Sunday, May 29, 2005

BLOG Fever

Everybody cool is doing it! Morgan Browning started a blog... View it here.

Morgan moved back to San Francisco (I'm totally jealous that he's living on Russian Hill again), and started a new job that requires him to travel a lot. He's currently on a 2 week trip in South Carolina, and did a day hike in the Smoky Mountains today. Hopefully he'll start posting pictures from his travels.

Oh, and I never posted Darren and Ann's travel blog. The URL is The password is "password" (no quotes on either one).

Shark Madness

I just watched a Discovery Channel program about sharks that renewed my desire to go on a Great White viewing expedition. The program is called "Air Jaws", because it starts off with footage of sharks that jump out of the water. The footage of Great Whites jumping clear out of the water is pretty amazing.

The most interesting part was the last segment. Apparently a 35 foot, 12 ton whale died and washed up on the shores of South Africa, so it was towed to nearby Seal Island because I guess they didn't want to Blow it up with a half-ton of dynamite. I highly recommend you watch the Exploding Whale Video. It makes a great dinner conversation, especially at a nice restaurant. (Inside voices)

Anyway, Seal Island is aptly named because it is a huge seal habitat. In the winter before the waters turn warm there are so many Great White Sharks patrolling the island that they call the zone around it the "Ring of Death". Once the huge whale carcass was out in the water, the sharks focused their attention on that, and the researchers counted some 25 great whites feeding on the carcass (making it the greatest feeding frenzy ever captured on film). There is some amazing footage of the sharks getting so full that they get clumsy (drunk, almost) and bump into the boat as well as each other. These researchers theorize that whale feeding frenzies are the basis of shark orgies, although no one has ever seen or filmed great white mating.

Since the sharks were so full from eating, they sort of wandered away for a while, allowing the researchers a rare opportunity to get in the water and film the seals. On day 2, the carcass was almost completely gone. One of the crazier researchers climbed out onto the small chunk that was left to get some up close footage (seriously staring right into the shark's mouth) of the feeding. The slipperiness of the carcass alone would have told me this was a bad idea, but the footage of jumping sharks would definitely have prevented me from doing what this guy did. He did get some really cool footage though.

I would love to go on a Great White expedition some day, and get in a cage where I could observe them from the water. Maybe if I stumble upon a huge whale carcass, the researchers will let me join them.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Nature Galore (Deer Mountain)

Today I went hiking for the first time since moving to Colorado. Actually, the last time I went hiking was last September because it was the weekend before I started classes at Santa Clara University. I was trying not to pull a rib cage muscle this time, and was successful. ;-) Anyway, I hiked to the top of Deer Mountain, which is in the Rocky Mountain National Park. This is a way cool park, and is only about a 45 minute drive from my house.

I learned two things today (well, probably more than that, but only 2 of major consequence). First, I'm extremely out of shape. All of this travel and lack of exercise has left my body unable to cope with routine hiking. This is exacerbated by the second thing I learned--I am really not used to hiking at altitude. The summit of Deer Mountain is at 10,013 feet, which while not extra-ordinarily high, is higher than I've ever hiked. I noticed that I had to take more frequent breaks, and did not have nearly the recovery time that I'm used to.

Anyway, all my complaining aside, the hike was absolutely gorgeous. About 30 seconds into the hike I ran into a family of 5 deer, so I guess now we know why they call it Deer Mountain. I saw more deer later on in the hike too. There are great views of other mountains in the park while hiking up the mountain, and even a jaunt through a nice shady pine forest. Along the way I saw a chipmunk, and was able to grab a nice shot of him. I got to the summit around 10:30 and had it all to myself, so I had lunch and enjoyed the view. A squirrel kept running circles around me while I was eating, and I was finally able to get him to be still long enough for a picture.

A couple from Longmont reached the summit and we chatted for a while. They took my picture, and then I headed back down. I must have passed 30 people while I was coming back down, so I got off the summit before it got all crowded, and drove home because I was totally exhausted. NOAA's Weather Page is showing Thunderstorms for the rest of the extended weekend, so I'll probably be chilling out at home.

