunch of Palm people around and available to help. Oh, and I got to play with a TouchPad, which (I believe this is all I can say) is awesome!

As with last year I forced myself to be sociable and was pretty successful - met a few folks I had only chatted with online and some other fellow developers. Going from the outside world to a place where everyone is excited about webOS feels like culture shock, and there's a real sense of camaraderie among we developers.

Thursday afternoon and Friday was all coding time, so I got a lot of stuff done. I also learned about censored, and I might be censored and censored!

Saturday I decided to find a better way back to the airport, which meant walking 1.3 miles (with luggage) to the Sunnyvale Caltrain station. Had some extra time so I walked around the Sunnyvale farmer's market and bought a book (since the trip cost to the airport was $4.50 vs. $40 for the cab, I felt I had earned it!) I stopped in two shops and both people asked about my Scottish Rite shirt, leading me to conclude that residents of Sunnyvale (Sunnyvalians?) are big fans of children's theatre!

Made it to the airport way early and walked around a lot. The airport is big, but my reward was a neat gizmo-like machine at the end of Terminal A:

Also got a blueberry muffin (at Pai's recommendation) and finally got to try airport sushi, which was actually in this case quite good! I also stopped in a store, idly looking for headphones, which ranged in price from $15 to (I kid you not) $500!

1 comment

Germany trip recap
Mood: tired
Posted on 2010-11-16 23:28:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 2932

Pictures here:

Full recap behind the cut:

Monday 11-8 11:40 AM (local) Frankfurt
--
I'm officially 2/3 of the way to Hamburg! Flight from Austin to Charlotte was unventful other than it being on a tiny cramped plane. The Charlotte airport was a nice surprise (since I had 4.5 hours to spend there). I walked the whole thing (no small feat), enjoyed a fresh yogurt parfait, read for a long time, then had dinner at a Cuban place where I saw the NY Giants (my weekly football pick) were dominating. Ordered a steak sandwich, which was heavy on the steak and gave me some stomach issues...

The plane to Frankfurt was a little disappointing. The video entertainment options were pretty good, but you needed a $5 headset or your own pair of the two-pronged headphones (where I swear are designed to be incompatible with every other headphones). Since it was getting late anyway, I just read for a while and tried to sleep, mostly unsuccessfully due to the ridiculously small legroom (after I put my backpack there) and the aforementioned stomach issues. By the time we landed I had already gotten through 2.75 books "today" which is pretty good!

I knew I had a tightish connection (1 hr 20 mins on paper), so I rushed through the airport as best I could. In Austin, the checkin agent said my bag was checked all the way to Hamburg, so I skipped it, stopped to get gouged at a currency exchange booth (Google said 1 USD was around .7 EUR and I got .57...) and went through Immigration. The guy asked a total of zero questions (I guess I don't look suspicious!) and I had nothing to declare so that all went pretty fast.

Then I realized I was out in the main airport and would have to go back through security. Also, I didn't yet have a boarding pass. So I walked all the way to my terminal, cursing my hurriedness and uncomfortableness at taking picture in a foreign airport (giant railroad-style display with >100 flights! A checkin booth for Iran Air!), found a kiosk and got a boarding pass. Then I wondered whether I did need to recheck my luggage to Hamburg or what, but I asked a Lufthansa checkin person and she assuaged my fears.

Made it to the gate with time to spare, although not much. Frankfurt is a huge airport!
...
I feel a little bad for not brushing up on German more than the very basics. Totally wasn't a problem so far (even the inflight magazine is in German & English!) but I do feel a bit the ugly American, so at least I try to act ashamed!
...
Although, later when the guy with the food cart comes by:
Me: Water Him: <something that sounds a lot like German>
Me: <Gesture helplessly> I don't speak German (in halting German) Him: OK, what language do you speak?
Me: ...English <confused> Him: <acting offended> We are an international airline
Me: <feeling bad, making excuses that it's hard to hear> Water Him: Ice or no ice?
Me: No ice.

And then, with God as my witness he pours me a Coke. I'm not sure what lesson to take away from this...

3:00 PM
Part of what I like about traveling is the unfamiliarity and disorientation of being somewhere new. However, when I've had three flights already and am pretty jet lagged, these become more intimidating than fun. Managed to make it to the hotel, though, so that's something.

Midnight
soo tired, write tomorrow

Tuesday 9:00 AM
Yesterday I managed to find the NI folks at the hotel. Not having cellphone access is very debilitating! I had hoped to stay up and then go bed early (to beat jet lag), but I found out we had dinner reservations at 8. So I had some time instead to roam around Hamburg while it was still light.

The hotel has WiFi, but you have to sign in and for some reason I couldn't get my phone to work with it. So I decided to go on a mission - find tea, find WiFi so I could check email/let David know I had arrived, and some Rolaids.

I'll spare you the gory details, but this mission was a miserable failure. WiFi was everywhere but it was all protected, and I didn't see any coffee shops that said "Internet" on them. At one point I could see nine different protected networks! After a long time I gave up and did at least get some hot tea and sat inside to warm up - it's in the 40s after the sun goes down.

Stumbled back to the hotel after getting a little lost, and lugged my laptop downstairs (no WiFi in the room :-( ). Thankfully I was able to chat with David and check email. When I went back to the room I noticed that the voltage converter I bought only has two prongs so I can't plug my laptop into it. Not quite sure what to do about this since I have very little free time until Friday. Hopefully the next hotel's WiFi will work on my phone.

Dinner was nice - everyone was very friendly and we chatted a lot. Also, everyone's English is very good, which reinforces the "ugly American" feeling. Oh well. For Tuesday-Thursday the plan is to check out of the hotel, give the presentation (which is roughly 9-4 - my part is 11-11:20), then pack up and go to the airport - hence the lack of free time. Hamburg does seem like a nice city - wish I had more time!

Afterwards we walked back and went up to the hotel bar, which was very nice but I was dead tired by this point. Collapsed in my room at midnight for 7 hours of sleep, which is still a big upgrade!

This morning I dragged myself out of bed, checked out and went up to the presentation room, which is very nice:
I do get three nice LabVIEW shirts out of this. The theme of LabVIEW 2010 is "It's about time", so right now they're having an audience quiz and rewarding correct answers with LabVIEW-branded alarm clocks! Unfortunately it's all in German, so not only do I not understand but it makes me feel more awkward about my English presentation. Hopefuly it goes well!
...
I just got introduced (with everyone else). I hope he said nice things!
...
My presentation went pretty well. That was the most relaxed I've ever been giving it in front of people. I got a lot of good questions which is usually a good sign. Apparently I need to talk slower, though.
...
Knocking on table=applause!
...
Whoa, this plane has a row 13! I'm surprised we didn't crash.

