Archive for the 'Miscellaneous' Category

Beautiful

Dec 07 2010 Published by under Miscellaneous

“The world is not a prison house, but a kind of spiritual kindergarten where bewildered infants are trying to spell God with the wrong blocks.”
— Edwin Arlington Robinson, poet

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And what is stress, anyway?

Nov 19 2010 Published by under Miscellaneous

Father and Daughter, Sunset at Centennial Park Sydney Australia by Alex E. Proimos on Flickr

Father and Daughter, Sunset at Centennial Park Sydney Australia by Alex E. Proimos on Flickr

I have the best job in the world.

Yesterday, I walked through a NASA building, looking at mockups and presentations about the Curiosity rover. I snapped pictures of the actual SAM module that will sit on Mars a year from now. I returned to my office just in time for a teleconference with a large consumer electronics firm about a Goddard technology that they want to license. Just another day at the office.

Ironically, at lunch I attended a brown-bag session held by my company about reducing workplace stress. Stress is a daily fact of life at my job. I work at a dynamic, fast-paced, public-facing place. I expect stress.

Fortunately, the workplace stress reduction presentation agreed with my approach: stress (a maddeningly vague term, by the way) simply exists, and we must develop approaches to handle it. The advice ranged from taking breaks to reading poetry aloud.

Stress is the price I pay for an interesting job. Won’t complain.

And my stress is actually decreasing. Now that I’m down to two classes per week–and this upcoming week is a holiday week, meaning no classes at all–I now have a reasonable amount of time for both personal projects and decompression at home. Last night, for the first time in several weeks, I was able to read for pleasure.

Today: maintenance projects at work, and role-playing in the evening (playing Deadlands). This weekend: a relatively quiet Saturday, followed by get-togethers on Sunday. Perfect.

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StreamSuki

Nov 12 2010 Published by under Miscellaneous

Yesterday, I launched StreamSuki, an index of free, legal, English-language streams of Japanese animation.

I spent many long hours building it, and I’m not sure why. I was downright obsessed with the technical implementation. I wanted to get it right, and to launch it. I did so at the expense of other, more pressing matters (like, er, keeping my house clean).

It turned into a pretty big project. It automatically indexes 9 different sites, parsing thousands of lines of code for the tell-tale markers of individual anime series or episodes. It builds and maintains a database of over 19,000 records, referencing well over 500 different works of anime.

I wrote code and I tested and I rewrote code and I restructured the database until eventually it really, really worked. This just consumed hours and hours of my time, but I was absolutely captivated by it. Sucked in. I’d lay in bed, trying to go to sleep, and go over parsing problems in my head.

For better or worse, the outcome is a complete, working site that I think will be of use to people. I’m glad for that, but I have to wonder a bit at my behavior. Why was I so obsessed?

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Tired

Nov 10 2010 Published by under Miscellaneous

As I mentioned on Twitter, I’m pushing through a punishing schedule. I teach on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings, and I was out supporting a conference for work last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Combine this with a few social obligations, and for the past week I’ve been home almost exclusively to sleep. I leave the house at 7:00am and return at 9:00pm.

One perverse advantage: the dishes don’t pile up, because I never eat at home.

Granted, I signed up for all of this on some level. Nobody’s forcing me to teach. But I’ve been on a treadmill for the past week and a half. I’m also trying to keep up with Otaku, No Video, which means three videos a week plus the multi-hour live news show. In addition to assembling materials for classes. And, er, working full-time at a demanding (and incredibly cool) job.

So. Yes. I’m tired. If I’ve been negligent in replying to an email or returning a phone call, my apologies. I’m doing my best to keep up.

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Autumn Depth

Oct 29 2010 Published by under Miscellaneous

Autumn is finally here! Much as I’ve enjoyed the Indian Summer, I wondered how long it would last. Now, we have brisk days, a low sun, and beautiful fall colors.

I listened to Career Tools (a podcast about professional behavior) as I drove in to work this morning; I’ve been catching up on early episodes I either missed or skimmed. This morning’s episode focused on early layoff advice–what to do when you hear rumors of layoffs or an actual announcement of impending layoffs.

