Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas

Dealing with L.‘s medical problems had made us want to get into the Christmas spirit early, so we decided to buy our tree pretty early in December. It was snowing pretty hard while getting the tree so by the time we got home it turned to sound of rain when putting the tree into the stand. Luckily all the melted snow ran down the tree and filled up the bowl so it was not a big mess. We decided to wait for tree to dry out before decorating it but instead ran out of steam. The tree sat for more than a week undecorated, but it was putting out the smell so it was doing its job.
This Christmas we had decided to not go anywhere, just have the two of us stay home together, no guests, no stress, no traveling. I think it worked out pretty well as a break every few years to do it this way. We also decided on the idea of gifts of acts rather than buying or making homemade gifts. With us moving to London we didn’t want any more stuff that would just get thrown away or put in storage. Funnily enough we both just kind of decided independently without talking about it that doing three things was the right number. The other problem was the idea of unwrapping gifts, since it was just us, and we were giving each other acts instead of physical things our tree looked kind of bare. So we both got fancy with a software program to make flyers and created basically an advertisement explaining what we would be doing for them.
My gifts to her:
Picnic every month for 6 months: I planned locations and menus for picnics to give us something to look forward to. I went through the house and put together all the things we needed for into a picnic kit and wrapped that up. Of course winter picnics are tricky so I had to be creative with locations (indoor picnic at the Winter Garden, and having a picnic at home.)
Book of the month: I chose some books that we were both interested in learning about and set up a book of the month club for us to read, learn something new and then talk about it.
Planning software for goals: It had seemed like we had always just had a pretty easy plan set out for us: everything planned once we were done with the years of school. Now that we were out of school we needed internal motivation. This way we could sit down together and plan it out.
Her gifts to me:
Trash for the year: I had been the de facto person to have taken out the trash since we had been living in New York so she said that she would take over until we moved to London.
Cooking english food: As a way of preparing for the culture shock she put together a cookbook of recipes she found online of British foods. Once a month we would try something new.
Massage coupons: hmm, pretty self explanatory.
Gag gifts: Of course Santa still had to bring gifts and as always Santa is the one with a sense of humor so he brings gag gifts. To L. Santa brought some whiskey flavored barbecue sauce with side story about drunk reindeer. Santa brought me a ceramic sandal with various beach related stuff all over it that was made as a candle holder. Why would a sandal make a good candle holder? Only Santa knows.
One of the other things I tried was to download a video of a fire crackling and played it on the TV. Surprisingly it did its job. I cranked up the heater to add to the illusion but the crackling of the fire made Christmas feel all the more homey.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hansel & Gretel

One of the things we wanted to do was to see an Opera while in New York City. But, I admit, I am an uncultured swine that would want to see the opera in English. So when my friend offered to buy tickets for an English performance of Hansel & Gretel we couldn’t turn them down. We thought that we were going to get to knock two things off our list and get to see Carnegie Hall too but it was at the Lincoln Center. (Had we not been uncultured swine then we would have known that all operas where at the Lincoln Center because they built the translators into the seats.) As it turned out even with the opera in English we still needed the translator box to understand what they were singing. I really don’t know how people could follow operas before these were invented. In the back of the seat in front of you is a little box that would spell out the text of the line they were currently singing in any number of languages. Once I got the translator set up and was able to follow along, I realized just how twisted of a tale the story really is when they act it out. This was also purposely an over the top presentation that really added to it too.
It had been threatening to snow all day and when we came out the snow had made good on the promise. It was a total blizzard. We of course decided to show how uncultured we were and got into a snow fight between us and some kids that had also seen the show, the problem was that the snow was to dry and would not stick together. They had used snow blowers and cleared the front pavilion into a giant pile of snow, so instead we switched to a game of king of the mountain. The thing was that since the snow was so dry you could fall into the pile and not know when you hit it. Between the layers of coats and how soft the snow was you could dive in head first and feel suspended in air on a cloud of snow.
Of course the best part about a huge snow storm like this is that it does not affect travel in New York City. All the subways were underground (which did cause the problem of everyone’s glasses fogging up) and we took the train home from there which just plowed the snow out of it’s way off the tracks.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Visiting my Sister

Since we were in the area we also wanted to visit my sister. When we called them to come and visit she wanted us to pick up something for them from Ikea since it would mean long drive for them otherwise. There was a mall next door to Ikea so L. and I decided to walk around to stretch our legs. The mall ended up being a lot bigger than we thought and the extra crowds made it two hours before we came back out. This made it so we also hit traffic so we ended up getting to my sisters house four hours later than planned. Boy did I feel guilty.
It was really fun playing with their kids and we had fun chasing them around the house, and in the evening we had fun talking while playing a game that we seem to have gotten everyone hooked on, Canasta. The next morning while they were at church to make up for arriving late and since my sister is quite the master chef I decided to share one of my recipes that I’m kind of known for: stacked enchiladas. They were a hit.
While preparing the car for the drive home (replacing the air filter and wind shied wipers) My nephew honked the horn while I was under the hood. I blew up and yelled at L. to not let the kids do that because of my ears. The problem being that my Nephew felt terrible and was moping around and crying for making me mad. It wouldn’t have been as bad expect the last time that they visited I had blown up over something stupid also. I never realized how much my current high stress level was affecting how I interacted with kids. (Basically having a short temper) That is something I will have to work on.
The good news is that we were able to use technology to get us home while avoiding traffic. We used the maps in our phones to figure out where the traffic was and the GPS to route us around it. Most likely it took us just as long to get home as if we would have driven through the traffic but this way it was a leisurely drive through the country side instead of being stuck on a turnpike getting charged a toll to inch along the road.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Black Friday

The day after Thanksgiving is known as “Black Friday”. The first day of the year that stores profit margins go from “in the red” to “in the black”. It is considered the first official day of shopping for Christmas presents. It is famous for the sales and early morning specials for stores. People buy newspapers for the advertisements and plan ahead over which stores they will go to and may even split it up amongst friends to get better deals from spread out stores. While the best sales are in the early morning on Friday, usually sales of some sort last all weekend.
Since we are moving to London however I was not to interested in the black Friday deals. I was already getting rid of stuff mentality. The problem is that we all woke up early and were bored of things to do around the house by 9 or 10 in the morning. So we went to the outlet stores with L.’s aunt and uncle since they were planning to get some clothes for Christmas presents for their kids. We parked across the street from the mall since the mall parking lot of was full and people were yelling and honking horns for parking spots. I have to admit that it was fun shopping for little kid clothes since we could show it to her (so we know she would like it ) but she wouldn’t remember it by Christmas. We could only take a couple of hours of being bumped around and long lines so we went home and had Thanksgiving leftovers for lunch and decided to go bowling instead of more shopping. (A much better choice.) In the evening I quickly drove over to Target and bought gingerbread house building kits. L. and I had done it twice before and it seemed like a better way to kick off the Christmas season than shopping. Each adult was paired with a kid and we had fun gluing on gumdrops with frosting.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving

My friend had found some “sew your own moccasins” at a discount store, but only in extra large sizes. So he bought me a pair. (Finally my large feet pay off.) While at first I thought it was cool to be able to sew shoes, I quickly got tired of pulling everything tight (it took about 3 hours of work.) However it did make it worth it to give me a pair of moccasins to wear for Thanksgiving weekend. It very much put me in the festive spirit.
I-95 is kind of notorious for having traffic on weekends with Thanksgiving being the worst. So many people drive between Boston, New York City and Washington DC that the whole area is referred to as Bosco. We had planned to leave early Thursday but we both got off work early on Wednesday and we were already packed so we left early to skip the traffic rush and it worked. I have never liked driving through New Jersey. That part of it is just depressing, and the hazy fog wasn’t helping to cheer up all the refineries.
We arrived in Washington DC way earlier than we expected so L.’s uncle was still at work at the Pentagon and he offered to give us a tour. We got a tour of the areas of the Pentagon that didn’t need security clearance for, and it is funny how much of a museum it is inside there. Apparently it’s all about showing heads of state the history/power of the American military: funny, weird, and cool all at the same time. We left L.’s uncle there to work and drove on to their house to visit.
Thanksgiving to me is all about visiting with family. One of the fun things we did was to all pile on the couch with all our young cousins and watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade. While I did enjoy it, and watching my cousins reactions. There really seemed to be a lot of lip synching people on floats, and not that many giant balloons, which is what the parade is famous for. The other favorite part of Thanksgiving is making Persimmon pudding. Everyone seems to like it when I make it but I had to make sure the bring the Persimmons with me.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

West Coast traveling

With T.’s wedding being in remote part of Idaho, it was actually cheaper to fly into Seattle and rent a car there and drive the extra 4 hours instead of flying into Spokane and get the car there (between the airline tickets and car the difference was about $350) After driving back from T.’s wedding we had a day in Seattle before needing to fly out. L.‘s brother L. with his wife and baby also came with us. Traveling with a little baby was an interesting experience too. Everyone has told L. and I that as soon as we have a baby there is no way that we will be able to travel at the same level that we do currently. While we did have to make changes in the way that we traveled I think that it is not impossible to do it. We also visited with L.’s aunt who lived in Tacoma.
Being in Seattle there is a very different vibe. There really is a cultural difference between west coast and east coast. The distance between things is one aspect. Even downtown the roads are not as narrow. It changes from city to suburbs must quicker and suburbs are much more spread out. There are other differences too though. I don’t know how to explain it, there is a much more laid back feeling. The local people spent time looking around too, instead of just the tourists. There is much more of a hippie culture (recycling and the environment are much more integrated into the culture). I think that no matter where I live I will always be more of a west coast person then east.