Wednesday 9:00 AM

We arrived in Düsseldorf (the most German of the cities I'll be in because it has an umlaut! München doesn't count because it's Munich in English) and got a minivan taxi to the hotel which managed to fit all 8 of us with luggage. Arrived at the hotel at 7:30 and started setting up, which unfortunately took until 9 or so, not that I was able to help much. By that point I was hungry, and we went to dinner at the hotel. I had been doing well sleepwise up to that point, but I started to crash hard during dinner, and even got a bit of dizziness which I hope is just a jet lag thing (it happened Monday night as well). I bugged out around 10:30 and went up to the room, was able to connect to the internet and chat with David and check email. I then wanted to charge my phone (used it to work some crossword puzzles yesterday!) but had misplaced part of my voltage converter which took me twenty minutes to find since I was so tired. Went to bed watching the same UEFA Champion's League highlights (soccer) I had watched Monday night.

I did not sleep well - the room was too hot (the thermostat was...confusing) and the pillows too soft and the bed too hard. I guess I'm kind of a picky sleeper. But I felt decent when I woke up, made myself a cup of tea and headed downstairs.

The breakfast buffet was amazing - I took pictures!

Meats, cheeses, yogurts, mueslis, pastries, and (most importantly) tea! I held myself to two bowls of yogurt with various mueslis and fruit on top. Sooo good.

- I had a dream last night that someone walked into my room, smoked a cigarette, and left. About half of the NI folks here smoke, and at least one used to but quit.
- Voltage converter has been working great, except the American side of the plug has no ground, and my laptop has a grounded plug. Today I'm going to borrow a plug to charge it, but it would be nice to have a more permanent solution.
- My allergies have been quite bad - tea in the morning helps (I quickly learned the German for "tea" is << tee >>), but today I have a headache. Also, I'm tired again...
- Getting through security 10 minutes before boarding = "just enough time for a beer!" Excellent.
- Speaking of which, Lufthansa has free beer and wine!

Thursday 9:00 AM

Another late night - after setting up and dinner we walked to a local Berlin biergarten and had three pitchers of a local beer (Berliner Kindl = very good!)
It was nice to at least see a little of the city, as opposed to Düsseldorf of which I only saw the airport and hotel.

Looking forward to arriving in Munich tonight - already have at least one meeting set up on Friday to talk about work stuff.

Hopefully the jet lag is done - yesterday I crashed in the early afternoon. Probably getting more sleep would have helped, but when am I going to be in Berline again?

Apparently 21 years after the Berlin wall fell, you can still tell the difference between East and West Berlin.

Yesterday's presentation went well - I tried to speak slower and pause more, which took concentration, but hopefully people understand better. People seem to feel comfortable asking questions/talking to me during breaks, which is good.
...
It's kind of intimidating when everyone else's introduction is a name and position, and then they get to me and I get a minute of quickly spoken German, during which the audience smiles knowingly at me. Still don't really know what was being said...

Friday 7:30 AM

Boy, I finally get to sleep in and I'm unable to sleep past 6. My jet lag seems to bounce around randomly...not sure if this will make it easier or harder to adjust back.

Session went well yesterday - people seemed to understand my part better and I got a lot of good questions. Funny story: someone set one of the alarm clocks we gave away to go off at 11:11, which apparently is the official start of Carnival, it being Nov. 11 (which lasts until Ash Wednesday...weird). They had discussed doing this to all the alarm clocks when we were at the biergarten, so I was surprised it actually happened!

At the Berlin airport I had a currywurst for dinner, which is a sausage covered in curry powder served in a tomato-y sauce. It was delicious! And now I've had beer and sausage here, so I feel like I've "done" Germany :-)

After breakfast I'm going to head into the office - I was going to walk there but it's a bit far so they recommended I take a taxi. But it looks like it's close to an S-Bahn station, and so is the hotel, so I think I'll try that.

I'm in Munich now, which I guess I didn't mention. Very glad to be done traveling for a day or two.

Saturday 10:00 AM

Yay I slept in today! Feeling much better with the timezone, just in time to leave.

Yesterday I did take the S-Bahn in to the NI office, which is very nice. Spent most of the day working and being surprisingly productive. At lunchtime I gave my presentation again for a group of ~15 AEs, which seemed to go well. I also threw in some stuff about how we test LabVIEW at Andreas's request - apparently some of them grumble we don't test at all, which is so not true. Not sure how this part went over exactly...

Came back to the hotel and hung around all evening - was feeling pretty tired and blah. Had Thai food at the restaurant next door to the hotel which turned out to be connected to the hotel, but it was still pretty good.

Today I'm going to hit the Deutches Museum which is very large and and takes two days to go through, so I'll just pick the neat stuff. Then maybe the city center or something.

7:00 PM

Kind of a weird day.

I took the S-Bahn to the Deutches Museum and when I got out there were a lot of police just standing around. Nothing was going on as far as I could tell, and I first thought maybe this was normal, but I could see at least 50 officers stationed on corners, etc. Anyway, I couldn't figure it out (and was unsure about taking a picture), so I walked to the museum.

As soon as I got in (after I had bought a ticket) I realized that I had been here before when my family visited Europe right after college. Dang it! So I walked around to the stuff I wanted to see, but fairly quickly, especially since only 25% of the displays were translated into English. Oh well...

So I left the museum much earlier than planned, and when I walked back towards the S-Bahn suddenly there were a lot of police cars blocking the road, and even more police.
There was a group of people between the cars, and police in front of them. But the street was empty, except for more police down the street. At first I thought they were blocking off the street, but someone asked if he could cross and they let him. So I hung around and eventually some people walked down the street heavily flanked by police, and the crowd around me started whistling and chanting "Nazis out!" (or maybe "Nazis auf!") So I think it was a Neo-Nazi rally or something - crazy! I left pretty quickly since it seemed things might get ugly.

Then I decided to visit the Allianz Arena which is where Bayern Munich and TSV 1860 München play soccer. They have some shops that are open even when there are no games, although it turns out there weren't that many, but I got some nice Bayern Munich memorabilia. :-) It also led me to think about an interesting math problem...details to follow. (update: here's the problem with solution)

After that I decided to randomly explore the city - I've had mixed success with this in the past, but being well-rested and having some idea of where stuff is seems like a recipe for success, which today was. I went to the main train station, sat down for a bit and had a snack and read (the Kindle was awesome for this - very light in the backpack and easy to hold food in one hand (far away!) and "turn pages" with the other). After walking around the stores there some more I decided to head back to the hotel for a break before supper.

For supper I headed to the central bus stations, which had some shops but nothing particularly appealing, so I found a local place, which is where I am now. The all-day pass on the S-Bahn really paid off!

Sunday "midday"

Well, I'm finally on my way home. Between the jet lag and lack of sleep and constant plane flights, it feels a little surreal to be headed home. Just finished Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die which was good but creepy and not helping with the surreal feeling.

Pretty impressed with this plane - this time there's only one headphone jack so I can actually use the entertainment system. Watched a Simpsons episode during lunch, and they also have a music section so I'm listening to some Glee and some Gaga which are good reading music. Plus you can see where the plane is/how long until arrival which is very convenient since I don't have a watch.