Their advice: keep doing your work, look for another job quietly (in a way that doesn’t impact your current responsibilities), and listen to rumors (but don’t pass them on). In their section on looking for another job, they recommend reaching out to one’s business contacts.

It reminded me of one of the books I’m currently reading, Well Connected. It offers the unconventional suggestion that one should connect deeply rather than broadly. Instead of broadcasting out to dozens of people, focus on trying to connect with one or two. Build up a campaign, essentially, of trying to reach the best person (and that campaign doesn’t mean trying to contact that best person immediately).

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Status

Oct 25 2010 Published by under Miscellaneous

Well. I’m back from South Africa, and my finances are my new worry.

I’m tapped out. There’s simply no way I can afford a new home, even with a minimal down payment or closing costs. I’ve decided to wait for a while, despite having found the (almost) perfect house. It’s just immature to put myself into more debt right now.

But it’s all right. My Halloween party will happen this Saturday, at which I’ll re-connect with new and old friends. I have a nice house, a good job, and great friends and family.

I’m a tad embarrassed to mention this, but my anime/manga YouTube channel, Otaku, No Video, continues to do well. I have over 1,300 subscribers, and my videos have been viewed a total of 200,000 times. My weekly live news shows are getting steadily more popular. I’m quite simply enjoying that experience, of making videos and building that audience.

So. That’s where I am right now. Um. How ’bout you?

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South Africa, Day Five: Safari

Oct 20 2010 Published by under Miscellaneous

This is the sixth in a series of blog posts about my recent trip to South Africa. I’m posting them a week after they happen. For all 825 photos from my trip, see my Flickr photo set.

Sunrise at Kruger National Park, South AfricaThis was my full day of safaris. The itinerary:

  • 5:00am Wake-up call
  • 5:30am Gather in the dining area for snacks (hot coffee, iced coffee, hot tea, iced tea, water, milk, cake, scones, etc.)
  • 5:45am Head out on morning safari
  • 7:30am Stop for snacks (water, smoothies, wine, muffins, scones, etc.)
  • 9:00am Return from safari
  • 1:30pm Lunch. I had the sweet potato orange soup and grilled kudu (a game animal) with fries. Everything comes with freshly-baked bread, sweet butter, iced tea, water, etc.
  • 4:00pm High tea, including cakes, cookies, breads, etc.
  • 4:30pm Head out on afternoon safari
  • 6:00pm Stop for snacks as the sun sets
  • 7:00pm Return from safari for a dinner by firelight

As you can see, they fed us extremely well. All the food was excellent, too.

Fortunately, a storm had blown in the night before, cooling down the air and clouding the skies, so it never got above 80 degrees. Perfect weather for sitting in an open-top jeep and taking photos.

A rhinoceros at Kruger National Park in South AfricaNow I face a problem: how to describe the excitement of seeing a giraffe or cape buffalo up close. There’s little stunning about these animals; the excitement comes from knowing that I’ll probably never see one again. The photos don’t do the experience justice.

So I spent the day eating and watching animals in their natural habitat. Nothing beyond that, and I’ll never forget it.

Dinner topped even the prior meals: rack of lamb, beef, chicken kebabs, potatoes, mixed vegetables, creamy soups, apple crumble, lime tart. We ate and chatted, and listened to the rangers’ “war stories.”

We were then escorted back to our rooms–a detail I should explain. Since the resort is in the middle of a national park, and there’s only an electric fence to keep out large animals, smaller animals can easily get in (particularly baboons and small ruminants). They even had a leopard take up quasi-permanent residence for a while. So you can’t roam the resort at night; you have to find a security guard who’ll escort you from the main rooms to your own.

Hippos at Kruger National Park, South AfricaI felt comforted by this. We were in the middle of nature, not some human-cleansed zoo. We were forced to respect it.