Monday, November 16, 2009

T.’s Wedding

My wife’s brother T. was getting married. Not only that he asked me to be his best man. Why me and not a friend? Well he might have asked since he was feeling guilty for flaking out on me for not going to Burning Man, or he couldn’t depend on any of his friends to be there. I wasn’t expecting it, but whatever the reason, I was honored (I’ve never been a Best Man before) and decided to do the best I could and enjoy the experience.
The duties of the best man seem to center around a toast and the bachelor party. Since they had someone else doing the toast I just had to worry about the bachelor party. T. didn’t want any of the generic activities (strippers, gambling, general debauchery) so I tried to center activities around what he liked. Cooking big steaks, watching movies, and pretty much just cousins and brothers being there (racing go-karts had to be cancelled). I couldn’t resist getting a cheap blow-up doll in place of a stripper to get a good laugh, and I borrowed a projector from work for showing the movie. Of course my bad was searched at the airport and there was an extra smily drawn on the card from airport security.
L.’s aunt had a timeshare allotment that she had to use up so everyone got rooms next to each other at a nearby resort. It made it a lot like a family reunion too. We spent the day before setting up for the wedding (they had so many little decorations that had to be pinned up.) I also got my finishing fitting for my tuxedo. I am tall enough that I am used to having a hard time finding the right size, but instead all the working out I had done was lost since they only had tuxes for either tall and skinny or fat, no tailored coats.
The day of, as the best man I was also in charge of “decorating” the car and hotel room. They made me promise to not wrap the car in toilet paper so instead L. and I filled it up with balloons with a nice big sign. All of the cousins were livid that they didn’t get to help out with the decorating since T. had usually been the one to lead in decorating their cars. For the hotel room we covered it in rose petals, delivered all the presents and created a special bouquet to leave on the bed. I taped a bunch of colorful condoms to sticks and took that to a florist where they wrapped it with babies breath and cellophane to make it look good.
The wedding itself, I think was done very well. They made sure that every thing moved along quickly by doing things like merging the reception line and food line into one. I also liked an idea they had by having a dance for all the married couples. As the song went on they asked people married longer and longer to sit down until there was only one couple left. They then asked for the advice of what kept their marriage together for so long.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Halloween 2009

The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze: Imagine 4,000 pumpkins give or take all carved and lit. Yeah the first time I heard about it I thought it sounded lame too. But they use good artists and had some pretty good themes. Using 6 or so pumpkins to make a full size skeleton, dinosaurs, aliens, and pirate ships. The orange glow from everything; it really looked cool. Now the secret is that there are foam pumpkins that are carved too so they reuse some year to year, but I figure as long as they are carved then it is better than wasting the food.

Sleepy Hollow Haunted Hayride: We couldn’t resist taking a hayride through the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Of course they just told stories while in the cemetery so they are still respecting the dead, then once outside the bring out the guy dressed as the headless horseman. I think they over did it though by trying to work in Henry Hudson too. From what I could follow it ended up being pirates fighting with zombies under control of the witches looking for a necklace that the headless horseman stole. I mean it is Sleepy Hollow, go with the headless horseman theme and stick with it.

Halloween Night: Both L. and I were working on costumes that failed. I was trying to finish the idea that I had started originally for Burning Man. The idea of 1000 little L.E.D. lights spread out over a suit. The problem is that the cloth that I bought just would not work with the stiff metallic thread. So when the day rolled around we looked through the costumes we already had from years past. L. decided to be Rapunzel, she just needed a wig. I decided to be the Japanese anime version of “Strong Bad”, an internet cartoon (homestarrunner.com) that was also known as “Stinko Man” (Yeah I know, obscure. But that is my goal.)
We met up with some friends and headed down to the parade route in lower Manhattan but it started raining, then raining hard. It would not be fun walking around in a drenched costume so we decided not to be in the parade. (I had made my mask at the last minute and the glued on felt was started to peel as the glue got wet too.) L. and I decided to head to a party she had been invited to in Time Square. When we got to Time Square I was wanted to take pictures of our costumes so I put my mask back on and a crowd of Japanese tourists ran over and started taking my picture so I guess my costume went over with someone, even if they probably had no clue who I was (they spoke no English) After posing with them for a few pictures we headed for the Bar where all of L.’s friends were. They had a costume party and the costume that I had spent an hour putting together with a mask that never did dry ended up winning first place. (I personally thought that a guy that arrived late should have won since his costume - Marvin, the Martian - should have won first place.) My prize was a bowling party for 9 people.
Now it just so happened that one of the world series games was going on at the same time, and the Yankees were one of the teams playing. So half the bar was people yelling at all the TV screens for the baseball game and the other half was us. I have never been into baseball. But having it as a background thing to watch, where it was a world series game, and it was a local team in the running, and there were other things to do when I got bored with the game, it made it actually fun to watch.
Of course we needed to take the train home so we made sure to leave the party early enough so that we could catch the last train home at 2 A.M. It was obvious that everyone on the train, didn’t want the party to end so the party just kept going. There were a lot of people passed out, lots of people dancing in the aisles, and everyone comparing costumes with each other.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Knicks Game

We won tickets for a Basketball game. It was for the New York Knicks vs Los Angeles Clippers, but hey they were free tickets so who was I to complain. The problem was I didn’t know who to root for. The current area I was living, or where I had lived most of my life. Considering neither of us had never been to a basketball game we went with the intention to just enjoy it.
The funny part was that the night we went into the city was also the night of the santa pub crawl. So hundreds of people dressed like Santa wandering from bar to bar all a little tipsy makes for an interesting sight. We had never been to Madison Square Garden, and they keep threatening to tear it down and replace it so I guess I am glad to have got the chance to see it now. It was pretty obvious that it was an old place because it is the first arena that I have been to where it is hard to find a concession stand. The problem is that when we tried to buy stuff while there everything was expensive. When L. bought a soda and popcorn and handed over her credit card she was surprised that it was $14 because the only way to get it was as a surprise bundle that included an ugly orange christmas hat. The giant foam finger ended up costing $15 and a little refrigerator magnet was $10. The more I see people wearing team branded clothes and how people get in competitions of who can be decked out the most the more I feel sorry for them. All they want is to feel part of a group, and the company owning the team knows this and takes advantage of them by charging twice or three times what something should cost. The problem is that true sports fans can’t seem to see that the company owning the team doesn’t like them and is taking advantage of them more than a con artist ever could.
As with all other games I’ve been to there seems to be more work going into keeping the crowd interested and on their feet routing for the home team. There were contests between randomly chosen seats, a drummer during a break, a talent contest for kids, t-shirt cannons shooting shirts into the stands. This is in addition to the normal cheer leaders. I was actually interested in watching the game since I like playing basketball so all these things seemed a little annoying but I guess they have to something during the breaks.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Saving the World

Of course I say “Saving the World” jokingly. As part of the new group I am in at work the focus is to develop software for emerging economies. Basically, Africa. But, working at a large company leads to a lot of meetings and less getting things done. However, our group is trying to work with Unicef so I got to go to their building. Now I knew they were part of the U.N. so when I headed into New York City I thought I would be heading into the famous U.N. complex and get to see all the stuff that all the tourists doesn’t. Unfortunately for me, Unicef has their own building right outside the U.N. complex.
I was there for a conference called the Open Mobile Consortium. It was a conference put together by Unicef for all the people doing studies in Africa to talk about problems and what works. The funny thing was that most everyone there were college students from Columbia and NYU. More specifically everyone I talked to were ethnographers. I was referred to as “The engineer”. Coming from working for computer companies most of my life I found it hilarious that they all thought that field work was easy, it was the engineering that was hard. Of course, still being students they did not have all the run-ins with lawyers that you have to worry about when working for a company. Lawyers lead to reams of paperwork to make sure that no one feelings are hurt when you ask them a questions.
Most of the applications that people are working on were SMS systems were users would text messages to servers that would parse the text, (usually health care information) and store and process it. These kind of programs make sense since most of the technology right now in Africa is centered around cell phones.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Canceling my Phone (or “Lingo is Evil”)

I had figured out a way to get cheaper phone service so I needed to cancel my current phone service. The problem is that the billing department wouldn’t answer their phones and tech support wouldn’t cancel my account. I ended up canceling the credit card they were charging monthly as the only way to cancel the account after calling many times and sending cancel letters. Of course this made them send back a letter saying if I didn’t pay for the account they would report me to the phone regulatory board (NTDE) So instead I filed complaints with the BBB (better business bureau), FTC (Federal Trade Commission), and NTDE. I actually got a response back from the CEO of the NTDE saying they would look into it. With no way to end up in collections when trying to cancel Lingo, I would warn anyone to not sign up with them and I rate them as one of the worst companies because of this (their service while we had them was not the best either.)
Attached is the letter that I sent to everyone, that got such a response:

This is a complaint about one of your member companies using the names
"Primus Telecommunications" and "Lingo". The company has made it
impossible to cancel an account with them. These are bad business
practices that tarnish your groups name and create bad data (from dead
accounts unable to cancel), which leads to false reports in your
database, making its value decrease.
There is no way to cancel the account through their phone system.
Calling into tech support, I was able to get a person in under 5
minutes; but calling into customer service states that to many people
are waiting and to leave a message. Messages (contact info and acct
number) left over 3 months ago still have not been answered. Using
email support returns an email that canceling over email is not
allowed and gives a secret phone tree selection for customer service.
Using the hidden phone tree menu choice I am on hold for 20 minutes
then a message to call back during business hours, no matter what time
of day I called.
I have had to resort to canceling the card they are charging just to
cancel the account and have been forced to report them to the Better
Business Bureau (ID# 8069789) and Federal Trade Commission (ref#
24883103).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Computer problems

