Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Travels to Russia: Nizhny Novgorod and Moscow

The Arrival
i arrive at the airport, or the airstrip, as the bumpy landing reminds me. this is not the same. i walk off the plane, onto one of those old 'walk down' ramps you always see the president use. its about 80 degrees and humid. nobody speaks english, no signs are recognizable. i go into the airport, above the door it says 'nizhny novgorod' in english. at least its the right place (when buying the ticket i was one click away from buying a ticket to novgorod, which is apparently NOT anywhere near nizhny). my driver is inside. he makes no sound as i walk up and say hi, yes, that's me. he turns and walks toward the door, i say 'i have to wait for my bags'. he doesn't understand, 'luggage', 'suitcase', he looks at the backpack on my back like i am nuts as i point at it. finally he says 'baggage' and i say yes and point back inside. we go in. we and about 20 other people (out of how many hundred on a plane?) wait for our bags. i find out why nobody has any luggage.....mine is gone. of course, everyone else gets their luggage. i go out to find somebody at midnight in an airport with NO gates that speaks english i can explain the situation to. i am lead back into a room straight out of the 30's.

there is a green phone with a rotary dial and two large women are there. i'd say they greet me but they don't. they just speak russian at me. (if you ever hear your spouse complain to you about your tone and you don't understand what the big
deal is, send them to russia). they yell at each other for 20 MINUTES and finally decide that they will try to decipher what i am here for. i proceed to do charades and point at my ticket. i get led into another small room with another rotary phone and a tv with a dial and walls with wallpaper falling off. she points to a chair next to a desk, gets out a form, its in russian. i have no idea what it says, everything is different. in europe you can get by, not in russia, the letters are all different. i pull out my itinerary, passport, luggage claim tags. we speak at each other in our native langauges for awhile and get a few lines filled out 'name', 'flight', i try to suggest they copy my information to give to
someone the next morning but that just gets a puzzled look. i realize there is no copy machine here anyway, who am i kidding?

after another 10 minutes i go out, my driver is still waiting, saying nothing, just standing there. i go back to the two ladies. mostly, they yell at each other. after another 10 minutes, some guy with a cell phone comes in, they yell at him
for awhile, he makes a call, then things start to move. it was weird, suddenly she could use HER phone too. she calls somebody, i think in moscow, who can speak english and hands me the phone. she talks to me, explains my bag is in moscow,
and i will get it tomorrow (note i think she meant to say it MIGHT be in moscow and you MIGHT get it tomorrow but who knows)?

its been 45 minutes, i go check on the driver, he's now sitting in a chair, but saying nothing. i go back, the women both mysteriously acquired english skills in the past 10 minutes, broken but we can communicate. i am to drive back out to the
airport, one hour from my hotel, to see if my bag has arrived. at this point, i don't care. i just want to go to bed. my cab drive is still waiting when i exit. we walk to the car and drive to my hotel. we drive by about 100 casinos, two mcdonalds, various dance clubs. there is a bowling alley and casino in my very nice hotel which has 24 hour room service, good because i haven't eaten in like 8 hours. i have no clothing. i have enough electronics to take over a small country
on my back but no underwear. and i see nothing wrong with those priorities.

Day Two

Killing in the name of...

i go to the office, its uneventfully corporate. the phones work, the food in the cafe is palatable. the coffee machine works fine, the printers work. we have a wonderfully productive day, it feels great. teh team is doing amazing work, i am
super happy and impressed. i had lunch with the local manager. i was thinking about it last night, the fact that in the past 2 years i have spend a significant amount of time in countries previously considered hostile (read: communist). both
the last two places my parents would think their kids would never spend time. think about this for a minute: as soon as 1998, we were afraid of having bombs dropped on us from these people. now, i am having lunch in a country peopel used used to get shot at if they left, and now i am having lunch in a building in that country. i spent time building technology to help defend my country from these people. it comes out during the discussion that the man across the table from me used to
work at sarov. sarov is the los alamos of russia. so here we were, literally trying to kill each other 10 years ago (or protect our country from the killing machines of the other place), talking as if it never happened. i think about this
again when discussing the mathematics of snowflake generation and modelling the collection on tree leaves when it reaches a critical threshold and falls off, startled when i hear the engineer say 'this is quite beautiful'. what is going on here, we aren't to use words like 'beautiful'. this is the same engineer that later shows me a new technique for generating smooth surfaces never before implemented in real time. i think its good we never decided to blow each other up. they make some very significant suggestions for improvements to the software architecture, thinking its going to be a huge debate (they scheduled 90 minutes for the meeting) and were preparing me beforehand for a bloodfest. all of their arguments are well thought out and spot on. i approve in about 4 minutes but let them finish the presentation so they didn't feel i wasn't listening, but the point is i was listening and they were exactly right. they probably don't realize their long list of criticisms was on a piece of software i wrote in under two weeks and i know badly needed a re-
architecture. we've been building our entire SDK from that codebase and i am thrilled to have it overhauled. i leave the offce at about 9pm. its still daylight outside. back at the hotel, i decide to take a walk along the river. walking up
the hotel steps two men in suits are throwing out two other men in barefeet sweaty and with enormous beer bottles in their some type of heated discussion. i go to my room, drop off my stuff, and take a walk outside. i cross the first
street and realize in my head i better be extra careful because the cars are driving so fast. at the second intersection a bus drives by with no hood, engine just out there, belts going, noisy as all hell. going about 60 in a pace he should be
doing 40. he hits a piece of debree, its a car bumper sitting in teh street. honking goes on all around me, the car bumper flies up in the air, lands about 5 feet from me, nothing feels safe here. absolutely nothing.