The next day isn’t really worth blogging about; I got up, was taken to the airport, and flew home. Other than the chatty van driver and the prop plane from Kruger-Mpumalanga Airport to Johannesburg, there was nothing remarkable.

An ad described its product as meant for people who measure their wealth not in dollars, but in experiences. I’m fully content with this experience and the memories I’ve made. I feel more rounded-out as a person.

Africa changed me for the better.

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South Africa, Day Four: The Leopard

Oct 19 2010 Published by under Miscellaneous

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts about my recent trip to South Africa. I’m posting them a week after they happen. For all 825 photos from my trip, see my Flickr photo set.

South AfricaMy tour van picked me up at 7:30am, meaning I had to get up at 6:30 to finish drying my clothes. My shirts were dry, but not my jeans, drat the luck. I dried them as best I could and stuffed them into my dirty clothes bag.

The van trip to Cape Town’s airport was wholly uneventful, though I was able to talk to others on the same tour. The couple from Alaska talked about their game hunting and travel plans.

At the airport, we boarded a small plane. By “small,” I mean it seated less than a hundred people. At least, I figured, it had jet engines. An hour and a snack (!) later, we landed at an airport that just barely qualifies for the term.

We were met by our agent, who informed us of our 3-hour travel time by bus to the resort as we walked out into 100-degree heat. We were now in the Africa of the 19th century, of basic infrastructure and an actively hostile environment.

But the trip went smoothly, as I snapped photos of the sprawling banana plantations and pine forests (brought to this country by the Dutch). We spent ten minutes waiting for the border patrol at Kruger National Park to let us in, but eventually we made it to the Lion Sands Reserve, where we were met with lavender-scented moistened towels (not towelettes; actual towels) to refresh ourselves, followed by tea, then a drive.

A drive into the bush.

I was the only single person in the group of eleven. One couple consisted of twentysomethings from New York, another was from Alaska. Fascinating people, really. We chatted and figured out who would be in which jeep.

So we clambered into open-top jeeps and drove out into the bush, our ranger Trevor in the driver’s seat and our tracker on a seat at the front of the vehicle. As we bumped along well-worn tracks, Trevor and the tracker pointed out impala and various birds, then driove along a dry river bed, up to a spot where a leopard made a kill the day before.

A Leopard in South AfricaA leopard padded out and flopped down on the sand, not thirty feet away from us.

The only equivalent feeling to a modern America is watching a horror movie. Adrenaline rushed through my veins. I was a few steps away from a wild creature that viewed me as potential prey.

This particular leopard had just finished feeding on an impala, though, so it was completely relaxed and politely posed for pictures.

We eventually drove on, and stopped at groups of rhinos and giraffes.

I was stunned. Because these animals have grown up with jeeps traipsing through their terrain, they’re completely used to a jeep driving up next to them and stopping. So you could, and we did.

Giraffe in South AfricaNight fell, and the ranger stopped the jeep at a clearing and brought out some snacks: pierogi, corn muffins, jerky, and various bottles of wine and spirits. We watched a lightning storm gather in the distance.

Absolutely magical. When we returned to the lodge about an hour later, I fell into bed and slept soundly. I was undoubtedly helped by the lack of visible electronic equipment in the room; there was literally no ambient light. Once I turned off my bedside lamp, I saw no difference between having my eyes open or closed.

The next day, we would go out in search of lions.

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South Africa, Day Three: Vacation Within a Vacation

Oct 18 2010 Published by under Miscellaneous

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts about my recent trip to South Africa. I’m posting them a week after they happen. For all 825 photos from my trip, see my Flickr photo set.

As planned, I never left my hotel today.

The 15 on Orange Hotel in Cape Town, South AfricaSome may cry “Madness!” at this. But I was exhausted, and one of the goals of any vacation is to relax. So I relaxed.

Fortunately, it was a rainy day in Cape Town, so there wasn’t much for me to do anyway.

Thanks to my iPad, I finished Faulkner’s Of Mice and Men and started A.J. Jacobs’s The Year of Living Biblically. Thanks to my hotel room’s TV, I watched Transformers 2 and random TV shows.