Right now is supposed to be a "rest period" which confuses me since we left at 11:55 AM Munich time and are arriving at 3:25 PM Philadelphia time. Think I'm going to stay up when I can and sleep if I get tired. Switching time zones confuses me.

The woman sitting next to me said I was in her husband's seat - apparently his passport was stolen and the embassy doesn't have an appointment until Thursday. One of the flight attendants has been sneaking her free headphones, etc. I feel a little justified in being paranoid about my passport all week - I carried it around with me because I wasn't sure if I needed it if stopped by the police, but I've had bad luck with losing things from my pockets (see: San Francisco trip)
...
The plane to Charlotte also has a row #13 - what happened to the proper respect for dangerous numbers?? The flight attendant announced the flight time as "1 hour, 19 minutes and 32 seconds", and no one else giggled. Pretty sure that's 3 significant digits too many.


Wow, that was more words than I thought.

4 comments

San Francisco trip
Mood: happy
Posted on 2010-10-13 23:37:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 653

We had a great trip to San Francisco! Here are pictures:


This time, I didn't write up every single thing we did, just when I had something to say. So:

Monday, we drove out to Fairfield to visit the Jelly Belly factory. The tour was pretty interesting - we got to walk around the factory and saw a bunch of videos about the company's history and how they make Jelly Bellies. Along the way we got to try new flavors of Jelly Bellies (honey is good!) and sample beans that had only gone through part of the process. The scale of the place was pretty impressive. Also, one of the steps is putting the beans through a "sugar shower" which sounds really tasty! The store had free samples and a ton of Jelly Belly paraphernalia. I went a little overboard...


Afterwards we played Putt-Putt. I was a little ashamed because we were very hot, but the high was only in the 80s. Later I found out the high where we were was actually 97, so we hadn't transformed into California wimps. Yay!


The cable cars were neat but a little frightening - it looked like the driver had to grip very tight on hills to keep the car moving. Also, the brakes often took two or three taps to actually stop.


The Alcatraz audio tour was very interesting - the site is still relatively well preserved. There is a very nice view of San Francisco (it's only 1.25 miles away); apparently some nights inmates could hear chatter from parties there.


Pier 39 but had a lot of neat stuff, like an amazing sock store! I got a hot tea and then spent an hour on a ridiculously overcrowded and unventilated streetcar getting home...honestly was a little afraid of fainting. (lesson learned: hot tea is a "sometimes drink")


The Muni system is...interesting. Muni is the public transit system for the city of San Francisco (i.e. not BART, not CalTrain, not any of the 10 other mass-transit options) There are four(!) types of vehicles - cable cars which run a very limited set of routes, buses, streetcars that run on rails and attach to overhead power lines, and streetcars that also go underground like a subway. This was all extremely confusing for a day or so until we mostly got the hang of it. Stops were sometimes hard to see, and the payment system is kind of arcane. For street-level things, you pay at the front when getting on, unless you have a 1/3/7-day pass. (we bought a seven-day one...and then bought me another one when I left it on a bus our first full day here. Whoops!) The passes aren't electronic, so the driver's supposed to verify that it's still valid, which of course rarely happened. In the subway, however, you have to pay cash to get into the station, unless you have a pass, in which case you just...walk through the gates. The linchpin to the system is you can be stopped at any time by a Muni cop to show proof of payment (including a timed transfer if you paid cash), but we rode a lot and never saw one.


The California Academy of Sciences was pricey, but it had a good planetarium and enclosed rainforest environment. And a good museum shop :-)


We saw a fun show called Beach Blanket Babylon. It's a musical revue of, um, pop culture and stuff. Some of their jokes were fairly groan-inducing (bordered on the whole "referencing someone in pop culture=joke" philosophy), but usually either a joke or the music was good in each scene, so that's fine. Rule of thumb: the show isn't over until the big hat comes out. No, the really big hat. Seriously - biggest hat I've ever seen. Oh, and the plot of the 100 minute show could be described in 60 seconds. Just think of it as "Family Guy with music" and you'll be fine.

4 comments

tripline - decent way to plan a trip
Mood: chipper
Posted on 2010-09-11 17:35:00
Tags: reviews travel
Words: 374

David and I are going on vacation to San Francisco, so we went through a guidebook and marked a ton of possible activities. We've never been, so I was looking for a good website where we could put them on a map and organize our days. Actually my first thought was to roll my own, but then I thought surely someone must have thought of this. And behold - Tripline!

The website itself seems more organized around making presentations of places you've been or lived, but it works decently well for our purposes. I could enter in attractions or addresses and it would plot them on the map, or I could add a custom marker and drag it wherever. A few annoyances:

- Every time you mouseover a marker the info about it pops up, which is really annoying when you have a lot of markers.
- The markers you put down are in an order and it draws lines between the markers. This makes sense if you're talking about a trip, but if you're planning a trip it's very distracting. So I had to arrange the markers so that the lines were not zigzagging through the center of town all the time, which worked out to be a convex hull kinda shape.
- It seems to get slower when you add too many markers - drawing the map is fine, but when I add a marker all of them disappear and then show up one by one. Once I got up to 25 markers this was a noticeable delay. Similarly, reordering a marker took a little while when there were a lot and sometimes didn't correctly update the numbers so I would have to drag and drop it in place again.
- I'm not a huge fan of the Google Map view they use - it's a terrain one which is helpful to see parks, mountains, etc. but I found it a little difficult to find addresses just browsing around. (maybe it's just me?) Also, you can't zoom in past a certain point...one more zoom level would have been nice.

Anyway, it was very useful once I worked around some of the annoyances and it's definitely nice to see locations on a map rather than just writing down neighborhoods. Kudos!

0 comments

Palm Developer Day trip: Day 3
Mood: accomplished
Posted on 2010-04-27 22:53:00
Tags: pictures palm travel
Words: 450

The plan was to wake up at 8:15, which would give me enough time to get ready, check out, eat breakfast, and walk the .8 miles to the Caltrain station to catch the 9:34 to San Jose.

Everything was going well - I was out the door at 9, which should have been just enough time. I took a few wrong turns but still manager to arrive at around 9:31, figured out how to buy a ticket, and then saw there were two tracks. I saw a sign that seemed to imply the first set was for express trains, so I crossed to the other side behind some other people and looked around a little. Just then a train started to arrive, and the little pedestrian gates closed so I couldn't get back to the other side, and lo and behold I was on the wrong side. (later confirmed by an actual sign) So I had to wait an hour for the next one. And just a few minutes later the limo from my hotel pulled up and (presumably) dropped someone off. That would have saved a lot of walking.

Caught the next Caltrain (which was very loud and big) to San Jose, and then had to wait for the light rain to downtown, which wasn't too far but I wasn't sure I could walk under the freeway. The Caltrain runs every hour on weekends and the light rain runs every half hour, so I had a lot less time than I planned in the city.