Feel free to check out my Deer Mountain Photos.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Florida Rundown

Well, we are back safely from Florida. Unfortunately this means that we had to leave fairy tale land and return to work, but we have some cool stories (and pictures) to show for it.

We started off by spending our first night in Miami Beach, which is a little island off the east coast of downtown Miami. There are 2 bridges going out there from Miami, just in case one is closed down because of an accident or something. We in the industry call this high availability through redundancy. Our flight arrived late, so we pretty much ate dinner at the hotel (Wyndham Miami Beach) and crashed. A picture is available from our 11th floor room.

The next morning (Friday) we had lunch at a Mexican restaurant... Swiss Enchiladas and stuffed Shrimp, if I recall correctly, and then headed down towards the Keys. The Florida Keys are actually an archipelago of 40 islands, starting with Key Largo at the north-eastern end and going about 120 miles to Key West on the South-western end. Our resort in Key Largo is called Azul Del Mar, and it was totally awesome. There are only 5 suites and Dominic (the owner) is always around and taking good care of the guests. Several grills were scattered throughout the resort, so we bought steaks and kabobs and grilled our first dinner. Superb.

Azul Del Mar is on the Gulf of Mexico side of the island, where the sand is fine and the water is warm. We went snorkeling on Saturday in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, which was Michelle's first time experiencing the underwater world first-hand. We saw tons of different kinds of parrot fish, as well as zebra fish and other fish I don't even know the names of. There was very little wind, so there were very little waves, which seemed odd because we were in the Atlantic Ocean. No complaints, because the weather was gorgeous! We could not have asked for better snorkeling conditions. After snorkeling we went to a local dive called Hobo's for Conch Fritters and cold beer. Well, I had beer (Killian's). Michelle had Amstel Light.

The next day Dominic set us up with one of his guide buddies, Captain Mike. Captain Mike took us on a personal eco-tour through the Everglades National Park and some of the areas surrounding Key Largo. What a way to see the "glades"! We saw lots of birds, fish, Mangroves (salt-water dwelling trees that excrete tannic acid), a spotted eagle ray, 3 black-tip sharks, crabs, and some iguanas! The weather on Sunday was as perfect as it was on Saturday, so this was a great way to spend the day. After the eco-tour we drove down to Bahia Honda State Park to hang drive through the Keys and hang out at the beach. We ended the night having a sunset dinner on Isla Morada beach.

On Monday, we had to leave (total bummer). We had lunch and spent the afternoon back on Miami Beach, where Michelle went crazy snapping photographs of anything that reeked of Florida. The hotels really are flamboyantly-pastel there, as are the cars and the lifeguard shacks. It was a relaxing end to a very relaxing weekend. See the Florida Photoalbum to check out the photos.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Beautiful Sunny Florida

Well, there's a 70% chance of sun (30% chance of rain). I don't know if that means it will be sunny 70% of the time, or what. It rained last night, but today the weather is gorgeous.

We stayed in Miami last night because our hotel in Key Largo was totally booked up on Thursday, but not for the weekened, which seems kind of odd. Anyway, check out the view from our hotel room at the Wyndham Miami Beach:

Wyndham Hotel Miami Beach

Pretty nice eh? We're headed down to South Beach for breakfast, and then we'll be heading to Key Largo after that. Hopefully we'll get to try Conch Fritters, which we saw pictures of in the American Airlines in-flight magazine.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

I'm Home

I've made it safely back to Fort Collins, and almost exactly at 10pm which is what I was predicting. Since that is 6am in Paris and I got started at 8am, that was a 22 hour trip. I'm going to go sleep for 3 days now.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Last day in Paris

Which is good, because I'm really craving my own bed and TV channels besides CNN. Not that the international CNN is all that bad, but I can't stand the violence and hypocrisy that they loop every hour.

I mean really.... isn't it comical to watch George Bush stand next to the Russian President and chastise Russia for their 'occupation' of Eastern Europe after World War 2? As we are sitting here occupying Iraq, and causing and insurgency that kills many innocent people every day. Please.