So it turns out our house has a lot of power outages. Almost everything we have has battery backups so we never noticed since we were either gone or asleep. The problem is the brown outs were knocking out the computer. It must have slowed the motor in the hard drive so it failed. I had a RAID in the computer and one drive failed. Then an automatic Windows update made it so the computer would not boot because it saw something was wrong with the RAID but wouldn’t uninstall itself. This started July 14th. I couldn’t use Windows XP boot disk to fix the computer because Vista formated differently. I couldn’t use the Vista disk because I had Vista64, and the Vista64 was an upgrade disk so it wouldn’t boot. These are the kind of problems that companies are supposed to do the logic to figure out so these kind of things don’t work.
I realized I would have to reformat so I found an old laptop hard drive and adapter. I reinstalled Vista and the 64-bit upgrade. Then got an online backup service. It was slow but I got everything backed up in a week. The very next day another hard drive failed, so everything was backed up just in time.
The first thing I did was buy a battery backup for the computer. I put in replacement hard drives and restored the backups. In all it took months for what should have been a couple of hours. It doesn’t matter how much I know about computers things will still give headaches sometimes.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Trip to Rhode Island

There was a conference in Rhode Island for Makers (people who want to make their own stuff.) I wanted to get some information on the Arduino programming platform. We also wanted to see Rhode Island so that sealed the deal.
We left in the morning and stopped for lunch at a local diner. I couldn’t help but to order couhog. Yep, they taste like scallops. We got to Providence early so we decided to go to Slater Mill in Pawtucket. It was interesting to see all the old machinery and how they solved problems.
The Maker’s Faire was small compared to the main one in San Jose but I found out the information I needed. There were people there that had built things ranging from a fuel cell Model T to giant foam costumes. There were soldering stations to teach and help build along with just about every attachment possible for the Arduino.
The biggest headache that we had was the mall. It really could not have been designed worse for cars. I made the mistake of parking there since it was the only place that had all day parking. It took a half hour to get back on the road aimed to the freeway. I drove around forever and it just led back in a circle to the mall.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Burning Man - The Trip Home

I had no desire to stay around and get stuck in hours of traffic as 45,000 people tried to stream out onto the one lane highway for 120 miles so I left right after the temple burned. I had already packed up my car during the day and literally walked back from the temple burning, got into the car and drove. I still got stuck in about 10 minutes of traffic as the 6 lanes of cars squeezed down to the one lane road but it was pretty much free sailing from there. There were quite a few times there were stop signs or something that would become traffic snarls as the night became morning. It was funny I got out of there at 1 AM so I had spent exactly one week there. Until I got back to the Freeway I crossed through a couple of Indian reservations and I had been warned that they demand payment for speeding tickets on pulling people over so I made sure to follow the speed limit to the Freeway.

The lack of sleep over the week and trying to pull an another all night drive finally caught up with me and I had to sleep a few hours in a truck parking lot. They had dumpsters for the trucks to clean out their cabs so I was able to dispose of my bags of trash that had accumulated over the week easily.

Before arriving at my sister’s house I took one of the remaining gallons of water and dumped it over my head to try to clean out as much dust as possible. I then shaved and got dressed into clothes I had been saving so no dust got on them so I could look mostly presentable.

I hadn’t realized how much I needed it but I had used Burning Man as a way to decompress. At first I just tried filling up my schedule with different events but that failed (as so many other people I heard had the same trouble) since the sense of time did not seem as important out in the desert. (Though I was constantly telling people what time it was since I was like a god since I had remembered to wear a watch.) I tried seeing all art on the first day like it was some sort of check list type thing and of course it just kept showing up throughout the week so there was no way to see it all. Some of the art took 2-3 times of taking it in before it had an effect, other work required viewing at a time of day. Riding on art cars with someone else in control of the destination was also something to acclimate to.

The funny part is that as I told my stories to my friends and family a lot of them inevitably would say they should have gone with me and if I was planning to go back so they could go with me the next time. I hadn’t even thought about the next time. I was more worried about how to get all the dust out of everything.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Burning Man - The Temple

Being at the temple at any point during the week had a very different feel than the rest of the locations there. The basic idea was that people would write messages to deceased friends and family or to people that they missed that were not at burning man. Then when they burnt the temple it was supposed to send the message to that person. This led to a lot of shrines of photos and personal effects being tied to the temple along with many messages. A lot of people would be overcome with grief and just be crying next to what they had wrote. Reading so many messages of people being missed had the same effect on me. It felt like I was at a wake for hundreds of people. It was also the first time I have been to a wake where someone would walk by in varying degrees of dress, however it fell right in line with people walking around offering strangers hugs. I was surprised by how many messages related to either suicide, drug overdose, or just referred to a bad decision. Other messages were funny, or political (there was a whole debate scrawled on one wall about not writing negative messages about George Bush on the temple.)

For some reason I woke up earlier than usual Sunday morning so I decided to go to the temple to watch the sun rise. Everyone was quiet and I am guessing most people had been up most of the night. It seemed like everyone was moving in slow motion.

That evening the ceremony was much different than burning the man. There was no laser pointers, no cheering, no fire dancers and jugglers, and no fireworks. a procession went around the temple then a fire was started in the middle. Everyone was silent as it burned except for a few people chanting far off. There was a kite shaped like the ghost of the man that flew over the temple, I guess to signify that he had been freed. This time instead of a party it was more of a 3 story camp fire to stare into.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Burning Man - The Man

There were not as many messages written on the structure around the man as were on the temple but the ones that were related much more a message of hope and happiness that was meant to go out to everyone instead of just one single person. Everyone I asked about the symbolism had a different answer. The only thing they agreed on was to come up with your own symbolism. I see it as temporary art that must be enjoyed by those participating while it is present. (Trust me, pictures are not the same.)

The actual ceremony of burning the man was right on schedule. It was kind of funny to see the statue raise its arms since it was so large. I have heard they have had to delay for hours due to dust storms. There was a large procession of people, then fire jugglers came out. Some on stilts and others had what looked like whole candelabras being twirled. After about 30 minutes of fire swishing around they sat down and a firework show started around the man that was capped off by huge fireballs. People kept cheering as it burned and they had to tackle one lady that came running forward before the firemen had given the all clear. I couldn’t help but think of the saying “At Burning Man there are no spectators” and add my own ending of “except when the firemen haven’t given the all clear.”

Once the last of the structure fell the firemen gave the clear signal and people rushed forward and started moving counter-clockwise around the fire. The heat was intense but it was interesting how fast the curve dropped off. So the difference between completely unbearable to needing to rotate the exposed side about every minute was about 5 feet. There were people dressed up as boy scouts with long poles that were roasting marshmallows and feeding them to the crowd. Others were just sitting with their backs to the fire with the firemen in full protection asking then every few minutes if they were still okay.

There were a lot of people dancing to the scattered music from the different art cars and people were wishing each other a “Happy New Year” as that was the event their lives revolved around. Everyone was happy and laughing. It was defiantly the peak of the week long party.

Coming back from the man I had a hard time finding my camp because a lot of people had already broken down their camps so the surroundings looked different, plus all the street signs were missing as people took them as souvenirs so I had to count streets to find my way back to my tent.

The next morning after checking out the temple at sunrise I walked over to the pile of ash to see what it was like. There were still people there, a few in sleeping bags that had obviously spent the night there. People were still going through the ashes looking for souvenirs. Some people were pointing out to other people what was left of the different joints as the man had fallen like it was some kind of crime scene. Still other people were having what seemed like a religious (or drug induced) experience with lots of time just looking off into the distance.

Burning Man - Events

I went to Burning Man thinking that the best part would be meeting and talking to people, and hearing their stories. In reality the thing that I had to most fun doing was going to classes or events. I had no idea that it was organized enough that they could hand out a list of things that would be happening. As their part to contribute people would offer to teach classes or hold events. This meant anything from learning Yoga, advice of different kinds, to cognitive science on how the brain perceives itself as being aware.

Events varied from pimping out your bike, giving out free costumes, sending postcards, and a lot of free alcohol for doing certain actions. Of course not everyone signed up in time for the schedule of events to list their way that they wanted to give back to the community so a lot of events were announced on the big board or I just come across things while riding around. It seems like a lot of people chose to give out alcohol and were very persistent in their desire to “give back to the community”. A few times I was stopped by people jumping out into the road holding stop signs trying their hardest to persuade me to visit their bar. Some of the impromptu events that I took part in was a renaming and free cookies ceremony (where I got the final name of “cream” and a tasty cookie) and another one with free ice cream that was mostly melted and vegan but still some of the best I’ve tasted and I wasn’t about to complain.

Any time there was a line of people, people in line would inevitably start swapping stories “So this one time at Burning Man”. Pretty much the standard way to open a conversation with anyone was to ask them how many burns they have been to, or what was the last burn they were at.

Since my art idea did not get finished the way that I gave back was through volunteering. I did the lamp lighting one night and trash pickup another.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Burning Man - Politics

I would say about half the people I talked to were from San Francisco. Another quarter or so were from Oregon, and the rest were pretty evenly split from across the world. As is no surprise San Francisco and Portland are probably the two most liberal places in the United States. A lot of the stickers I saw on cars backed this up. (Including one that was seriously telling anarchists to unite.) As a weird corollary I was also surprised by how many people had earned their living at some point in their life by working in the circus. I only see it as a matter of time before conservative talk show hosts start saying that circuses have a secret liberal agenda.

It’s funny, when I was researching Burning Man on what to bring I kept coming across the idea that previous years were better. If it were to be believed every year Burning Man gets progressively worse. While I understand that there is probably a change over the decades that they have been doing this I think it has more to do with desire to be part of something special. For the same reason that people have elevated Woodstock to a concert that there will never be an equal of; each year that passes the nostalgia builds further and further for older Burning Man events too. I think this is also evidenced by the fact that I heard a lot of people say that this was one of the best Burns they have been to.

