Fri, 05 Nov 2010

Día de los Muertos in Mexico

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I didn't plan for it to work out this way, but a business visit to Querétaro, Mexico coincided with Día de los Muertos. A colleague and I took a walk through the downtown plazas, which were an amazing blend of sights, tastes, and aromas. It was a tremendous amount of fun. I took quite a few pictures; you can find the Flickr set here.

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Sun, 25 Oct 2009

Queretaro, Mexico

Silhouetted statue

(that should really be Querétaro, above, but I really don’t have the energy to fight the encoding and escaping war across the internet today…)

I spent 4 days working in Querétaro, Mexico last week. It’s a fascinating place. I get the impression it’s a bit of a boomtown. There are all sorts of global corporations that have significant operations there. It has the benefit of being centrally located, but far enough outside the enormous Mexico City to avoid the issues of overcrowding and traffic there.

Some dinerThis was my very first visit to Mexico and I'd hoped to take a lot of pictures, but it wasn’t to be, primarily for logistical reasons. Usually when I visit a city for the first time on business I try to arrive a day early so I can actually see some of the city beyond my hotel room and the office park, but I had to book this flight very late and the only flight in was a day later. The workday there is about 10-11 hours, partially to accomodate for the extended lunch most office workers take. As a result, our workday started around 8AM and we usually didn’t finish up until ~ 6:30 or 7PM, and sunset was about 7:30PM. I only shot pictures over a 90 minute stretch one early evening.

Baby Jeebuses!A couple of my hosts took me out to a nice seafood lunch at a place called Los Delfines (The Dolphins). On the way back, they gave me a quick ride through the old streets of downtown. The city is hundreds of years old, so the street layout has all these cool, super narrow roads with buildings that come right up to the (also narrow) sidewalks. They told me that downtown Querétaro was very safe at night, so I resolved to come back and walk around after my workday was finished.

Another church...As soon as I finished up work on Thursday, I went to my room and quickly retrieved my camera. I decided to stick with the kit lens, which was a pretty good decision in retrospect — it gave me coverage from 18-55mm IS, which was fine for all the street scenes. I debated bringing my nifty fifty, since it’s a much “faster” lens than the kit lens, and I knew I'd have very limited light, but I also knew I'd miss having the wide-angle coverage of the 18-55. I really didn’t want to bring multiple lenses as, for street shooting, doing lens changes is awkward and even a little dangerous.

Shop window, religious storeEven on a Thursday, there were all sorts of things going on as I walked through the various plazas and roads. There were street vendors selling jewelry, dolls, clothing, food, and artwork. I saw a preacher conducting a service with in the corner of one plaza, while a couple of blocks away there were a bunch of older folks ballroom dancing on another plaza while an audience of folks watched.

It's worh noting that, despite all the gringo fearmongering I'd heard from various people before making my trip, at no point did I feel less than 100% safe my whole time in Mexico. Despite all the breathless certainty that I would be kidnapped and beheaded by swine-flu-infected Uzi-toting gangsters, the people I met were friendly and helpful.

Plaza, ballroom dancing

I felt like I was walking through a Mexican transposition of La Dolce Vita, which is a pretty good feeling to have.

Brick courtyard

Full set of photos on Flickr.

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Sat, 02 May 2009

Southern California April 2009

Airship Hangar @ Tustin

I spent a few days in southern California (mostly in Orange County) a couple of weeks ago, and of course I took my camera. I was working at a site on the border of Irvine and Tustin, CA.

IMG_2253On my drive to the worksite every day, these two massive structures looming out of the morning fog kept grabbing my attention. I had no idea what they were, but they seemed wildly out of place among the office parks, shopping malls, and subdivisions. The day before I left, I finally remembered to ask my hosts about them, and found out that they were World War II-vintage airship hangars.