My former roommate Loren sent me a link to Dubya-Speak, which is obviously a play on "Double-Speak" and gives all the stupid quotes that George Bush Jr. ever said. Here's an example:

"This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. And having said that, all options are on the table."

And it appears that voters (aka the 'Mob') in England are just as stupid as the voters in the United States. They hate Tony Blair because he supported the lies and war in Iraq, but re-elected because they liked his running mate Gordon Brown, who sat in front of news cameras and said he would have done the exact same thing as Blair regarding Iraq. How stupid is that? Ahhh well. Soon I will get back to the US and be able to fill my idle time with netflix instead of watching the news.

I went out and visited the Pantheon and Notre Dame today. The Pantheon has one of those pendulum clocks (they made the first one), like the one in the San Francisco Exploratorium. Notre Dame is the famous church... although I didn't see any hunchbacks there. I have added pictures to my Paris Photos.

Looking forward to talking to everybody and catching up when I get back to the States!

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Paris is a CRAZY city

By "CRAZY", I mean that Paris is a huge city, with a lot of people, and absolutely no sense to the street design. Of course coming from the United States I'm used to urban planning that creates a sane street layout. Even old (for us) cities like San Francisco are mostly grid like, which confusion only where the grids intersect. You should look at a Paris map sometime.

I woke up late this morning, and left the hotel around 2 heading towards the Louvre. I was starving, so I just went into a fancy restaurant by the Louvre, where I tried Beef Tartare for the first time, since I'm trying to try "French Food" while I'm here. Beef Tartare is raw beef, which is presumably from the best cut of the cow (otherwise it would be nasty and tough). This dish was prepared by chopping it up into small pieces, and then mixing it in some sort of sauce with a kick (had a bit of horseradish in it). The dish was very good, but there was so much food that I couldn't finish it.

I decided not to go to the Louvre since they close at 5, so I'll just go back tomorrow. I spent the day walking around the Garden (Jardin des Tuileries), visiting the Obelisque de Luxor at Place De La Condorde, and walking Avenue Des Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. There are so many monuments and there is so much history in this town... you would need a long time to see even all the major sights. It didn't rain at all today, although it was cold when I left the hotel. About 4pm the clouds when away, the sun came out and it got really warm. I always bring the California weather with me (sorry all you people in CA... I took it to Colorado with me!)

It is very interesting just seeing the different cars that people drive in different countries. In Germany, it seems like everybody drives BMWs, Mercedes, Audis, and Volvos. It is kind of like driving around the south bay. All the taxi drivers drive Mercedes there! In France, it seems like every other car is either a Renault or a Peugeot. Actually my friends Phillippe and Sylvie had a Peugeot, and it was a nice car... I had never been in one before. I saw one BMW (a Z4) while I was driving around today.

Check out my Paris Photos.

Arrival in Paris

I got to Paris safely yesterday, and it rained off and on for most of the evening. Charles De Gaulle airport is pretty far out of town, and it was 5pm and raining so the traffic was fairly bad getting to the hotel. I would have taken the subway and saved the 45 Euro cab ride (about $60), but I was meeting Phillippe and Sylvie for dinner and had to get ready.

We went out for a really great dinner at a French restaurant. It was a multi-course meal:

  1. Foie Gras, served with dessert wine

  2. Fish, served with white wine

  3. Sorbet drowned in Apple Brandy, to clear the pallet

  4. Steak, served with red wine

  5. A selection of cheeses with bread

  6. Ice cream, caramel brittle (sort of like peanut brittle but without peanuts), and a shot glass of straight caramel that you eat with a spoon, served with champagne.

Lets just say I was happily full at the end, which was about 3 hours and 15 minutes after we started. We had a great time, telling jokes and stories and laughing a bit too loud for a fancy restaurant. Here is a picture from dinner:

Dinner with Phillippe and Sylvie

They took me on a small tour of Paris after dinner, showing me the Eiffel Tower at night, the Arc De Triomphe, and a host of other things. The weather is looking good right now, so I'm gonna go out and explore a bit, maybe get some pictures, and try to catch a show tonight.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Why Corporations will take over the world

At the risk of pointing out that which is painfully obvious to the rest of the intelligent, civilized world I'm going to tell you why Corporations will win. Of course there are the complaints about hostile actions, monopolies, and all that stuff, but I think it is a lot simpler than that. Corporations are successful because they pander to the natural human desire for instant gratification.