There were signs taped up in all the porta-potties advertising camps or stating political opinions. One that stuck with me is “Certain people will rebel unless the reason for the rules are explained to them, and most people at Burning Man are in a state of rebellion wouldn’t you say?” I think it sums up rather well why anarchy and organization can so easily co-exist together here.

Burning Man - Traditions

I wish that there was an easier way of saying “that person’s non-verbal communication cues are non-threatening and engender trust.” If that doesn’t make sense then you might better understand what I heard a lot of: “that person had a good aura.” Or if a more organized religion is your forté then you might hear it as “they have a kind heart and a sweet spirit.”

There was the concept of faith. The belief that if you needed something bad enough then “the playa will provide.” As it turns out I had an experience where this came true. I guess one of the times I got in my car I hit the headlight switch, but the car has light sensors so it didn’t turn on. It also wouldn’t turn on at night because the RFID in the key fob wasn’t close enough. But when I was sleeping in my tent with my keys in my pocket that must have been close enough for the headlights to turn on and kill the battery. While I knew all I needed to do was turn the car on so the hybrid battery could recharge the car battery I flirted with the idea of lining up enough AA batteries to get the 12V but decided I didn’t want to blow a fuse so I asked around for jumper cables. I didn’t have to ask to many people before someone had a backup battery with jumper cables attached. What happened was just like other heavily religious groups they feel like a cohesive group and will go further to help strangers within the group so that things get accomplished that otherwise would seem impossible.

Burning Man has been around for enough years so that traditions have created and changed. Being always inquisitive I asked a lot of questions about why. A lot of traditions started because someone did it one year as a contribution and then everyone just kept doing it. Others no one was sure why but I was just told to get my own symbolism out of it. Some others lost me when words like “cosmic” or “universe” were used. I don’t see the altered state that these traditions created is any different then the the altered state that other religious traditions started. (hunger, sleep, primitive drugs).

I had started out thinking that all the groups were so cliquey, groups of friends would start tribes and would minimally interact with others outside of that (Like the circle of RV’s that set up next next to me that had no problem blowing generator exhaust on all the tents outside the circle.) I figured the more this happened the less there would be first time burners. But I learned other groups where much more open. I was adopted into the bouncy bouncy tribe (So named because they had a bouncy castle and one of the people in the group had a rabbit art car) just because I camped near them. I had a great time talking with all them so there is hope yet.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Burning Man - Dust

Think of the playa as a giant flat piece of baked earth with a small dunes of dust that drift around from pile to pile in dust storms with their final destination being your face. The dust gets everywhere. It seems to become a main pivotal player in the story that gets played out each year.

The thing is that the dust had the consistency of chalk powder. It had the same feel and smell of the dust under my house. (Which I also associated with the itch of fiberglass, so I got weird itching sensations sometimes.) When blowing around it was white, but when it got wet it turned orange; and it is what caused my tent to creak at night like an old ship.

Because I was spending so much time in the sun I was getting tan so it was becoming harder and harder to tell the difference between dust that was stuck to me and me just being tan. Using wet-naps before every meal cleaned most of it off but I noticed as the week wore on that I cared about it less and less. Because it was very alkaline dust even breathing it after a while gave you a craving for acidic food like pickles and chillies.

I was taking notes on a small pad of paper but after a while the dust and heat dried up my pen so I had to switch to using a pencil.

Because the wind blew pretty steady from the same direction the dust seemed to accumulate into the same area, on the 3:00 and 9:00 roads. This meant that when the water trucks drove around to knock down the dust the dust dunes would turn into potholes.

I wore sandals the first day. Within that time the dry air, and alkaline dust wore a blister using broken-in comfortable sandals into the top of my foot. I had heard of “playa foot” but I didn’t think it could happen so fast. I wore hiking boots the rest of the time and had some people make the comment that they could tell I was an old veteran because I was wearing boots.

Normally a dust storm would last 10-15 minutes and be over. There was usually around 4-5 a day. It wasn’t until Friday that we had our first bad dust storm. Of course I had been packing away my sleeping bag and pillow so that they wouldn’t get covered in dust should there be a bad dust storm during the day but this was the first time I forgot so now everything was covered.

Even in the small dust storms it was easy to loose your bearings. As long as I didn’t stop I could pretty much keep riding a straight line across the playa. But, if I stopped to look at some art then continue I could be off by as much as 45 degrees when I arrived at the other side of the circle.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Burning Man - Wednesday

So in addition to the volunteer rangers and DPW (Dept. of public workers) that are there with the event the police forces I have seen include: Bureau of Land Management, National Park Rangers, County Sherifs from two different counties, FBI, and DEA. And yet drugs still seem to make their way around. I rode by one camp surrounded by black SUV’s yesterday and today there is a big empty spot on that block. I was offered plenty by other burners, and since I’m pretty naive I was even offered some stuff I have no idea what it was.

The way it works is the art cars. The rules go that if there is room then they have to offer you a ride. But they can only travel 5 miles per hour so they are also easy to catch up to. This means there is varying sized mobile parties constantly in motion all around you all blasting different music. If someone does not want to give rides they just build their art car for one. The system seems to work pretty well. When riding an art car you are at the mercy of where the driver is heading so I only rode them when I had no where in particular to go and was just more interested in meeting/talking to people.

I was actually surprised by the variety of music that I heard. Of course Burning Man is famous for its Techno, House, Rave, and Trance music. But I also heard bands such as Iron and Wine, Regina Spektor, and Ratatat. As far as genres go there was plenty of 70’s disco and 80’s alternative everywhere.

Burning Man - Costumes

Obviously with it being my first time there I was not totally sure of how to dress. My usual garb included just wearing shorts, hiking boots, and a big straw hat. I usually had a large checkered scarf (or Keffiyeh) around my neck for covering my mouth and nose during the dust storms. I also had around my neck at any given time: goggles, water bottle, head lamp, volunteer medallion (that I couldn’t take off because the string got knotted) and light. From time to time they would get tangled when I was trying to use one of them and be rather strangling.

Different events that I went to felt I was very underdressed and had racks of costumes they would give away. In their desire to find stuff that fit me among other things I got a full pirate costume with hat and cape, and a green fury blanket that I used as a cape. I would wear these from time to time too.

Because of the heat and state of liberty being felt, other people where in different states of dress. Like most European beaches it caught me off guard for about 15 minutes before acclimating to it. Most of the people in full costumes did not have hats or water bottles and frankly looked like the only people that were hot. I guess like everywhere else you must suffer to look fashionable. Popular costumes included kilts for men and bikinis or lingerie for women. So basically it was a beach without water. The less people wore while riding bikes the easier it was to see how bike seats do not help the male anatomy and it had to be painful for women to ride over pot holes in the road (of which there were many.)

I did go through 2 bottles of sunscreen and avoided getting a sunburn but I saw plenty of other people that were not so lucky. The way I looked at it was I knew if I didn’t use enough then it would hamper me being able to enjoy further fun so it was one of the things I kept on top of.

Since most costumes did not provide a way to carry necessities people would use backpacks, camelbacks, photo vests, tool belts, army utility belts, and fanny packs to carry things like cameras, lip balm, goggles, lights, and other necessities.

Besides the the costumes that were given to me I also found lights on the ground (called “ground score”) that helped keep me lit at night front and back. We were pretty lucky that there was a full moon most of the time I was there but riding bikes at night without lights was still stupid and earned you the title of “dark tard” or “playa ninja”. Other things I found were a teddy bear and a gnome that I was able to zip-tie to my bike.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Burning Man - Food

Let me just say how happy I am about bringing MRE’s (“Meals Ready to Eat” used in the Army) instead of trying to cook out here. Dust gets on everything, including cooking utensils so everyone around me has to clean their cooking utensils after cooking to get off the old food and again before cooking to get off the dust. For me since each meal is in its own packet, I just tear it open. This also saved me from needing to pack all the extra cooking stuff which was helpful since I already had to leave some stuff at home from lack of space.

So the usual ritual goes something like this. In the morning I rip open a meal. put the main dish in with the chemical heater so it can be warming up. I drink one of my Gatorades then put whatever powder is in the meal into the the bottle and shake it up with water. Every meal comes with crackers and something to put on it, so I eat that while the meal is warming up. From there I eat the meal while the side dish is warming up. Then I eat the side dish and what ever desert there is. It even comes complete with a wet-nap to clean up and an after meal mint. Pack all the trash back into the original container and I’m done. No clean-up.

The funny thing is that MRE’s are portioned for soldiers while they are out in the field. (There is plenty of good propaganda included on the importance of eating right and eating enough) So that means eating 3 MRE’s a day will give you around 3500 calories. The funny thing is that I already have a high metabolism and with riding around for miles every day on my bike I can still feel myself losing weight. Luckily I brought protein shakes so I’ve been having a couple of those a day too along with beef jerky and dried fruit and nuts. So I am getting enough calories but I have developed a craving for fresh food. At some of the events they hand around huge platters of cantaloupe and oranges. I gotta say it is amazing how delicious they taste.

Water is always necessary. I never feel hot (yes, really) because my sweat is evaporating so fast. This meant I have to keep drinking water. By the end of trip I had gone through drinking more than 1 1/2 gallons of water a day without ever feeling bloated. The trick was always carrying a 1.5 liter water bottle that I filled when I returned to my tent for every meal.

Burning Man - Tuesday

I had brought ear plugs so that I could sleep through the 24 hour music but I was so tired I fell fast asleep and woke up refreshed. My thermometer showed that it had got up to 126 degrees during the day I didn’t believe it and reset it, it got up to 124 degrees Tuesday. That did not seem believable since it felt more comfortable than the 90 degree weather I had left in New York and I realized what it was: the thermometer was showing 20% humidity so sweat was evaporating as quick as my body could produce it, so my body was able to keep as cool as it wanted. Whereas in New York at 80-90% humidity sweat just drips down all over getting in my face and eyes making me hot and uncomfortable. So I hate to say it but it really isn't the heat, its the humidity, or lack thereof. I’m actually glad I can check the maximum and minimum on the thermometer because when I put it out in the sun it gets hot enough that the LCD screen just goes entirely black.