Which turned out OK because I was tired of walking around. I checked out the Tech Museum of Innovation (pretty neat museum, especially for kids) and had a nice lunch at a local cafe, with tea even! It was still an hour until I had to catch the light rain but I convinced myself to at least walk along an island to the art museum, which was nice. It was still early but I didn't want to tire myself out before having to walk back to the hotel, so I went to the light rail station and promptly got on the wrong train. Easy enough to get off and take one the other direction, but I just missed the real train so I had to burn another half an hour sitting and reading. Arrived back at the hotel uneventfully but thirstily (was a little chilly in the morning with no sweatshirt, was a little warm in the afternoon) - and what kind of hotel doesn't have a water fountain in the lobby? The desk clerk helpfully informed me that there were water bottles in the minibars.

Thus ends the trip wrapup; pictures are all up now:

2 comments

Palm Developer Day trip: Day 2
Mood: happy
Posted on 2010-04-27 21:48:00
Tags: pictures palm travel
Words: 470

I woke up excited and nervous about interacting with people. After getting ready and seeing a few fellow attendees eating breakfast downstairs, I got in the hotel limo with two other people to go to Palm HQ. Chatted with them a bit about the kind of stuff they worked on. When we arrived Palm had breakfast available in their cafe - I grabbed some fruit and sat down with some people and joined their conversation. (Hooray for being somewhat sociable!) Even got one guy interested in FlightPredictor (coming very very soon!)

The keynote started at 9 and talked about a new things coming to WebOS in the fall timeframe - access to the microphone and camera, better file I/O access (yay!), a new database system, etc. After that the company store was open (all items 30% off!) so I got a nice Moleskine notebook with the Palm logo and a new headset. The rest of the day was a blur of sessions - interestingly they had both hour long and 30 minute sessions, but generally the hour long ones were good and the 30 minute ones were less so. I was proud of myself for asking a few questions and going to the Apps Lab to report a bug which we spent 20 minutes examining. Later I got a picture taken with my app (link coming soon!)

After all the sessions were done, Palm had an offsite mixer with free beer and food, so I took the shuttle they provided there. I was feeling pretty socialized out, though, so I joined a group talking with a Palm guy for a bit, got a beer and food from the buffet and then sat alone, thinking someone might join me, and they might not. As it turned out, no one did, and after a while I pulled out my book and read for a while, then just felt like going home.

This was a little tricky logistically - one option was to wait for the Palm shuttle to take me back to Palm and then call the hotel and wait for them, but I wasn't sure if the Palm shuttle was even running since I was leaving so early. The other option was to walk the 3.1 miles back to the hotel, which I decided to do. It worked out OK, but it was a long walk and I took a few wrong turns. Hooray for Google Maps with walking directions on my Palm Pre, though!

When I finally made it back to the hotel, I collapsed for a bit, then ordered a dessert as a reward, and prepared my plan for the next day. My flight wasn't until 5:50 PM so I was planning on taking the Caltrain to San Jose to explore the city...

Here are the pictures (more being posted as I type!):

0 comments

Palm Developer Day trip: Day 1
Mood: excited
Posted on 2010-04-23 21:01:00
Tags: palm travel
Words: 490

I'm in Sunnyvale, CA for the Palm Developer Day. The story thus far:

When I booked my Alaska Airlines flight on Orbitz, there were only like 2 seats available, so I reluctantly took a middle seat. This morning, I checked in online, and there were suddenly more seats available, so I chose 6F, the only window seat.

Andrew graciously drove me to the airport, and I had grabbed lunch (tacos!) and was sitting by the gate when I heard the gate agent mention to someone else that row 6 was right against the bulkhead. This meant that I wouldn't be able to put my backpack in front of me (since there was no seat), so after a little deliberation, I decided to switch, even if it meant no window seat. So I went up to the agent, and she moved me to 7C, an aisle seat. As I was leaving, she said "Thank you, Mr. Johnson". I paused, but didn't see anything on my new ticket that said "Johnson", so I didn't say anything.

Anyway, we boarded, and two people were assigned seat 6D (aisle seat), one of whom was named Johnson. So the gate agent came on and said that Johnson was supposed to be in 7C, so I got up and sat in first class with another displaced passenger while the gate agent went back to the terminal to try to sort things out. Finally after another 10 minutes she said we could just stay in first class!

I felt a little bad that the whole situation seemed to be my fault, but first class is pretty sweet - cushier seats with more legroom and horizontal room, complementary food and drinks (even alcohol! Shoulda taken advantage...) and a personal entertainment system on which I watched an Arrested Development and a Simpsons, and started The Fantastic Mr. Fox before changing my mind and reading.

Continuing the theme of "Greg makes mistakes at other people's expense", upon arriving in San Jose I called the hotel about their shuttle, and after a moment the clerk told me to just take a cab and they'd reimburse me. Pretty sure I was supposed to schedule the shuttle in advance. Oh well.

After arriving and relaxing a bit, I went out walking in search of dinner and something to take notes in at tomorrow's sessions. Dinner was easy to find (an Afghani place right next to the hotel), but finding a place with a notebook took an hour of walking.

Tomorrow should be fun! I just read on Twitter (search for #palmdev for the latest info) that attendees today got a Palm Pre Plus developer phone, so I'm hopeful I will too :-) The hotel loses points for no WiFi in the rooms (cabled only) but gets some of them back for providing tea bags...

Apologies for the length - maybe I should add support for lj-cuts to LJ for WebOS :-)

Posted via LJ for WebOS.

3 comments

Golden Rules of Travel
Mood: happy
Posted on 2009-10-19 10:01:00
Tags: travel
Words: 63

Grandma's Golden Rule of Travel: Always go to the bathroom whenever one is available.
Grandpa's Golden Rule of Travel: Don't back up more than you have to. (this is more of a driving rule)

I am proud to present
My Golden Rule of Travel: Always pack boxers and sleep pants, no matter what the temperature is outside.

This rule has served me well :-)

1 comment

Honeymoon quick wrapup
Mood: accomplished
Posted on 2009-08-08 18:24:00
Tags: pictures honeymoon travel
Words: 114

We had a very nice honeymoon. Hawaii is a really beautiful place. Maui is great for relaxing and sightseeing, and Oahu seems nice for shopping and whatnot.

We kept too busy on Maui. I don't regret anything in particular that we did, but we should have scheduled fewer activities and had more relaxing/recovery time. It's been a while since we had a vacation that we planned for ourselves, so hopefully we'll remember it for next time.

Amazingly, I didn't get seriously sunburned!

Stuff we didn't do this time but I'd like to do next time:
Maui: Surfing lessons, parasailing
Oahu: Polynesian Cultural Center, swimming with the dolphins at Sea Life Park

Full honeymoon pictures:

0 comments

Texas Bowl was awesome!
Mood: excited
Posted on 2008-12-31 14:13:00
Tags: pictures travel essay
Words: 477

Recap:

That was a lot of fun! We got to the game early and walked to the stadium (avoiding the $20 parking), got some food and sat in our seats. We were literally four rows away from the field, at the 35 yard line. Visibility would have been better had we been a bit higher up, but being that close to the field was pretty fun. Reliant Stadium is huge!