i walk across the street, the river is there. it reminds me of my home along the ohio river, with an equal amount of misquitos. i am eaten alive in minutes, large black misquitos. 'i might have malaria now' i think to myself. i walk about .5 a mile along a path along the river. its potholed. there are boats all about. the river looks cleaner than the ohio river. lots of young couples out. i get to a street with a place labelled 'bar' at the far end. a car full of young boys go by and yell something that was likely obscene at me. it feels weird, and uncomfortable, and i realize that's it, time to go back to the hotel. i walk back down the path. crossing back over the street, a large cadillac escalade comes out of a strangely placed garage door at the front of my hotel, the same place another car had exited when i arrived from work about 20 minutes earlier. it comes out at significant speed and nearly hits a new jaguar (the mix between old cars with no hoods and new cars is drastic). to miss the car, it veers straight at me. i jump out of the way. (i want to finish writing this, but i am being surrounded by fruit flies, what started as two is now about 8) so i am going to continue after i find a less infested place). I discover that not only have i no luggage, i also seem to have misplaced my sweater, which is a problem because i rather like my nifty northwest hipster black sweater. Spent awhile trying to determine where I misplaced security is what i figure. night I get some details of my location on a map, I get a map (good start). I realize I'm closer to the city center than I thought...spend a few hours walking around. lots of younger folks walking around the streets with those
large beer bottles. its hot, its very hot. no need for a sweater after all :)

Fast foward to departure:
most things remain normal for next few days. Suprised at how little i needed my luggage to make it. so long as i have my electronics, money, and toiletries I'm fine. i get a taxi ride to the airport. happens to be about an hour away WITHOUT
traffic. we drive by the kremlin and head towards the airport. more kids walking about. something striking about 10 minutes away from airport, a very old cart out in an agricultural area is on teh side of the road, there are some police cars and common folk milling about. an older women is hunched over a body with no signs of life, appears to have been hit by the driver who is just shaking his head and looking very....mournful. taxi driver looks at me but thinks i don't notice. i can't get the camera out in time as we drive by.

nihzny airport. no english anywhere. i get their about 90 minutes early. look around for a desk to check-in. information counter is staffed, no english. after approaching 3 or 4 people we figure out that check in will happen 'later', whatever that means. i figure since we're the only flight out tonight i'll notice when people start moving so i'm not that worried. check-in begins, we move through, proceed to wait for 90 minutes after flight is supposed to arrive.

when plane lands, we board immediately and head off to moscow.

I get to Moscow and manage to get my bags back from customs. My sweater was with the lost and found. Maybe someday I'll have time to write down that 2 hour debacle.

Travels to Spain: Madrid and Barcelona


madrid was nice. was actually able to use a little spanish, although i came to rely on allison who had a much higher verbal aptitude in spanish than i. we spent two nights wandering the streets of madrid before heading to barcelona.

barcelona is awesome. we only got two nights there and i feel like i needed more time. some pics are below. barcelona is a sitting that has lots of art and beauty and museums and cosmopolitism. i was really impressed and want to go back. particularly impressive was the architecture and art of the famous artists gaudi which i had never seen in person before.

i was just mega impressed with the organic forms his work takes and the lack of its influence in modern building techniques given our desire for malleability of the world. i was anxious to try some absinthe since i heard about it, but let me say its highly, highly overrated. what a great marketing scam! essentially, its just a licorice based liquer, and for whatever reason its only available in barcelona. just not a big deal, unless of course the type i tried wasn't the real thing.

barcelona is a great place and i'd love to go back sometime.

Travels to Portugal: Lisbon and Sitra

we spent several days in lisbon. quite an interesting place. stacey was especially impressed by the number of zaras per square foot, which is roughly twice the total number in all of the US. most striking is the streets and side walks made completely out of small limestone, usually less than 6 inches swquare. every street has a different pattern. there are monuments everywhere, giant monuments. none of them give enough information to understand why there are there. there are cafes everywhere. tinly alleyways from a town built hundreds of years ago. very beautiful. and indeed, there is lots of port to choose from.

pictures later

we went to visit a sintra, a tiny portuguese town less than an hour outside the city, had some beautiful castles and other views.

Been doing a bit of espresso research...

After my trip to Europe the past few days I discovered the nespresso line of machines. Beautiful devices they are. basically, pod based espresso. I'm editing this via blogger, who assumes because my IP address is in Russia I must know Russian, so I have no idea when I click on a button if its the right one. Its like 'try this, try this try this one...'

A quote from here (,category,coffee.aspx): "So do I miss that cup from Starbucks? Not at all. Even the worst of these pods are going to be better than 90% or more of the espresso that I've had from Starbucks. Any espresso drinker will tell you that they just don't have the machines or the talent to pull a proper shot. I stick to the frou-frou drinks at Starbucks that are over laden with milk and flavor syrups, 'cause their espresso just isn't good enough. Of course that means for my current double shot I am paying around $1-$1.25, at Starbucks, after loading it up with crap I didn't really want just to make the coffee palatable, I'd pay around $3.75-$4. And that is an expense I certainly won't miss."

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A few diet hints to think about...

Consumer Reports listed top dieting strategies based on research and statistics gleaned from the National Weight Control Registry, which enrolls people who have lost 30 pounds and kept the weight off for at least a year. They were:

1. Eat a substantial morning meal

2. Crank up the activity

3. Fill up on "low density" or low calorie foods

4. Step regularly on the scale

5. Bore yourself thin as the more monotonous the diet, the less one will eat