I retreated to my neighbors shade and started talking to them. When they asked me what my “playa name” was I had to confess it was my first time here and I didn’t have one. So she simply said my name backwards. I gave this new name to the next person that asked for it that day but with a nose full of dust he heard it as “creamy”. Well one was as good as the other. The next person responded that “creamy” would be a kids name, as an adult I should be known as just “cream” the funny thing is that the name stuck and everyone liked it the rest of the time I was there.

I tried using my kite camera but I brought a stunt kite with the hopes of having a way to control what the camera takes pictures of. In reality I can’t get the kite to hold still long enough to take a picture that isn’t all blurry and frankly with only one camera there is a lot that I want to take pictures of before my camera takes a 100 foot fall.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Burning Man - Depression

I woke up from the heat and was still ticked about the broken shade structure. Originally I had planned to use PVC and a parachute but ran out of time (Funny enough it would have cost around the same amount.) I decided to head into center camp so I found my bag but realized the zippers were all rusted shut. I had made sure a lot of things were in working order before leaving but I had just assumed that a shoulder bag sitting in a box with aluminum zippers wouldn't rust up. I threw it aside and just put my camera and notepad in my pockets and my goggles around my neck. (I later used my bike chain oil and a pair of pliers to free up the zippers but didn’t like the sweat it caused so never really used it.)

I was in a bad mood, by myself, and so far so much had gone wrong, so I started thinking of reasons why I didn’t want to leave. the two main ones that kept me there were 1. I didn’t want to spend a week in Utah waiting for my flight out, and 2. I had told a lot of people I was going to Burning Man, it seemed like a very “quitter” thing to do to leave early with only a bad experience.

With my mind made up that I was staying I headed into center camp to get some shade. Everyone else seemed in a bad mood too so I sat down on a couch by myself and these are the notes I took:

1.

•No one really follows any of the rules set out. On arrival I found a couple pieces trash (or “moop”- “matter out of place”) from last year. There were also people with dogs, feathers, and fireworks.
2.

•The creator says he is trying to change the world with the concept of Burning Man but a bunch of hippies partying in the desert for a week never changed anything.
3.

•They promote it as an environmental event but half the art cars are belching propane fires, everyone has to drive in all these extra supplies to look weird and everything made out of wood is burned at the end.
4.

•The concept of Burning Man is to create a space where everyone can be themselves for a week away from pressures of commercialism and society. But a week is not enough time to acclimate so what it really becomes is a week for everyone to be as crazy as they want to be.
5.

•It is supposed to be away from the pressures of society but how come there are still fashion trends like fur leggings.
6.

•All the hippies here depend on the over commercialism of society to provide them with cheap used goods, such as the RV’s and old cars to turn into art cars. If anything Burning Man is the perfect example of over commercialization waste.
7.

•Like any other organized event the people in charge show favoritism to their friends so in this case there are camps/tribes that have reserved the best spots. (I later found out that is because they were also giving away the most stuff.)

Burning Man - Monday

To get myself out of the funk, and since everyone else was still setting up camp I decided to see all the art since that was why I was here anyway. But first let me explain how the city is set up:

There are miles of dry lakebed where nothing normally lives. This huge alkaline flat area is known as “the playa”. The people who put on Burning Man rent 5 square miles from the bureau of land management and put up a perimeter called the trash fence (to catch fly away trash). In the middle there is a giant 60 foot statue of “The Man” with the city set up like a clock around it. Every half hour is a road radiating out from 2:00 to 10:00 ring roads are evenly spaced and are named with titles A-L. This year with the theme of evolution the road names were Adapt, Biology, Chaos, DNA, Extinct, Fossil, Genome, Hominid, Inherit, Jurassic, Kinship, and Lineage. The Temple is at 12:00 and Center Camp is at 6:00. Themed camps that were allowed to arrive early took up most of the inner ring and as people arrive they fill up each of the ring roads consecutively. Since I got there pretty early my address for the week was 8:15 and adapt.

With that being said there is a 1/2 mile radius circle around the man, and the space from 10:00 to 2:00 where no one is allowed to camp. This is mainly desert but also where people put art.

You can get the GPS coordinates of all the registered art but there seemed to be just as much art that was just placed there so I was just riding my bike from art piece to art piece looking at them all.

After looking at the art and taking a nice long bike ride I felt much better and was willing to go back and fix my sleeping situation.

I rolled out the carpet under the tent. Used one of the poles that hadn’t broke and propped up the tarp so that I could more easily get in and out of the tent and let more air pass through. I also set up the folding picnic table and chair so I could enjoy eating. By that time some other people had arrived that I could talk with so everything started to turn for the better. Everyone I talked to around me was at some point in the progression of asking themselves why they had agreed to come out here to the desert this year. The returning people all had different timelines on how long it took them to forget why they didn’t want to come out to the desert and return to Burning Man.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Burning Man - Arrival

Driving through the desert between Utah and Nevada is actually interesting. You drive right through the salt flats, past Bonneville raceway. During the week I had been averaging 52 miles per gallon in the Prius, here on the Freeway it dropped down to 45. There were a few hills that were big enough that wore the battery down so the electric motor turned off and then the car felt like a little economy car engine but other than that it was great to drive.

They penalize people for arriving early by shuttling them into a standby lot so I planned it to get there after Midnight. I forgot about the time change going into Nevada but I also made more stops and got off later than expected so everything balanced out. I arrived in the small town of Gerlach Nevada at around 1:00 AM. (I left at 4:00 Utah time for a total of 8 hours driving.) For the next 20 miles there was a line of cars. I knew there was going to be a wait but not this long. For the next four hours it was a process of turn on the car, move 20 feet, turn off the car. I am so lucky I was in a Prius since it handles all that stop and go nicely.

On arrival at the front gate they checked my ticket, gave me the schedule of events and map of the city and art. For how long the line was, once you got to the front it was a big party. One of the people asked me if it was my first time. Being that it was, I was deemed a “playa virgin” where I had to get out and make a “playa angel” in the dust turn over and repeat then ring a giant bell. For all the emails I got saying they would check for certain items they looked into my car and said “my car looked full enough for a week full of stuff” and let me through.

Since I would be camping in a tent and I knew there could be strong winds I chose to camp at “8:00” to protect me the most from the wind. I drove up to an empty space at at 5:00 AM and asked around if anyone had marked off the area and started to set up my tent.

This is where everything went wrong. The shade structure I bought, I knew was cheap since I only planned on using it once. It was packed in a bag I knew I would have a hard time repacking so I never took it out until now. Now as I set it up it was like the old style tents where you could never get more than one leg up at a time. After a while I gave up on that and not to be deterred drove 4 stakes into the ground and put the poles over the stakes. As I was stretching the tarp over the poles one of the poles broke. As I was scratching my head on what to do next the people that were setting up a tent next to me decided to leave and an RV pulled into it’s place turned off it’s lights, turned on its generator with the exhaust pointing at my camp and would not answer the door when I knocked.

I was too tired from being up all night. The sun was up and the thermometer already said 90F degrees. I gave up. I asked myself what I was doing there by myself. I thought about packing up and heading back to Utah. I knew I was cranky from being dehydrated and tired but I could at least fix the dehydrated part so I grabbed a drink and started to think of what to do. I moved my car so it was as close as possible to the tent. I took the tarp I was going to use as the wall and closed two ends into the front and back door and staked the other two into the ground. This at least covered my tent with shade so I rolled out the sleeping bag, pillow and fell asleep instantly.

(It might seem like such a little deal but shade is valuable thing, almost everyone had either a geodesic dome, fast popup, PVC and tarp, or some sort of parachute or tarp structure over their tent. Those that didn’t slept in the center camp.)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Burning Man - Shopping for supplies

After buying my ticket I scoured the Burning Man website (http://burningman.com/). They had a webpage devoted to first time people with a list of all the things that were required and recommended. I started a list of things I needed and added to it when I read other websites of people who had gone. Since you have to bring EVERYTHING with you and there is no way to hop over to the store while there I had this nagging desire to be complete. Since I was flying in my space was heavily constrained, everything with an asterisk was bought in Utah after the flight. This is what I brought with me and the reasons why.