Yes, when our cavemen ancestors were hungry, they didn't say "Hmmm... its after 5 and all the Brontosaurus Burger joints are closed"... they just went out and killed a damn brontosaurus. Through the miracles of genetics, we all have those same exact urges. I stopped shopping at Albertson's because the one in Fort Collins closes at midnight, and I'd rather give my money to King Sooper's because they're open 24/7. I much prefered the 24 hour fitness in the bay area to my gym that closes at 11pm.

Tonight, after the symphony concert finished (around 10pm), I walked from the Augsberg Kongress-Saal back to the central-city train station, which was probably about 3 km. I made it all the way to the train station without passing a single open restaurant. Not one. This train station is smack-dab in the middle of the city. In San Francisco, that would be like walking from the Symphony Hall, down Market Street, and then down 4th street to the CalTrain station without passing a single open restaurant. At the train station there were 3 open restaurants: McDonald's, Burger King, and some pizzeria. In my effort at fast-food avoidance, I went to the pizzeria, where the food looked absolutely disgusting (worse than cable-car-pizza at Union Square, if you know what I mean). I ate at BK, which seemed the lesser of 3 evils.

It wasn't a question of price. I would gladly have paid 15 euros for a good meal. But when the only choice is garbage or corporate fast food, well, that's a no-brainer. So, the next time you hear people opining about "corporations killing the mom and pop shops", just slap them across the face (twice). The simple economic fact is that if mom and pop shops could provide what their customers wanted, they would have no trouble staying in business.

Augsburg was a cool little city, but not super inviting for tourists. There are all kinds of cool old buildings around, but most of them have a giant wall all around them and weren't accessible when I was there. I had several hours of walking around without any rain, and then I headed over to the Symphony Hall. I asked a girl on a bike (stopped at a red) which direction I needed to walk, and she was so excited to meet someone who spoke english that she got off and walked me partway there (her destination was on the way). I thought it was pretty cool, because I thought it was much closer than it was, and I probably couldn't have found it in time if she hadn't done that. She studied 2 years of english, but works at a German Law firm and doesn't ever get to practice.

I was completely wrong about the concert... I thought it was going to be Mahler's 8th symphony, because I thought that's what I saw on their website. Their website is all in German so I don't feel so stupid (ignorant maybe). The first piece was a Stravinsky piece just for Wind Orchestra. Then they all left, and the second piece was a Richard Strauss piece just for Strings. After intermission was Robert Schumann's 2nd Symphony for the entire orchestra. Apparently this conductor is new, and he is very energetic... jumping all over the stage. This might be somewhat common here, because the Augsburg and Munich stages both had a rail, about 4 feet up, across the entire length of the conductor's podium. I can only guess that it keeps them from falling backwards off the stage when girate around.

Tomorrow I'm heading to Paris. My friends Phillippe and Sophie from the SCUBA trip a couple of weeks ago are going to pick me up at my hotel so we can have dinner. They're picking the restaurant, and I have no idea what kind of restaurant it will be. The french have no particular cuisine that I know of (what would you expect if you went for "french food"?), so it could be anything.

Check out the Pictures of Augsburg.

Joseph Calleja, Tenor

I went to see the Munich Symphony (Muncher Symphoniker) last night at the Residenz (Royal Palace). The pieces performed were mostly overtures or songs from various Operas and Ballets. There were 14 pieces listed in the program, 8 of which featured Joseph Calleja, a tenor from Malta. Mr. Calleja is an excellent singer, and projected his voice into this huge hall without any microphones.

People here in Munich loved him. After each piece that he performed people were still going nuts, and he had to come back out for more bows. On 8 pieces. And as the concert was over, people were going nuts for about 5 minutes, and then he performed 2 encores. This was an excellent, 2.5 hour concert. The man sitting behind me was from England, and his wife is German. They are here visiting her sister, so they decided to come see this guy perform because they had seen him perform in London just a few weeks ago.