I’m trying to avoid sarcasm, so I must avoid a snarky comment about television. I will point out that I literally can’t remember anything I watched.

I also slept sporadically. I could only manage a few hours at a time, but I felt better after every nap.

Sounds like an unexciting day, eh? Well, let me relate the Laundry Incident.

I only brought five shirts and two pairs of jeans on my trip, as is my standard procedure. I could stretch those out if I needed to, but I wouldn’t need to: I’d have the hotel launder the first few days’ clothes halfway through the trip.

Or I thought so.

At about 11:00, I put my laundry in the appropriate bag, set it out for housekeeping, and merrily skipped downstairs for lunch. When I returned, sure enough, the bag was gone.

After my relaxing day, I ordered dinner through room service at about 8:00, and realized that I hadn’t seen my laundry yet. So I ate my dinner (they got my order wrong, incidentally), then strolled downstairs, and politely explained the situation, and could they just check on it?

The 15 on Orange Hotel foyerThe guy manning the front desk gladly did so, agreeing that the laundry should be done by now. He got on the phone, and his face turned glum.

He told me that my laundry was now on the truck going to their laundry service, but it would be back by mid-day tomorrow.

I explained that this was a problem, since I’d be leaving at 7:30am the following morning for the next leg of my trip.

So he called his manager, who made her own phone calls, and sadly informed me that she’d contacted the laundry service, but they hadn’t answered, so she left a message and would call me at my room once she heard.

Back I went to my room. A few minutes later, my phone rang. The manager said that they found my laundry…in the hotel laundry room. It hadn’t been touched. Not only had it not been put on the truck, it hadn’t been cleaned at all.

Minutes later, an apologetic member of the housekeeping staff appeared at my door with my bag of laundry, exactly as I had placed it on my bed 9 hours previously.

So. After the door closed, I ran some hot water in the bathtub, poured in a full bottle of the hotel’s body wash–noting that housekeeping had given me two bottles of body wash and no shampoo–and washed two shirts and a pair of jeans.

So. An unusual day, and an important bridge, as the next day I would get on a plane for Kruger National Park, and explore my accommodations in the bush. I was now quite intrigued to find out how it would compare to 15 on Orange.

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South Africa, Day Two: The Journey Around the Mountain

Oct 17 2010 Published by under Miscellaneous

This is the third in a series of blog posts about my recent trip to South Africa. I’m posting them a week after they happen. For all 825 photos from my trip, see my Flickr photo set.

Cape Town, South AfricaToday, I fully toured Cape Town.

Those sightseeing buses were fabulous. I took hundreds more photos, learned all sorts of interesting factoids (the thickets of thorn bushes that cover one side of Cape Mountain were planted at the direction of the governor, to prevent the natives from stealing their own cattle back from the Dutch and driving the cattle down the mountain), and rode up Table Mountain.

Table Mountain, Cape Town, South AfricaThat last was quite an experience. A cable car takes you up the final few hundred yards, and I’m afraid of heights. Moreover, at the top of Table Mountain, the railings are quite basic; no more than hip-height at the most. It took me a while to make it out to the edge. But the view was breathtaking. Totally worth it.

Moreover, I completed two quests today.

First, I have a goal to visit every continent, and to bring back and live with some physical artifact from each continent. I found my African artifact: an ivory corkscrew, sold by a local. Practical and beautiful.

Second, another goal is to eat every dish in every cuisine. While in Cape Town, I kept hearing about cape snoek, a fish only found in the southern hemisphere. So when I sat down at a restaurant on the Victoria and Alfred waterfront and saw snoek on the menu (served with a lemon-honey sauce with french fries and a South African white wine), I just couldn’t pass it up.

I discovered that the warnings I’d heard about snoek’s extreme boniness were true. I’ve never had as many bones in a fish.

Worth it? Oh yes. It was literally the best meal of my life.

I spent the rest of the afternoon taking pictures, then scurried back to my hotel before night fell, and read until bed. What a fantastic day, and what a contrast to my gloom the day before.

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