•2 chap-stick-dry air, need an extra if the first is lost.
•bandanas-dust storms, need to cover mouth.
•*batteries-made a list of everything I was bringing that needed batteries and had spares for them all.
•wide brimmed straw hat-1st line of defense against the sun.
•spare hat- high winds can take the first.
•*bike-The city is five miles across and there is lots of places to go.
•bike lights-out in the middle of the desert you don’t want to crash into someone at night.
•*bike lock-mostly there are people to stoned or drunk to remember which is theirs.
•bike repair kit
•bike pump
•*Spare bike tire
•dust broom-dust gets in the tent, what am I saying dust gets everywhere.
•bungee cords-used for keeping tarps from flapping in wind.
•*cable ties-attach tab A to slot B.
•*carpet-It is really nice to have somewhere to stand/sit that is not dusty.
•*coat-It can get down to 40 degrees at night.
•*Copy key-not cheap to get the car towed out.
•compass-The wind blows in SSE. Pitch tent accordingly.
•*foam pad-air mattresses hold in the days heat.
•*duct tape-just because.
•ear plugs-there is always music all around you.
•*eye drops
•*fire extinguisher
•first aid kit
•*folding chair-no reason to sit in the dirt
•*Table- no reason to eat in the dirt either.
•goggles-dust storms.
•*Gatorade- Need to drink one a day.
•GPS-A lot of art is out in the middle of nowhere.
•*hand sanitizer-There is only porta-potties.
•hiking boots-the dust is heavily alkaline and will cause cracking in sandals.
•kite-Attach a camera and take arial shots.
•leather gloves-Have in easy reach for setting up tent on arrival.
•*lotion
•memory card-no reason to not take a picture
•measuring tape-measure twice, pound stake once.
•MRE's-way better then camp cooking, and notice no need for cooking utensils on the list.
•Nail trimmers-dry air causes hang-nails.
•Rain gear-It just might.
•Radio
•*parachute cord or extra rope.
•pen & paper- take notes.
•saline nasal spray
•shade structure-Your best friend.
•*socks (disposable)- a pair a day to avoid chaffing of dust.
•*vaseline-spread on feet every night and cover with a new pair of socks.
•*sun block-bring extra.
•sunglasses
•*tarp under tent
•*tarp walls
•*thermometer
•ticket-seriously, remember to bring it.
•*rebar stakes-The stakes your tent and shade structure came with are not good enough. The stakes need to be at least 12 inches long to deal with up to 70 miles per hour wind.
•*mallet-You are pounding into baked earth
•tent
•Sleeping Bag
•*Toilet paper-in case porta-potties run out.
•*trash bags-no one else is going to clean up after you.
•*unscented moist towelettes-to clean dust off.
•vice grips-rebar stake removal.
•warm hat
•*Water-required 1 1/2 gallons a day. Recommended 2 gallons a day.
•water bottle-and a strap to carry it by. Always have it on you.
•*ziplock bags
•*Large flat baking sheet-a way to evaporate water.
•*Lighter-because you are camping.
•*Pillow case a day for a nice clean pillow every night.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Burning Man - Flight in

So the original idea was to fly into Utah, visit with family, meet up my Brother-in-Law and head out into the desert together. As it ends up my Brother-in-Law got engaged and spent all his money on an engagement ring so it looks like I will be going by myself. It is understandable, after the cost of the ticket, flight, rental car, and supplies I figure I spent around $1000. Of course if I had been going with someone else, driving, or this wasn’t my first time, it would have been much cheaper per person. But, none of my friends could take time off and my wife didn’t have the energy to spend a week in the desert.

Out of the three projects I wanted to do I only finished one, the kite camera. I got so close to getting the L.E.D. shirt done but I ordered some of the wrong chips and I ordered new ones and had them shipped to Utah but decided it was better to visit with family instead while I was there. Instead of rigging up a PVC and parachute shade structure I just bought two cheap tarp shade structures on eBay with the intent of having the tent under one and my table and chair under the other.

I packed light since I had to fly in so that meant a lot of shopping at thrift stores and grocery stores while in Utah. We originally got a little Toyota Yaris as our rental car but it had a crack in the windshield so I turned it in for a Toyota Prius which allowed for everything to fit inside. (and made me happy since I had wanted to take a Prius for a test drive.)

I think I have started to think in east coast terms. I was amazed by the amount of parking downtown when I was shopping and I still ended up parking 2 blocks away because I saw a free spot instead of free spaces that ended up being right in front of where I wanted to go. I also noticed that while on the freeway any Ford Crown Victoria I see I assume it is a taxi until I see old people driving them and it shocks me back to reality.

So after visiting with family for a week and getting everything on my list, I said goodbye to my wife and drove off into the desert.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Burning Man - History

I have wanted to go to Burning Man for some time just to experience it. While searching around on the Internet while preparing for my trip I found that Burning Man started more than 25 years ago as an artist and hippy gathering in San Francisco on Baker Beach. They burned the art at the end because they did not feel like taking it home. After a few years the gathering got too big and they had to move it out to the desert in Nevada.

Currently up to 50,000 people gather every year and create a temporary city, named Black Rock City. The third largest city in the state of Nevada for that one week. Since the land is leased from the bureau of land management there is a strict “leave nothing behind” policy.

The culture has created some rules. Everyone is supposed to participate, “no spectators”. How you participate is up to you; be it volunteering time, building artwork, or offering something to other “burners” while there.

Everything is supposed to work off of a “gift” economy. Meaning you give of your time or things as a gift and expect nothing in return. If someone gives you a gift back then all the better.

The week starts on a Monday and people arrive throughout the week with the culmination of the Man burning on Saturday, the Temple burn on Sunday, and the event ends on Labor day usually with everyone going home.

The organizers feel that the city could serve as a model for changing the world for conservation, an example of less consumerism, and an influence for people to be more free about self expression. They help setup “local burns” to help propagate the culture and ideals of Burning Man.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Burning Man - Research

I bought tickets for going to Burning Man. With this being my first time going I decided to buy them through the official channels. Basically there are always people buying tickets that can’t go apparently so there are plenty on eBay and craigslist. By buying them directly I was able to sign up for a newsletter that gives me info and news through email. I think it is good because I figure that I could forget some stupid little thing that would ruin my trip.

The way the pricing for the tickets work is they have groups of tickets that are all different prices ($220, $240, $260, $280, $300) But since it is a general admission ticket it does not matter. On the day they start selling tickets all the people in the know buy up the cheap tickets so it encourages repeat visits. I bought mine about a month after they started selling so I got it for $280. They go back and forth every year on if they sell tickets at the door, this year they did for $360. The ticket price pays for renting the land, porta-potties, and things like medical service. Pretty much everything else is volunteer service. Seems like a pretty good racket and I’m sure they are pulling in plenty of money.

I am going to try to do three different projects. The first one is a camera that I will hook to a kite. If I build a timer so the camera takes pictures while in the air then I should get some good aerial shots. The second thing I want to build is an L.E.D. shirt. Basically a shirt covered with L.E.D.’s so that it is similar to a tie-dyed shirt only the colors move around the shirt. You are supposed to be well lit at night and I figure it will be a good contribution as art. The third one is to buy a parachute and create a dome using PVC.

I am not sure if I should drive or fly. If I fly I can take less time off but I will have to be very careful on what I do take. Driving pretty much allows for unlimited weight and a lower total cost but will require taking an extra week off work. I’m not sure if I want to use that much vacation time and I’ve already made plenty of cross country trips and have seen the things that I want to. I guess it depends on if I can get others to go with me or if it will be just me and my brother-in-law.

Summer walks

There are a lot of paths for walking and biking that are happily within walking distance of our house. (It has always bugged me driving somewhere to walk.) In all the paths we have followed we have found hidden parks, wandered past lakes, trees and go through people’s back yards. We have run into deer and once the trail was to narrow for the deer to run so it just stared at us. We gave it as much room as possible and it just stared at us the whole time. I just felt like it was waiting for us to turn our backs so it could mug us.
On one of our bike trips we we heard a strange knocking sound. I suddenly felt a pain on my arm. I realized there were acorns dropping from the trees. Every blow of the breeze would unleash another barrage. We just had to ride faster to stop getting hit.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Drive-in Movie

In the constant quest for new ideas of where to go for a date night I had come up with the idea of a drive-in movie. There were 3 within about an hour drive so we even had a choice of what to see ( we decided on the double feature of District 9 and The Ugly Truth). We came up with the idea of enjoying some fast food from somewhere close to there but the only restaurant that was anywhere near to the drive-in movie theater was a Red Lobster. So we decided to go all out and ordered lobster and crab to go, I bought some drinks at the store next door and we headed to the drive-in theater.
Now by drive-in theater it was really a grass field with large bumps that you could drive the car up on to so that your windshield pointed up to the screen. The first row was far enough away to be perfect and since we were in the Miata I didn’t want to get stuck behind an SUV. We put the top down and started enjoying our dinner when we were attacked by mosquitos. We had no repellant but the ever-prepared mom with kids next to us was spraying them down so we asked if we could have some too. It felt really awkward asking but it was better than getting eaten alive.
The sound for the movies was broadcast over low power radio so that each car could control how loud they wanted it. It was nice because we could make all the wise cracks we wanted to without disturbing the people next to us.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Philharmonic in the Park

Once a year the New York Philharmonic gives a free concert in the park. This is a big deal and a lot of people show up (This year was estimated at 150,000 people on the great lawn in central park.) There are speaker systems going all the way back and people come early setup blankets and have a picnic to claim the best areas. We showed up about an hour and half early and were able to get about 1oo feet back off to the side. We enjoyed our picnic dinner and then noticed how much more crowded it had become. Any empty walking spaces had been filled in with people’s blankets. Watching people move now was like they were jumping between stepping stones of grass between a sea of blankets.
When the music started it didn’t get quiet. People continued to talk to those around them and enjoy their dinner. It was more of a lawn party with 150,000 of your closest friends rather than a classical concert. New twists were that people could vote for which song to hear next by texting on their cell phones to vote. Any of the intermissions were also an excuse for everyone to call people on their cell phones so I noticed the signal on my phone go from full to none as soon as the music stopped playing.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

4th of July

So we had to come up with an idea of what to do for the 4th of July. This was the 400th anniversary of Hudson sailing up the river so all the fireworks were going to be on the Hudson river instead of the East river. This meant that we would not be able to see anything from my friends house in Brooklyn. I had the idea of rowing our kayaks out and watching it from on the hudson. We decided against that idea since it would have been too crowded and I was probably the only one in good enough shape to deal with the tides.
Instead we ended up going kayaking with some friends from my work in the morning. We all had a fun time and allowed me to get that out of my system. Also for some reason the town I lived in decided to do all their fireworks on July 3rd, so any need we had for watching fire and explosion we got that out of system too. So, we ended up going to my friend’s house in brooklyn anyways and just hanging out with people and having a barbeque.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Summer storms