Today I am taking a train to Augsburg to see the Augsburg Philharmonisches Orchester, who are performing Mahler's 8th Symphony. I plan on doing some sight-seeing as well, but yahoo weather shows rain there, so we'll see how it goes.

Monday, May 02, 2005

We need some castles in the US

I took a train to the town of Fussen today, which is a town mostly built up around some castles that are in the area. I went to one castle, Neuschwanstein, which was designed to be like something out of a fairy tale. It definitely looks like a fairy tale castle, or like the Small World castle. See Pictures of Fussen and Castle Neuschwanstein.

On the train towards Fussen, I was sitting across from a schoolteacher from Augsberg. She teaches Economics and Computer Informatics (basically Computer Science) to high school age kids. She told me that Germany has a dual educational system... when you're 10 you branch and either go to University Preparation, or you go to this other system which is more preparation for an apprenticeship. The kids she teaches will go into a trade of some kind.

The most interesting thing she told me was that a couple of years ago their teaching plans changed and they're no longer allowed to teach any programming languages. The faculty (she disagrees) feel that with cheap labor available in India and China, there is no need to know how to program. So all they do is design programs, and write some pseudocode. This is a totally interesting take on it, basically designing a set of kids who think at a higher level and don't get their hands dirty with details. Which is fine by me, because that means that the next generation of German Computer Scientists will be really bad at their job, and people will need to consult American Programmers more.

So, I got to Fussen around 11am, and went to a German restaurant there in town. I had Venison Goulash with homemade noodles and salad. The Venison was very very good... super tender and flavorful. Then I hiked up the mountain to the castle courtyard, which is where the tours start. While I was waiting for the tour I met a couple from Vancouver, BC who are also doing the work/holiday thing. He is the dean of a business school in Vancouver and is out here trying to setup an exchange program with a Viennese university. Sounds like a hard life.

The castle was super cool. They don't let you take pictures inside, but I did get some pictures of the outside, as well as pictures of the views from various castle windows. There is a beautiful waterfall and bridge, as well as cool views of Fussen down below. At the top of the mountain was a group of hang-gliders (about 12 of them) who just seemed to stay up forever.

On the train ride back I met a woman from Vacaville who works at the Vacaville prison. She is on a big WWII tour of Europe, some sort of organized thing where you start at Omaha beach and then come down all the way to Munich so you can visit Dachau. She was so excited and showing me pictures of Dachau, which I really didn't want to see. If I wanted to see that I'd take the 20 minute train ride out there. But anyway, she is going to come back again for her vacation next year and tour Auschwitz and others. Blech.

Tonight I'm going to attempt to get symphony tickets. Hopefully it isn't entirely sold out. Undoubtedly sausage and beer will be my main dinner ingredients.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Want to meet people from the future?

MIT is hosting a time traveling convention. The idea is to make it such a popular, well known event that even people thousands of years from now will know about it, so they will come back to visit at that time. This is a really cool idea. Of course, its possible that North Korea will destroy mankind with nukes before then, but still, it is a cool idea. For those interested in attending, it's on May 7, 2005, 10:00pm EDT (08 May 2005 02:00:00 UTC) in the East Campus Courtyard at MIT. 42:21:36.025N, 71:05:16.332W (42.360007,-071.087870 in decimal degrees). Hopefully they don't come back just to tell us our architects are lame.

This morning I'm taking a train to Fussen, which is a village up in the Swiss Alps. If the weather continues to be as nice as it was yesterday, then I should have some great views up there. Of course, I'll post pictures as soon as I can.

300 years from now people will think we were lame (My Day in Munich)

Before I get started talking about Munich, I wanted to point out that I added a couple of pictures of Berlin that I forgot to post earlier. They are of a bombed out church in Hardenbergplatz. The church was bombed out in 1943, and they just left it that way. A huge, modern railway station and square have grown up around it, so it looks quite out of place. You can see pictures from Berlin. It is the last two photos in the set.