I haven't watched a Rice football game since I graduated, as far as I can remember, so the team was very different. When I was there it was a lot of running, and a pass play almost qualified as a trick play because they happened so rarely. Rice ended up running a decent amount, but their passing game was stellar. Chase Clement (their senior QB) is quite good - he ran for Rice's first touchdown and threw for a few as well. He was good at avoiding the pass rush too - on one particularly nice touchdown throw he did a neat little turn to throw off the rusher and had plenty of time to step and throw.

Jarrett Dillard (Rice's All-American WR) was pretty amazing too - he made some nice catches (my dad says he has a 42" vertical leap!). James Casey sometimes lined up at tight end, sometimes at fullback, and he returned punts and was the holder for the field goal kicker :-)

Rice tried a few trick plays including a flea flicker (QB hands off to the fullback who takes a few steps, tosses it back to the QB who then throws a long pass) which didn't work, and a reverse followed by an attempted pass which would have worked but it was a bad throw. One that did work was with four wide receivers lined up on the left, Clement quickly threw to Dillard and then took off to the right. Dillard took a few steps, stopped and threw it to Clement who waltzed in to the end zone. It was awesome :-)

Here's the game recap - it was never close at all (Rice won 38-14 but went up 38-0 and then started taking out first-string players). The downside was that it wasn't that exciting per se, but it was nice the coach got to take out Clement and Dillard to a standing ovation.

The stadium was reasonably full and there were unsurprisingly a lot of Rice fans, including NI's former VP of R&D who I ran into. We got some good cheers going and stuff :-) I went with my dad and sister (not wonderjess, the other one who refuses to get a LJ account...) and had a lot of fun! Got to use my new camera for the first time and it performed well - took a lot of good pictures that I'll post when I figure out how to download them...

Edit: pictures now up!

2 comments

just so I feel caught up
Mood: happy
Posted on 2008-12-29 10:52:00
Tags: travel gay politics links
Words: 326

Back from vacation! Christmas and related activities were good and fun and relaxing. Enjoyed spending time with family and got a lot of work done on whereslunch.org - only remaining things on my list of "must fix before launching" are dealing with IE and possibly adding tag editing (which will be a pain).

Driving back to Houston tomorrow to watch Rice play in the Texas Bowl, and driving back the next day - glad I have a plan for that now.

There has been some controversy about Obama inviting Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. He's the pastor of Saddleback Community Church and while he has focused on poverty and the plight of AIDS victims, etc., he did endorse Prop 8 in California. It turns out he did so on a Friday 10 days before the election on his church's website (not anywhere more public) and neither he nor his wife donated money to the campaign. Obviously I don't agree with him, but I'm all for engaging people we disagree with, and Rick Warren is no James Dobson or Fred Phelps. Plus, it's just an inauguration - not like he'll be writing policy or anything like that!

Oh, what the heck...some more links:
- 90% of the copies of World of Goo are pirated - yeah, yeah, I know not all of those people would buy the game, but this is kinda depressing. It's cheap ($20), it's DRM-free, and it's a good game!
- The US Census Bureau just released the 2009 version of the Statistical Abstract of the United States = tasty tasty data. Maybe I will do a project in R...
- A Russian professor predicts the breakup of the US in 2010. The map at the bottom is pretty awesome. I definitely think states like Kentucky and Tennessee would be excited about joining the European Union. Sheesh!
- No big surprise: text messages costs carriers nothing - I didn't realize SMS was designed to fit inside a control message, neat!

3 comments

links links links links links links links links
Mood: cheerful
Posted on 2008-12-11 14:31:00
Tags: travel gay politics links
Words: 87

I'm trying out Firefox 3.1 Beta 2 - the new fancy Javascript engine makes things (like whereslunch.org, which I really should work on more) much faster!

- A collection of tourist scams that I found interesting.

- James Franco and Sean Penn kiss on camera in "Milk" and get lots and lots of questions about it.

- Obama is crazy popular these days, way more popular than Bush or Clinton were when they came into office. 79% say they won't miss Bush and 48% say he's been worse than most presidents.

0 comments

back from beach, more Palin
Mood: chipper
Posted on 2008-09-02 10:21:00
Tags: travel politics
Words: 176

Port Aransas was fun. I got sunburned but they're mostly gone by now. Better recap will follow at some point in time. But, for now...

I'm feeling a lot better regarding Palin than I did on Friday. Turns out she's more conservative than I thought especially on abortion and sex education - she supports abstinence-only education, which will prompt an angry rant sometime this week.

And it turns out her 17 year old daughter is 5 months pregnant and will marry the father. I don't think her daughter is fair game, but it gives a slight "hypocrisy" angle to the abstinence-only education which is enough to give the story legs. As Atrios says, "Policy matters".

And she hired an attorney today in that trooper scandalish thing. And...well, here's a list. (was a member of a fringe group wanting a vote on Alaskan secession, did actually support the "bridge to nowhere")

Anyway, announcing the pick on Friday seemed like a good idea at the time but now it seems like these stories are gonna overshadow the Republican convention.

14 comments

back from Maine
Mood: cheerful
Posted on 2008-08-17 15:20:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 325

Well, we're back from Maine! Here are pictures, and trip recap is behind the cut:

Left on Wednesday and, after the plane stopped in Baltimore (thought the flight was non-stop but apparently not), made it to Manchester, NH. The Southwest gate agent in Baltimore was nice enough to let us off the plane for a few minutes so we could grab some dinner. It was weird being in an airport that we were so familiar with!

My family picked us up and we drove back to Old Orchard Beach, ME. The cottage we were staying in was small (and the stairs were creaky!) but nice enough. The next day we walked down to the beach and walked along the beach for a while. We walked around town and picked up some souvenirs, including a half-pound of fudge and almost three pounds of Jelly Bellys. (this is too many Jelly Bellys, by the way)

I tried lobster for the first time - it was...OK, but nothing spectacular.

Thursday afternoon we walked around Portland and saw something about a renewable feast being put on by Cultivating Community. Of course, the whole eating local thing was offset by the fact that we flew up there, but whatever. The food was pretty good, although the meal lasted for a while and it was quite chilly by the end.

Friday we walked around the beach some more and almost played a game of mini-golf before Aunt Rebecca, Uncle Barrett and company arrived. Walked around some more with them and had a nice dinner at a local place.

Saturday morning we walked down to play some mini-golf before dropping wonderjess off at the train station and driving back to Manchester for our flights. We barely took off before a thunderstorm rolled in, and in fact we barely landed in Austin before thunderstorms came in (or at least the rest of the flights were delayed).


It was nice to have some time off!