We finished up a little early that day so I went walking around with my camera. It’s actually a very serene place now, inhabited primarily by birds. There was a friendly nesting pair of red-tailed hawks who'd made one of the hangars their own private aerie.IMG_2221 I'm anthromorphosizing and calling them friendly because they put on quite a show. I heard them long before I saw them — the distinctive “skee-eer” noise that a red-tailed hawk makes (which you've doubtlessly heard in hundreds of movies) is an attention getter (especially, I would imagine, if you're a small mammal.) Anyway, for nearly a half hour I watched them dart, dive, fly along the top edge of the hangar, and even occasionally fly directly over me (at first to ascertain whether I was a threat, later just out of curiosity, I think.)

IMG_2300The following day I drove down to San Diego to visit another customer site. After I finished up for the day I decided to take the scenic route north to Orange County. It’s a very nice drive, if you have the time. I stopped at Cardiff State Beach after refueling the rental. It was a little chilly and overcast, but that didn’t stop the surfers, who played among the fairly dramatic swells off the coast. I can't say I did very much frolicking (alas, I was wearing khakis and leather shoes) but I did take a few pictures.

One of my regrets is that I visit many interesting areas as part of my job, but I rarely have time to see anything beyond the inside of office parks and hotels. To the extent that I can, whenever I'm lucky enough to finish up early I like to get out and see things.

If you've installed Cooliris you can "quick-surf" all the photos embedded on this page, btw.

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Tue, 30 Dec 2008

Our Florida Vacation, 2008, Hernando County

Mom & Dad on Pine Island

We left Universal and Orlando and traveled about 100 miles east (as the toll roads fly) to my parents' home in Spring Hill, FL. We spent a couple of days relaxing and being spoiled. Spring Hill (and it's neighboring town, the county seat of Brooksville) are located about a dozen+ miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico.

Intersection All For NoughtIt's an interesting time to visit the non-tourist areas of Florida. As I'm sure most already know, Florida is the retirement capital of the eastern United States. As a result, one of the largest industries is the construction and sale of retirement homes. When the housing and credit markets collapsed, these developers were hit hard. Financing for new developments evaporated mid-stream. As a result, there are subdivisions in various states of (un)completion all around the county. I rode around with my Dad as he pointed out several developments around town where new streets had been paved, lots marked and surveyed, street lights installed, water and sewer pipe run, all for homes that may never be built.

Wanna buy a lot?It's spooky to drive through a "neighborhood" of intersecting roads, full of dozens of numbered lots, complete with fancy street lights, and then come across maybe one or two occupied homes. Many of these places are starting to revert back to the wild.

Mom and Dad took us over to the Gulf to watch the sunset our second evening there. We went to a small beach and a boat dock and I took some very touristy photos and lost a lens cap. We had a quiet dinner at a small local Thai restaurant.

We mostly just took it easy in Spring Hill. The manic, stressful part of vacationing was fully covered in Orlando. As I told Tammie, sometimes it's nice just to sit on the couch next to my Dad while he snores in front of the TV. I miss that sometimes. :)

Sunset cliché

(more pics)

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Our Florida Vacation, 2008, Orlando Portion, Part 2

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Of the two Universal parks, Islands of Adventure is the one more oriented towards thrill rides. As with many (most?) large parks, the park is divided into multiple themed sections, in this case they're known as "Islands."

Strong to the finishUniversal has something called Universal Express. The simplest explanation is that, for an added fee, riders can skip over long lines. This is a major benefit on the most popular rides (e.g. Simpsons, Hulk, Mummy). In practice, it means that you can often ride after waiting 2-5 minutes while people waiting in the normal lines are waiting for 30-60 minutes. One of the prime benefits of staying onsite at the resort is that our hotel room key served as a Universal Express pass, or, as we came to call it, the Pimp Pass.