The summer storms around here can get pretty violent. We were pretty surprised this Saturday by a hail storm. It went from sunny to clouded in about a half hour. Then with no warning it started to hail. It kept hailing until it looked like it snowed. there was enough hail on the ground that a few kids in the neighborhood were building snowmen after the storm had passed.
Another storm that hit us was when we were headed to Jones beach. It was a warm day and I had the top down on the Miata as we were driving. It remained sunny but large drops of water were coming from somewhere and there was enough to hit my face and splash sunscreen into my eyes that I had already put on for the beach. An annoyance of having a few drops while the top was down turned dangerous when my eyes swelled up because of the sunscreen. I pulled over at the next exit but there was no emergency lane since all the roads around here were an after-though. For about the last 1/8 mile I was pretty much driving blind with stinging eyes with L. Steering. I don’t think I will be using that sunscreen again.
We did make it to the beach and were enjoying the sun when I could see way off in the distance what looked like rain clouds. I could see the life guards watching it closely as soon they were calling everyone out of the ocean. Within 15 minutes the clouds were over us and there was a huge lightning storm. We didn’t feel like waiting it out so we headed home. We ended up spending more time driving to and from the beach then actual time there.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Anniversary

We needed to escape. We had ideas to go to a couple of different places but there was a storm coming in and everything was looking like it was going to get soaked. So the night before we looked up the weather and the one dry place looked to be Montreal, Canada. We woke up the next morning and left at 5am, getting to the border at noon. There was a visitor’s info shack at the border that allowed us to make a reservation for a hotel for the night which allowed us to feel spontaneous and planned at the same time.
The city is clean and orderly like other Canadian cities I’ve been to. While we were there was some sort of fashion week going on. There was defiantly a french influence not just in the clothes being presented for the show but also just how all the locals were dressed. It was weird getting around, I’m not exactly sure how to explain it. Everyone you talked to knew English, and all the signs were in French and English but the names of all the stuff were playing off of french names so we wouldn’t know what stores sold for example. I can see how it is hard to make two languages equal and how one always looses out no matter how hard they work at it. I’m glad that I was able to experience it where English is an official but non-dominant language for an area (as opposed to just having English signs for tourists).
The places we did go were all happy to see tourists, especially from the U.S. So it looks like the bad economy really has slowed tourism. It was nice and sunny to walk along the waterfront and see all the old buildings. We went to museum that covered Montreal's past and how it was built up over time. We walked along a portion of the underground tunnel. It was summer so they were not needed to stay out of the snow and cold so pretty much only tourists were walking through them. I also couldn’t resist driving over to Habitat 57. It is a famous architectural building that looks like a bunch of blocks stacked on each other to create the apartments.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Selling the kayaks

I had had agreed with a co-worker to sell kayaks to him but we had never discussed a date as to when that would happen. I still had plans to try and paddle around Manhattan when I realized that with the change of plans with L. staying with her family for a while that we wouldn't have her car after we moved our stuff into storage across the country. So all kayak plans were off I needed to move the kayaks that weekend since he was going on vacation and would be back until we had already left. I tied them onto car one last time and drove them over to his house, but I had this terrible feeling building inside me. I didn't want my last trip to be to the ship graveyard for so many reasons. But mainly because so many things went wrong.
So when I arrived at his house I said I started with that I wanted to clean them off before I gave them to him but then admitted I wanted to go on one last trip. While I was there I showed him how to put them on the car and strap them down then drove home with them still on. This is really the first time in my life I can think of where I did something irrational because of my emotions.
They sat on car until the weekend. It just so happened that it was our anniversary so we thought we would go down to the beach in New Jersey and paddle them around that area. We really enjoyed the beach but after enjoying playing in the waves we were to tired to go kayaking so they sat on our car yet another night.
On Sunday we found a new place near our house that was just a nice place to put into the Hudson. We had a nice easy care free paddle bird watching swans and even a bald eagle. It was the perfect easy trip that was perfect for a last trip. I used a towel to wipe down the kayaks to keep the other part of the bargain and we put the kayaks beside his house since he was gone on vacation.
Driving home we realized that owning the kayaks for the last 10 years had defined a lot of our lives. It dictated the cars that we choose to buy since they had to be able to carry them. It limited the apartments we could live in since we had to put them somewhere. In reality because of these reasons and the fact that I knew we didn't use them enough to justify the extra expense of the larger cars and apartment as opposed to just renting kayaks I knew that we probably wouldn't buy kayaks again so it made it all the more important that the last trip was relaxing.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fathers visit

My father and his wife had been living in Kentucky and were moving back to California. They decided to visit all their kids on the drive back and while visiting us wanted to visit New York City. He had never been to the city so the first thing I had to do was to make sure to quell any worries they had.
Out of all the people that have come to visit I would have to say that my dad did the best job of staying up out of all the the people that have come to visit. Since L. wasn’t feeling to well I showed them around with “the generic tour” but they were in awe the whole time. It was really funny watching my dad act like a little kid as he saw everything. Starting at Grand Central Station, then take the subway to Brooklyn bridge, city hall, and south street seaport. Walk over to wall street then down broadway past the bull to the ferry station. Take the ferry to Stanton Island and back to see the Statue of Liberty for free then hop on a subway to the world Trade tower. Take the subway up more to the Empire State building and Macy’s then up some more to Time Square. Usually people drop off somewhere in there but they were ready the next day to see St. Johns Cathedral, and Central Park the next day, then have dinner at the Carnegie Deli.
The first time my dad rode on the subway he seemed a little antsy about standing on a moving train, but every time after that he took right to it and would talk to anyone that sitting near him. It was funny to watch the wall fall down that people have in New York City have around themselves since there was someone talking to them.
Since they were staying for the weekend they wanted to visit my niece that was in the city for a summer internship. The only time she had to visit was right after church. So while They all went to church L. and I walked over to central park and rented a boat for an hour ($12 + $20 deposit.) It was just enough time to make it once around the central lake. The place was crawling with turtles and felt every bit like we had gone back to the 1800’s and I was wooing a woman as I paddled my wife around the lake.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Kayaking

I was determined to use my kayak as much as possible so that they did not go to waste (as opposed to previous years). Since L. was not up to it and my friend D. could never seem to go I invited one of my co-workers. He had been canoeing before and was interested in testing the difference between that and kayaking. Kayaking on the hudson didn’t seem like a good idea since neither of us could find a reliable tide charts and we were not sure just how far the tides went up. Not to mention the fact that I didn’t think it was a good idea to take someone for their first kayaking trip into a major shipping lane.
Instead he had a small river that was by his house that we could paddle up. We looked at the satellite photos on the internet and we could tell we would not be able to make it to the dam but it looked smooth for a good portion. Being in New York both sides of the river had houses on them so we enjoyed commenting on the architecture. After around an hour of lazily paddling upstream we reached rocks and rapids that there was no way we were getting past. Just messing around we tried to see how far we could paddle up it. We made it a few feet when J. exclaimed his paddle broke. I beached my kayak and waded into the river picked up the pieces of the paddle and helped him beach his kayak. He wasn’t sure how the paddle broke and I can only guess the plastic scoop got brittle over the years. It was at this point that I was glad I always kept a spare paddle in each kayak, otherwise the saying “up a creek without a paddle” would have been to .real for the liking We ate lunch and explored the island. J. pointed out what poison ivy looked like since I was only familiar with poison oak.
It only took a half hour to paddle down stream and neither of us wanted to stop so we decided to explore the little protected harbor that this river created as it joined the hudson. We ended up padding until 3 by the time the kayaks were back on my car. I had been very careful to put sunscreen on my neck, face, and arms but had forgot about my legs. Since my kayak was a sit on top I had a nice sunburn with a thick white stripe where the thigh straps cut across my legs.
J. insisted on paying for the paddle. No matter how many times I tried explaining the most likely cause he would not hear any other option. I ended up getting a wood paddle so that it would have more flex next time.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Summer Barbecues

We never had a grill while I was growing up but with the free one that our neighbor gave us how could I resist. Space is at a premium where we live and we really don’t have a front yard so we just opened up the garage and set up the grill in the driveway with everyone sitting in the garage. It made for a good instant party space. My friend on the other hand has a fire pit on a couple of cinder blocks on the roof of his apartment.
I am not expert at all when it comes to BBQs so we try to keep things simple. Shish kabobs seem pretty hard to mess up so we have had them many times. Skirt steak seems to also be one of the easier meats. One of my favorite things to make is barbecued corn:
Pull the hair the corn but leave the husks. Soak the corn in water while the grill is warming up. Grill the corn until the kernels are no longer translucent. Peel back the husk and squirt lime juice on the corn. Enjoy. I just like how the sweet corn and sour lime juice contrast.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Allergies

It is now allergy season. Everyone around me is sneezing and rubbing their eyes, and for the first time in my life that I can remember I am not. In fact I can breathe through my nose. It was such a marked difference that it made me ancy thinking it would happen sooner or later. In reality it looks like the allergy shots have paid off. Over the last 8 months (I was doubling up the shots at the beginning to get through the regimen as quickly as possible.) Starting with shots twice a week, and slowly moving up the dosage until I was getting 1000 times stronger shots every month. I need to get shots every month for the foreseeable future but I only sneezed around 5 times for the whole season. Compare that working at half brain power for May and June, Sneezing until my nose is raw and a 24/7 embarrassing runny nose and I’ll take some small lumps on my arms one day a month. The only thing I really have to think is why didn’t I start doing this sooner. I can only imagine how much more socially adept I would have been as a kid if I wasn’t always the snotty kid in the corner. I guess with a big family the squeaky wheel gets fixed and allergies are not life threatening.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Depression