The reason people 300 years from now will think we were lame is because our architecture is so lazy. Yeah, new buildings can be cool looking and modern and artistic and creative and all that, but the amount of work put into actually making them doesn't even compare to the old buildings. I was walking around Munich today, and all these old buildings from the 17th century are so impressive. The amount of work poured into creating all these buildings is incredible, with cool statues and designs all over the walls. Try to keep this in the back of your mind as you look through the photos.

I started just outside the Englischer Garten at Siegestor (Victory Arch). Englischer Garten is the huge Central City Park, and is so named because it was modeled after a British Country Estate. The park is beautiful, with huge green pastures, running creeks with people wading about, and various Beer Gardens. The biggest beer garden is at the Chinese Pagoda (Chinesischer Turm). They serve beer by the liter, which is much more respectable than the Australian bars. I once watched my KKPsi big brother Jeff Moerdyke drink 3.5 of these at one band party. I know he was not happy the next day.

At my table were 2 Pharmacist ladies from Australia who were in town for a conference, as well as a couple from Los Angeles who is living in Munich on a temporary work assignment. We took turns taking pictures of each other in front of the Chinese Pagoda. Following this I went wondering through the park, where I learned that nude sun-bathing is quite common in Munich. Not what I would have expected, but it wasn't so bad.

From there I headed over to Hofgarten, which is a big square with some government buildings. In the middle of Hofgarten is a cool temple for the Goddess Diana, with a flower garden and water fountains around it. There is also a cafe there, but (surprisingly) no Starbucks.

Right next to Hofgarten is the Residenz (Royal Palace). For you history buffs (hi Dad!) this is where Adolf Hitler and his cronies got drunk in 1923 and tried to overthrow the German Government. They failed of course, and he went to jail, where he wrote Mein Kampf. Then they made the mistake of letting him out, and he went crazy creating the storyline for "Escape from Castle Wolfenstein".

Marienplatz is the big square in the center of town, where there is a toy museum, churches, and Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall). The town hall has a clock tower that goes crazy at 6pm, and mechanical marionettes come out to dance. One group of knights and dancers re-enact a tournament held in the Marienplatz in 1568, and the other group dances the Schafflertanz (cooper's dance). There was a big stage setup and a band performing in Marienplatz. It was your typical R&B band, playing favorite German standards like Louie Louie, Hallelujah It's Raining Men, and Jailhouse Rock.

I also walked over to the world famous Hofbrau House, which is right next to Marienplatz. This place can seat 4500 people, and serves 17,500 liters of beer on a busy day. I plan on having dinner there as soon as this post is completed.

Finally, I ended up at St. Matthew's Church, near Marienplatz. The altar in this church is crazy... way more impressive than anything I've ever seen. I imagine there will be even better churches in Romo, but still, this one is cool.

Check out Pictures from Munich.

A Bush worth listening to

The only english-speaking channels here in Germany are CNN and BBC, so I've been watching considerably more news than I normally do. Most of it is depressing, like the horrible train wreck in Tokyo, the 5 car bombs in Iraq within a 10 minute span, and the 2 women opening fire on a tour bus in Egypt, but once in a while there is something good. This morning they showed clips of Laura Bush speaking at a dinner, which apparently she never does. Granted, she probably has access to the best public speaking coaches in the world, but she was extremely articulate and funny. A few quotes:

- "Here's a typical evening at our house. 9pm, George is asleep.... and I'm watching Desperate Housewives. With Lynn Cheney."

- "We were destined to be. I was a librarian working 12 hours a day in a library, and yet somehow I still met George."

- "George and I are opposites. He's talkative, I'm quiet. He's outgoing, I'm shy. I know how to pronounce 'nuclear'."

- "People often think Barbara Bush is a grandmotherly, Aunt B. type. She's actually more like.... Don Corleone."

- "Let me put it this way: 1st prize is a 3 day vacation with the entire Bush Family. 2nd prize is a 10 day vacation."

Anyway, there finally is somebody in the Bush family that doesn't make me feel like I'm wasting my time when I listen to them.