6 comments

we are in austin
Mood: tired
Posted on 2007-09-25 00:17:00
Tags: travel
Words: 26

Made it to Austin, checked in to our apartment, stuff gets here Wednesday(!) so we have lots to do. *yawn* Will be at game night tmw!

1 comment

unstuck not in st. louis
Mood: tired
Posted on 2007-09-23 23:39:00
Tags: travel
Words: 166

After all the hullabaloo over the car, it turned out to be a big bust - we turned it on this morning and not even the check engine light was on. Took it in to the service place (who only sold tires on Sunday, no service) and the guy said if the check engine light was off, they couldn't find the code anyway and so it was probably fine if we didn't notice any handling problems, etc. We drove over 700(!) miles today, nary a warning light to be seen. Went through 280 miles of Missouri, a lot of Oklahoma and are in Hillsboro, TX right where 35E and 35W become plain ol' I-35. We were on the road for just over 12 hours so we're pretty tired but we got a room with a whirlpool and we get to sleep late so we should be fine for the less than 3 hours of driving tomorrow. (I think - it's only 3.5 hours from Dallas to Austin, right?)

3 comments

stuck in st. louis?
Mood: unsure
Music: scenes from "Dodgeball"
Posted on 2007-09-22 21:05:00
Tags: travel
Words: 467

Our journey thus far!

We got up early Friday morning, packed up the remainder of our stuff (including our computers which we had kept connected one last night), checked out of our apartment and went over to work one last time. Wandered around for a little bit, finished our last meeting and took off!

Good time was made as we passed through the long skinny part of Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, a little tiny bit of West Virginia, and a lot of Ohio before stopping in London, OH. (just west of Columbus) Lunch was at a gas station Blimpie which was decent and dinner was at a Cracker Barrel which was quite tasty. (we'd never been to one before) Stayed in a bed & breakfast which was kinda pricey. Neither of us had stayed in a B&B before so the whole thin gwas a little weird - felt like being in someone's house. Did get to use the whirlpool and read on the second-story porch swing.

This morning we had a nice breakfast and hit the road again. Got to Indiana and had lunch at a White Castle (our first time! an adventuresome trip, kinda) which was greasy but good. In planning we kinda forgot about the time change, and combined with the extra distance we had made the first day we got to St. Louis earlier than planned. Met up with Carrie and her boyfriend Chris (who I had never met) and her two roommates and walked to dinner at Fitz's. I had a root beer float which was delicious, and Carrie had a "quesadilla burger" (a burger with cheese with tortillas as buns) which is genius!

Walked back to her apartment, took lots of pictures of her apartment (which is quite roomy) and got back in the car to go another 100 miles. Except after around .2 miles the master warning light went on with the check engine light, as well as something with the hybrid system. Well, crap. Pulled off into a gas station, waited a minute, turned on the car again with the same warnings. Called a few local dealerships (thanks for the info Carrie), none were open tonight or even tomorrow (curse you weekends!), although Carrie did know a place that was open on Sunday. After that long conversation and booking a hotel room here, turned on the car...and the master warning light and the hybrid system lights were off, leaving just the check engine light. (I've had the check engine light come on before, got it checked out, nothing was wrong) Sooo the plan is to get the the places that are open early tomorrow and hope they can take a look at it. If not, well, maybe everything's OK.


So, wish us luck tomorrow! I'll try to twitter one way or another...

2 comments

two weeks to yuma...i mean austin
Mood: cheerful
Posted on 2007-09-07 09:37:00
Tags: travel cluesolver
Words: 194

We leave two weeks from today! Here's the route we're planning to take, going 6, 8, 8, 4 hours per day, stopping for the night in Ohio, Missouri, and somewhere close to the border between Oklahoma and Texas.

Things are coming together for the move. I'm going to finalize the movers today (going with Bekins), djedi's car is all set up to magically reappear down there, etc. Wish it would just hurry up and happen now. Two weeks isn't too bad though.

We raid Karazhan again tonight! I have high hopes.

The clue solver is not going well. I rewrote it using just propositional logic (no first order logic) last night, and it still gets stuck on very simple queries. I think I may have screwed up the resolution algorithm as it deduces all sorts of unhelpful things, so I guess I'll look at that next. If all else fails I could always just do the Monte Carlo-like simulation omega697 suggested, but I'm going to be disappointed if I can't actually prove things. Oh well.

For the clue GUI I'm thinking of trying out the Google Web Toolkit (GWT) to make a spiffy interface.

16 comments

in a new york minute
Mood: awake
Posted on 2007-08-27 10:28:00
Tags: travel
Words: 846

We're back from our NYC trip - I have lots of pictures that hopefully I'll get around to posting this week. I twittered some while we were there. My highlights, djedi style:


It was fun, and I'm glad we went when it's only a short train trip away!

0 comments

Greetings from the most anti-gay state in the nation!
Mood: excited
Posted on 2006-08-26 21:13:00
Tags: moving travel
Words: 650

Ah, Roanoke, Virginia. So nice to end up in such a nice nice hotel as this. There's a nice whirpool with rotating lights (and two mirrors), big flat screen tv, and the place is huge. Will put up pictures when we get there :-)

So, the first two days: fairly successful in terms of driving. Today, not so much. Since things had gone well we decided to stick with the plan of the Blue Ridge Parkway. First problem - I-40 near the North Carolina border was down to 45 mph (fairly curvy road - it was in a national park, so makes sense). But we stuck with it and took it over to the parkway. Now, the speed limit on the parkway is 45 mph the whole way, which we hadn't realized. Also, the drive is kinda scary if you go 45 mph - there are tight turns, especially with changing altitude (think roller coaster!) Finally, for some reason they let bikers go on the road (it's one lane both directions with absolutely no shoulder, and usually the trees are very close to the road). Now I'm sure it's an awesome (but tough!) ride with the scenery, but this is seriously dangerous because you have to either slow to a low speed to stay behind them or try to pass them quickly, which is scary because the road is fairly narrow and on a lot of the turns you're lucky if you can see a second in front of you. So that was scary.

Having said that, the view was absolutely gorgeous - we switched off drivers so we could both see the scenery. There are lots of overlooks where you can stop and take pictures, which I did :-)

So originally in my mind we were going to take the Blue Ridge Parkway the whole way to Roanoke, then spend the night in Charlottesville (another 120 miles). This was right out, because the 45 mph speed limit meant we would get there at like, oh, 3 am or something. (don't forget, we changed timezones which cost an hour as well) So we took the first "exit" off of the parkway (which were few and far between - I was a bit worried about running out of gas!) and decided to take some roads to get back to I-81. Apparently "state road" in North Carolina means "nice mountainous road where speed limits are 35 mph for long stretches of time", so this took for freakin' ever. Finally we were going to stop before Roanoke in Wytheville, but the hotels I called were all full up, so we bit the bullet and drove to Roanoke, where we are now. Yesterday we averaged 58 mph for the day, including stops (500 miles in 8.5 hours) - today it was 45 mph (500 miles in 11 hours) which makes a huuuge difference.