Islands LogoThe area just beyond the gates is The Port of Entry, with theming meant to suggest maybe Morocco in the 1930's. It really seems like something right out of an Indiana Jones movie. You walk down a broad street of shops and restaurant's that leads up to an intersection that you can follow left to Marvel Super Hero Island. There are lots of Marvel-themed buildings and characters walking around here. As you would expect, you can pose with the various characters, get autograph booklets signed, and, of course, buy lots of licensed merch. If you stick around long enough, you'll witness a crime alert and you'll get to see all the Fantastic Four rush off on ATVs. :)

Hulk bendThere are a number of big-ticket rides here, starting with a well-done Spider-Man dark ride, Dr. Doom's Fearfall, which is a 200+ foot tower drop, and the centerpiece, the Incredible Hulk coaster. I consider myself a bit of a coaster connoisseur, but I have to say I admired the Hulk coaster more than I enjoyed it. To be honest, it's a pretty harsh ride. There seems to be a lot more head and neck movement than I'm used to on most coasters. Whether this is due to the amount of G's the riders are subjected to or suboptimal seat design I couldn't tell you. That said, I of course rode the thing 5 times. Sigh.

PhantomContinuing on counterclockwise to the next Island, you reach Toon Lagoon. This area features some pretty great graphic design in the theming of the various attractions and buildings. We were lucky enough to be greeted by some unbelievably blue skies as we entered this Island (the skies finally cleared after a day and a half of haze.) As beautifully blue as the skies are in these pictures, they were even prettier in person.IMG_0265.JPGThe primary rides in this area were water rides, which means we skipped them our first couple of days at the resorts (temps were in the low-mid 60s) Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls and Popeye and Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges were, very, very wet. Let's just leave it at "walking around in wet denim for hours"...

Pterandon FlyersNext up was the Jurassic Park Island. There are two primary rides here, a Jurassic Park river ride, which is a water ride complete with animatronic dinosaurs, and the Pterandon Flyers. The Pterandon Flyers consists of a fairly tranquil suspended coaster that has an unfortunate flaw. Whereas most of the coasters at the two parks are capable of moving 16-32 riders per train, the Pterandon Flyers only moves 2 people at a time, and, at least the day we rode it, they seemed to be keeping about 45-60 seconds between cars. Ouch. Our only substantial wait for a ride at either park happened on this ride (the Pimp Pass wasn't honored here, either.)

Potter Under ConstructionBetween the Jurassic Park Island and the Lost Continent Island there's a bit of a transformation taking place. The Dueling Dragons ride (a racing coaster) is in the far corner of the park, but there's all sorts of new construction around it. A new Harry Potter Island is scheduled to open there next year. It's pretty obvious that the Dueling Dragons ride will be part of the Harry Potter Island once it's completed.Harry Potter coming to Islands of Adventure next year Anyhow, the coaster's pretty cool, and it'll be even better once the theming is completely integrated into the new Island.

The primary attraction on the Lost Continent island was Poseidon's Temple, which basically consists of a really impressive building constructed around an interactive show. There was a pretty funny and embarassing anecdote involving lemmings and emergency exits here that I think I'll leave for another day.

Seuss Island Riot of ColorThe last of the Islands is Seuss Landing, which is thoroughly impressive graphically. It really did feel like a Dr. Seuss book brought to life, with wonderfully curvy skewed buildings, brighter than bright colors in a riot of whimsy. As you'd probably expect, this attractions in this area are primarily kid-oriented, but there is plenty to enjoy here for any adult who grew up reading these classics.One fish two fish red fish blue fish

In all, we spent 4+ full days exploring the parks so we really did see pretty-much everything. Though you trade off a bit as far as weather, I would stll recommend mid-December as one of the best times for adults to visit the Florida parks. You can usually find nice discounts and the crowds are far smaller than during peak season (which means you get to see and ride a lot more.) There's probably lots more I could talk about (the cool fingerprint-locker system, the exhorbitantly-priced food, comparisons with Disney), but I've probably rambled enough. Next up: a visit to "real Florida" when we spend a few days at my parents' home.

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Tue, 23 Dec 2008

Our Florida Vacation, 2008, Orlando Portion, Part 1

Loews Royal Pacific, Orlando

I mentioned earlier that we visited Florida for our annual vacation. For the first segment, we visited a resort complex in Orlando. The Universal Orlando resort consists of two theme parks, a complex of shops, bars, and restaurants, and a collection of hotels. We got a package deal that bundled lodging, admission to the theme parks, and a variety of entertainment coupons.