It seems to be quite easy to slip into a state of not wanting to do anything. ( I’m actually writing this quite a bit later than the date says.)
There were a lot of things that seemed to just add up at the same time. There was a lack of money from L. not working and medical bills. We couldn’t go out because L. was recovering and we were just coming out of winter with everything dead anyway. Couple that with dealing all the problems we were already dealing with for L.’s health and I lost pretty much any motivation to do anything at work, home or anywhere else.
I found myself starting to watch T.V. and play video games, two things I never really did before. I recognized the problem but doing something about it would require me to do something which as I’ve already covered was part of the problem. Since we had to delay moving to London for a year I no longer had something that I was working towards so I had to create artificial goals to give me a sense of control and accomplishment. I started to really concentrate on exercising as something to do and to get me out of the house. My brother in law also invited me to go with him to Burning Man so I tried to come up with some projects for me to do before then. Anything to distract myself from the current reality, while it would get better, it would take some time to get there.
The problem is familiarity. Now that the topic is on our minds, every TV show the topic seems to come up, or conversation about someone. While it might just seem like a weird phenomenon when you buy a new car to suddenly realize how many other cars on the road are the same as yours, in this kind of a situation neither of us wants to be reminded so it is extra frustrating that we are recognizing it everywhere.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

L's ongoing medical stuff

Probably one of the worst memories that will stick in my head for the rest of my life is the phone call L. got about her health. We were driving across a long bridge when she got the call from her doctor. She started crying and every question she asked made her sob more. I couldn’t console her because I was driving on a busy freeway. I couldn’t pull over because we were on a bridge. So not only was L. getting all this terrible news but I was helpless to do anything for her in any way.
L. had to go though quite a few surgeries and other “procedures”. The whole quality of life versus surgeries endured was something that came up many times. One of the main problems that we ran into was that she couldn’t work between surgeries (time between surgeries was spent recovering for the next surgery.) but her work is what she had her insurance through. If it wasn’t for worker’s rights laws and understanding people at her work we would have lost her insurance, and become bankrupt and destitute even with all the protection that we thought we had.
Spending so much time at the hospital has led to some interesting observations. Doctors get paid by the procedure and get sued if they don’t offer every option. The only person that is asking if it is a good idea to do something or not is a terrified patient. No wonder our medical system is so messed up and expensive right now. People standing outside the hospital with the I.V. pole in one hand and a cigarette in the other or the obese people that have their family bringing them chocolate cake and fried chicken must really also dis-hearten the hospital staff.
My sister in law was laid off from her job because of the bad economy so since she was not doing anything else she offered to stay for a while and help out L. It was nice for me to be able to go to work and not need to worry about her. One of the things that L. enjoyed while holed up on the couch was that as a project I had copied all the movies over to our computer. She was able to select movies with the remote without needing to get up and down for each movie. Another nice thing was to sign up for Netflix since they now offer streaming the movies through the computer. With the computer hooked up to the T.V. she had access to plenty to keep her from being bored.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Visiting Westpoint

L.’s Aunt came to visit her son (my friend D.) in Brooklyn. As part of the trip they decided to visit L.’s Aunt at West Point. D. had not been there yet either so he came along too.
West Point is an military university but it is an Army base first. this meant that we all had to go through a security check point. The amount they search the car is random but usually they just scan drivers licensees. The part we can’t figure out is what they are looking for when they do search the trunk. I mean it is an Army base, people carry guns and other weapons all the time. It is a university campus so I’ve seen plenty of cars with alcohol. The only thing I can think of is to display control. When we went L.’s aunt remembered her son’s I.D. but she forgot her own. They will let kids in without I.D. but not adults. So we had to wait for her Aunt to come out to the gate and vouch for her.
West point has been there for hundreds of years so the architecture of the buildings is beutiful. One of the fun things that we have done is to take bikes with us and ride them around the campus. Another thing that I did was that I wanted to fly kites there since I was trying to make sure the kites that I bought would work good that I was taking to Burning Man with me.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

My sister’s visit

My youngest sister J. had never been to New York City so decided to come for a visit. Of course no one plans to get sick when they buy their tickets but she still came with what she had. I gave her my homemade remedy when she arrived. (a 64 oz. bottle of grapefruit juice. It is mostly the extra fluid intake that helps, but the huge vitamin C boost doesn't hurt, and most people don’t drink grapefruit juice enough that there is usually a placebo effect too.) Most likely she had swine flu since it was going around in California at the time and she passed it to me. Out of all the cases of the flu I’ve had this one had to be one of the weakest. But that won’t stop the news from using it as a scare tactic to drum up viewers.
Our normal tour involved taking them to St. John’s Cathedral, MET museum, and pizza in Little Italy. Out of everyone in our family they are also the most fashion conscious so we had to take them to the mecca for Hipsters- Beacons Closet. They bought plenty of clothes from the thrift store and had fun walking around the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn.
Since it was my birthday I got to have some say in the matter so we took our bikes through the subway to central park and rode a lap around it. L. was still a little tired so she sat and read instead. While up by St. John’s Cathedral we of course had to get creme puffs from the hungarian bakery. They are on par with creme puffs we had in Hungary and the best puffs I’ve ever had every time we go.
That night J. wanted to treat me to a birthday special so we all went to Max Briener’s. I just can’t but love the chocolate over load they have there.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

St. Patrick’s Day

Any excuse for a party. I witnessed it in California with Cinco de Mayo (No, it is not Mexican Independence Day) and now here. With St. Patrick’s Day landing on a Tuesday this year the town we live in decided to hold their parade on the Sunday before. Now the village we live in used to have a large Irish population as a lot of other towns in the area. (As evidenced by the many irish pubs around.) However most of the people living here are from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, or somewhere in South America. That doesn’t stop the tradition of hanging Irish flags from every light pole in town and a huge parachute sized flag from the town flagpole. L. was not feeling to good so we didn’t venture out, but we could hear everything from where we were. Every parade in our town has a cover band and the end of the parade. This time it was Nirvana. (I don’t know what that has to do with St. Patrick’s Day. For Independence day it was Bruce Springsteen and last St. Patrick’s Day was U2. I guess this year they didn’t book soon enough) I did get a good laugh watching them setting everything up when I walked to the gym. The funniest thing I saw was one of the vendors was selling hats with the mexican flag on the front. I guess it looked similar enough to the Irish flag to sell old Cinco de Mayo supplies.
On Tuesday we had to go into NYC so we decided to go check out the parade before it started. It was 10 in the morning and there were already drunk college age people walking down the road. L. didn’t have the energy and I think I would have had a hard time explaining taking the whole day off work so we left before the parade started.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Outcome of School Applications

So following my shotgun approach to applying to schools (The more schools applied to the better the likely outcome.) U.S. schools have to give final word by April 15th, I don’t know what the rules are for international schools.
Here are the results so far:
Queen's University Belfast: 2 different phone interviews but no further word.
University College London: phone interview but no further word.
Arizona State University: Acceptance and funding.
University of Oregon: Acceptance and funding (well, at least by word of mouth.)
Carnegie Mellon University: No
University of Virginia: No
Queens University, Toronto: email interview but no further word.
University of Glasgow: Acceptance but still trying to find out about funding.
Imperial College London: Acceptance without funding.
Purdue University: No answer?
University of New South Wales: Funding but unknown acceptance. (Not sure if they can offer it to international students.)

So we are leaning to going to the UK. Why? well 2 1/2 years without funding still seems better than 4-5 years with funding.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Visit to Arizona

One of the schools that I applied to Arizona State University. They wanted to fly me out there to check out the campus. I had never been recruited before so it was odd to be in this position, I felt like a basketball player or something. It also helped to have a difference of about 60 degrees between New York and Arizona. I couldn’t resist a free trip and L. wanted to come along for the warmth and to visit a friend. They bought the ticket but it just so happened that my Mother-in-Law was flying out of the same airport a half hour later so it cut down one less trip to the airport. L., on the other hand, had another doctor’s appointment so she was flying out later that night.
They took me and the other PhD students they were recruiting to dinner with the professors. Normally eating a meal with a professor is like eating with your boss. Yes, it can be interesting but there is no way to fully let down your guard. Since I didn’t know any of these professors or had any of their classes it was interesting to talk to all of them without fear of anything. The next day we toured the campus and talked to more professors. Everyone had the same advice, the weather was exact opposite of snow, you spend the summer indoors unless you are heading somewhere specific.
The next morning we received an odd message with our checkout bill (It was $0 since the university covered it.) They were filming an “adult themed” party at the pool and we could participate with all the free booze we wanted as long as we signed a filming release. We left quickly without a second thought making sure to avoid the pool area.
Visiting with L.’s high school friends was fun, they took us to Lost Dutchman State Park for a nice hike. It was just so nice to walk around outside without being bundled up with a huge coat on. While there I also couldn’t resist going to Waffle House. Their Pecan Waffles are one of my favorites. We were unable to make it to the In-N-Out while we were there though.
The excitement happened with us trying to get home. At the last second L. decided that her friend could just take her back to the airport so I could just return the rental car. Of course between traffic and the computer crashing while I was returning the car I missed my plane. (Well in reality the plane was still there for the next ten minutes but they sold my seat to someone else already, and stuck by the excuse that the door was already closed.) I was put on standby for the next flight. I learned that L.’s flight was canceled because of a snow storm later that day in New York. I called her up and told her to head in and got her on standby too. I then planted myself next to the desk so that the flight attendant would have no problem seeing me as the first standby person. L. showed up right before they asked for standby people and we both made it on the flight. It was weird being on an airplane where 1/3 of the passengers were either pilots from other airlines or flight attendants. We found out that this was the last plane that was not canceled. When we landed in New York it was already starting to snow pretty good and from the look of it we were the last plane that was landing. (We had to wait while they moved some of the grounded planes so we could get off the plane.) Apparently every airport in the north east was closed because of the snow storm. A friend of a friend wasn’t so lucky that was flying the same day we were and ended up flying home Tuesday instead of Sunday when they got everything back to normal. I am just glad to not have a “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” moment. The moral of this story is to always make friends with the flight attendants since they can pull a lot more strings than you think.