Luckily tomorrow's drive will only be around 300 miles so we don't have to get up early or anything.

Last night we watched The Break-Up while in the whirlpool. The movie ordering system was weird - you had to tune the TV to channel 2, then pick up the phone and press the "movie" button (which was on a box also tapped in to the phone line), then use the remote to select the movie, then swipe a credit card through the box to pay for it. Seems unnecessarily complicated...

Random bits:
- This morning right before we checked out, a guy in the hall said "so, you're from Texas" (I was wearing my Texas ARML shirt). I said yeah and he asked where my Kinky for Governor bumper sticker was. I was surprised to hear this in Tennessee :-)
- At lunch today (Subway for the third lunch in a row!) the girl making my sandwich said I looked like George from Grey's Anatomy (which I haven't seen). After looking at the picture, I guess I can see a resemblance...

Columbia tomorrow!

8 comments

Tennessee, our Tennessee
Mood: sick--
Location: Cookesville, TN
Posted on 2006-08-25 19:34:00
Tags: moving travel
Words: 277

Howdy! We've stopped for the night in Cookesville, TN. Had a good trip today - went just under 500 miles, so we're doing well enough. The only traffic we hit was in Nashville which probably cost us 20 minutes or so...

In terms of sickness, I'm probably a little better than yesterday, but I feel kinda feverish right now. Hopefully a stint in the whirlpool will at least clear up my sinuses. Speaking of which, do most hotels have rooms with whirlpools/jacuzzis nowadays? Because most of the ones here do, like the ones in Hot Springs. Maybe we've just never looked for that before, but we're totally doing so in the future :-)

Cookesville is a weird place - we've only seen the part right near I-40, but there are tooooons of hotels and restaurants (Jack in the Box, Wendy's, Chili's, IHOP, Ryan's, Steak and Shake, Starbucks, Subway, Outback are all within 3 blocks...and there are more I'm forgetting) right near our hotel. It seems like there may be a college right around here, based on the age of people at Wal-Mart and the conversation I overheard at IHOP, which might explain some of this...

One of the upcoming Alamo Drafthouse events we saw at "Snakes on a Plane" was the showing Chuck Norris movies with Chuck Norris himself in person, which looks awesome. I'm really gonna miss the Drafthouse.

Tomorrow is more driving, probably around the same amount (so our Sunday drive will be easy, especially since we have to get to Columbia by 5 PM), but we're gonna take the Blue Ridge Parkway for a while tomorrow which is supposed to be very scenic. I'm excited about that :-)

4 comments

LJ - Arkansas edition!
Mood: sick
Location: near a sweeeet jacuzzi!
Posted on 2006-08-24 20:17:00
Tags: moving travel
Words: 400

Howdy sports racers! This post is brought to you by the good folks at Clarion Resort who provide tasty tasty free high speed internet in every room. Not to mention the sweeeet jacuzzi in the room - we're totally going to use it again and watch TV in it after this :-)

The drive today went relatively OK. We're in Hot Springs, AK now which is right about on schedule in terms of distance (maybe a little farther than we needed to go), and the nice part is we got here around 5:30, so we got some relaxing time (sweeeet jacuzzi!) before heading out to a nice Italian place for dinner. The bad news is that my allergies are freakin' killing me. I don't know if it's a cold or not, but I was blowing my nose all day long and it's really starting to get raw from all that. I bought some of the fancy Kleenex(TM) with lotion on them which usually helps, so we'll see how that goes. Hopefully a good night's sleep tonight will help too.

Hot Springs (population 36,000) seems like a relatively nice place, although we drove through downtown to get to dinner and it looked a bit run down. Bill Clinton grew up here, and they converted his old high school into the Cultural Center of Arkansas, which is "a large complex where artists and performers may live and work". Although now that I search on that, one of the only places this shows up is in the brochure I'm currently reading. Maybe it's not finished yet?

Here's a random question - why is it standard practice to tip waiters 15% of the cost for food and drink? I can understand based on the number of drinks and entrees ordered, but is it harder to keep track of and deliver an expensive steak than a simple angel hair pasta? Or is this just an easy approximation to the number of entrees and drinks ordered? I know hosts and busboys get part of the tips - do the chefs as well? Because that would make sense, since presumably the more expensive meal is harder to cook.

Tomorrow the plan is to stop somewhere in Tennessee (we'll be spending a ridiculous amount of time in Tennessee, going from the southwest corner to the northeast corner), so hopefully I'll be able to post again if we can find another nice hotel :-)

9 comments

back from graduation!
Mood: sick?
Posted on 2006-05-23 11:10:00
Tags: travel
Words: 814

So wonderjess graduated this weekend, so I made the trip up to the ol' ROC to be there. It was a lot of fun! I took toons of pictures that maybe I'll get around to putting up tonight.

One downside is that I think I picked up a slight cold or something from my family (three out of four of the others felt sickish yesterday)...although I feel much better today than last night! (my flight got in around midnight and I was exhausted from travelling)

The way UofR does it is there is a ceremony for everyone in the morning, but they don't call names and nobody walks. You receive your diploma in smaller ceremonies on a per-department basis. So, the four of us got up early Saturday morning to get good seats - we got there around 8:15 for a ceremony that started around 9. The trouble was that when we got there, it was cold, windy and rainy. Luckily, it stopped raining before the ceremony started and the wind died down some, but it was still darn cold. To pass the time, Carrie and I and Mom played a word game - we each picked a word before it started that we thought would be said the most, and counted how many times it was said. Carrie beat us both by a lot. For your enjoyment, take a guess which word won!

Poll

[ Fill out Poll ] [ View Poll Results ] [ Discuss Results ] [ Close Poll ]

Poll #734605 The graduation word game!
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 13

Which word was uttered the most at U of R graduation?

View Answers
"academic"
2 (15.4%)
"meliora"
3 (23.1%)
"success"
8 (61.5%)

Carrie had "academic", which was said 7 times. I had "success" which was said 2 times (although "succeed" was said 2 times as well). Mom had "meliora" which, oddly enough, was only said twice. Thanks for playing!

That first ceremony was fairly short, only an hour long. Then we met up and went inside to warm up, then headed out to the next ceremony (where we met the grandparents). The Modern Language and Cultures ceremony (wonderjess majored in Russian) was not well run at all, so it took almost an hour to graduate maybe 40 people. And it was boring. And slooow.

But after that we headed over to brunch, which was awesome! I had a tasty omelette and some yogurt with granola, some hot tea, and strawberry shortcake from the strawberry shortcake bar. (yes, a strawberry shortcake bar!) I didn't even try the lunch stuff, which looked delicious, or the waffle maker or the hot chocolate with marshmallows in it. Mmmm.

After lunch was the political science ceremony, which was much more organized and better run. I didn't realize just how big the department is - they graduated almost 100 people this year! wonderjess won an award for the outstanding undergraduate in poli sci - congrats!

We were pretty "graduated out" by that point, so we helped wonderjess pack and store some more stuff, then relaxed for a bit and then went to a poli sci party hosted by a professor. That was sorta awkward, as Carrie and I clung together to avoid social awkwardness, at which we mostly succeeded. Then it was time for dinner (oof, so full by that point...maybe that's why I gained a bunch of weight this week :-( ) and bed after that.

wonderjess finished moving out, and she found an apartment for next year, so all in all it was a successful weekend. It was nice to see my family and grandparents, too.

Travel notes: I flew JetBlue for the first time, and boy is it awesome! The seats were pretty comfortable and the inflight DirecTV and XM satellite radio are awesome. I watched an X-Files, Daily Show, Colbert Report, Yankees-Mets game, and some other stuff I'm probably forgetting. Also listened to the end of Game 7 of Mavs-Spurs. On the way there, I watched Game 6 of the Cavs-Pistons game - unfortunately, the signal cut out (which happened reasonably often) when there was 1.6 seconds left and came back on after the game was over. The second flight, I watched Game 6 of Mavs-Spurs....until there was 16 seconds left and we had landed and they turned the system off. Doh!

On the way there, I was flying into JFK and we had started late (and I only had 50 minutes for my connection anyway)...then the flight was slower than expected. But I was still going to be OK until the pilot announced the flight in front of us had declared an emergency and so no one else could land until they did. So we had to circle around a bit. Then when we finally did land, we had to sit on the ground for maybe 10 minutes because there were no gates available. Luckily they held the flight for me, because otherwise I surely would not have made it...

On the way back, I got to spend a lot of time at JFK airport in New York. It's a neat place! Lots of interesting restaurants, and a few bookstores, and just generally a very busy place, which I liked.

7 comments

back home, finally
Mood: tired
Music: some sort of tired music or something
Posted on 2005-08-17 22:26:00
Tags: travel charlottesweb
Words: 1039

I'm back in Austin!


So I left on Friday afternoon to go up north and see my family. Unfortunately my flight out of Austin (to Cincinnati) was delayed an hour or so, but since I was going to have a three hour layover in Cincinnati, no biggie. Ate dinner in what is possibly the most depressing airport concourse in America (Cincinnati terminal 3 concourse C...to be fair, it was under construction, but it was all concrete and harsh lighting. Yuk!), then went on to Burlington (after a 15-minute delay or so). Got in around midnight and made it to Plattsburgh around 1 and promptly fell asleep.

Saturday and Sunday were spent cleaning and packing stuff up. Maybe I should back up. My grandparents (on my mom's side) have lived in Plattsburgh (upstate NY) for 50 years or so, but they're going to move to live in Hanover, NH (in the summer) and Houston (in the winter). There are a number of reasons for this, the most important being that it's getting harder for my grandma to get up stairs (the bedrooms are upstairs), and this way they'll get to be closer to their kids (my Aunt Rebecca and Uncle Barrett live in Hanover). So, this was all planned and stuff - then my grandma fell and had to get pins in her hip. So now she's in a rehab center in Hanover (more on this later). So, us plus Grandpa went to clean and move stuff to Hanover, except that we didn't know what stuff to keep and what to get rid of, etc, since a lot of it is Grandma's.

Anyway, so we drove to Hanover on Sunday via Burlington (dropping my dad off at the airport so he could go home) and Waterbury (where the Ben and Jerry factory is! Mmm...). We visited Grandma before getting to the condo - she's doing quite well, her physical therapy is going well and her spirits seemed relatively high. Then we unloaded and unpacked. Monday and Tuesday we spent visiting Grandma and Aunt Rebecca and Uncle Barrett and their children (our cousins, for those of you keeping score at home) Ethan and Chloe. That was fun.

Then, Tuesday, time to leave. Everyone else's flight left at 2:15ish and mine left at 5:15ish, so I hunkered down for a long stay at the airport - finished a few books and learned some more lines. Then, the flight was delayed two hours (this means six hours at the Burlington airport, which, while not as depressing as the Cleveland concourse, is extremely boring. The only "shop" inside security was a snack cart, from which I bought trail mix and a cinnamon roll), and we finally left. I was told that my Cincinnati-Austin flight was delayed 20 minutes, so I might just make it if things went well. We were a little later getting into Cincinnati than we had predicted, things did not go well, and I spent the night in Cincinnati.

Which, I used to always sort of want to happen, being an adventure and such. But I was really tired by this point, and disoriented (Cincinnati is in the Eastern time zone, fyi), so I didn't enjoy it as much as I could have. Plus, the flight they put me on the next morning was scheduled to leave at 8:53, and they asked me when I checked in what time I wanted to take the shuttle in, and I didn't know if they had breakfast or not so I said 7:00 to be sure I had enough time. Which meant I had to get up at 6:30, and they did in fact have a nice continental breakfast there, waffles included. Oh well. The room was quite nice - it was actually a suite with refrigerator, couch, and 2 TVs (I have pictures!) but I just watched a few episodes of Law & Order, took a sorely needed shower, and went to bed.

Next day! (i.e. today, or at least today when I started this entry...) Got up, was exhausted but made the shuttle no problem. This flight was a "true" Delta flight and not a Delta Connections thing, so I got to go to terminal 3, concourse B which was a very nice concourse. So I walked around it some, then sat down and read and waited for my flight. Unfortunately, it was...wait for it...delayed due to fog. (for the record, all 4 flights I went on, plus the one I was scheduled for and didn't go on, were delayed) Anyway, it left about an hour and 15 minutes late, and destroyerj was nice enough to pick me up (and got a speeding ticket on the way back, for which I felt bad).


So I get home by way of Wendy's (mmm!), and got home. At this point I knew that I had to work the booth at NIWeek from 4-7 and that I had Charlotte's Web rehearsal from 6:30-9:30 (so I would be late to rehearsal, and probably not get dinner in there), so I hurried and tried to find an electric razor so I could shave (there's another story in there, but it's uninteresting), and failed. Then I checked my email: hallelujah, Charlotte's Web rehearsal cancelled! Woohoo!

But I showered and went down to NIWeek, worked the booth which went fine, then came back here by way of NI (drove a coworker there) and Chick-Fil-A. My main task for tonight was to try to install Win98 and WoW (and Skype) so I could be ready with that (since I'm not having much luck making WoW work under Linux). Fiddling around with the hard drives took much longer than I thought, but I eventually got things set up and Win98 partially installed, only to have it reboot when it tries to finish the install. Whee. So now I'm working on XP. This stuff is gonna work, dang it!

This entry is getting long, so I'm gonna wind it down. Which is convenient, because I'm about out of things to say. djedi gets home tmw, which'll be nice. And I'm doing pretty well learning my Charlotte's Web lines, which is good since we're supposed to be off-book by Monday, which means some work is required this weekend.

3 comments

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