Pacifica Ballroom HallwayWe stayed in Loews Royal Pacific, a huge Polynesian-themed hotel located in the Universal complex. On our 2006 trip to Disney, we stayed offsite, so we wanted to try the on-campus experience with Universal. We had a very nice room with nice amenities. No free internets, though, so I stayed offline except for my phone. And parking was $15 per night, which was pretty obnoxious. Something we noticed on our Disney trip and which definitely held true at Universal was that the resorts represent a completely closed economy where everything costs 150% of what it would cost pretty much anywhere else. The hotel had a number of themed restaurants onsite, though we basically ate all of our meals outside to stretch our vacation dollars.

Fisherman's CoveThat said, staying onsite had a number of advantages. We could hop a shuttle bus or (more entertainingly) a water taxi between the parks and the hotel at any time. The entire complex was arranged around a natural lagoon, complete with scenic walkways and bridges. There were beached seaplanes everywhere, too. ;)

We arrived very late on Tuesday night, thanks to flight delays, and awoke the next morning to a steady downpour. We went out and grabbed breakfast, then headed over to the park in the early afternoon. Luckily, the rain stopped just as we got there.

Flash GordonUniversal has two parks at the resort, Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. Universal Studios is, as you would probably imagine by the name, strongly themed with movies and television-flavored attractions. For example, there is a partial recreation of the town of Amity as seen in Jaws, the centerpiece of which is boat tour with a large and toothy uninvited guest. There are themed rides and shows for Terminator 2, Shrek, Twister, E.T., Men In Black, and many more.

Simpsons rideThe rides we were most impressed by at Universal Studios were the two newest: the Simpsons ride and the Revenge of the Mummy. The Simpsons ride was a tour-de-force virtual coaster. The passenger car only moves a few meters in any direction, but thanks to perfectly synchronized IMAX scale sperical projection, six degrees of freedom in the passenger compartment, and elaborate tactile effects (moisture, wind, surround sound, etc.) the experience was completely enveloping. The wait in line was part of the experience -- the whole ride area was completely themed, all the way to having an onsite Kwik-E-Mart.

mummy logoThe Revenge of the Mummy is a completely enclosed indoor roller coaster. Riding this for the first time was especially fun, as I knew nothing about the ride at all, and thought it was a conventional dark ride, as many of the attractions at the Florida parks are. Indeed, the ride begins at the stately pace of a dark ride, but there's a point where you go through a door and WHOOSH! One impressive thing we noticed after leaving the ride was that much of the bulk of the coaster is camoflaged behind the external building facades down the block from the ride, so you really have no idea of the ride's scale from outside.

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Wed, 17 Dec 2008

Florida 2008 - A Trip and a New Camera

Welcome to Universal

We flew down to Orlando, Florida last week for our semiregular escape from the Frozen North. My parents live near the Gulf Coast so the usual plan is to go down, spend a few days at one of the tourist traps and a few more at my parents’ home. We visited the Disney parks in 2006, so this time we headed to the Universal Orlando resorts.

IMG_0507.JPGI’ve been shooting with point and shoot digital cameras for about 9 years now, starting with a sub-2 megapixel Agfa CL30 with a fixed lens through progressively more capable models with larger sensors, zooms, and ever more advanced program shooting modes. Small digital cameras have gotten very good over the last decade. Though I like to think I’m pretty adept at getting decent results out of the small cameras I’ve owned, the fact remains that point and shoot cameras have some serious limitations that become maddeningly apparent after you’ve spent some in-depth time with them. They usually trade of lens and sensor size for a smaller physical form-factor. They tend to be slower overall — it can take several seconds recovery time (while the camera writes the images to storage) before you can take the next photo (an eternity when you’re trying to record the actions of small children or animals.) I can’t count the number of times I’ve missed shots because I was waiting for my camera to cycle.

Howard's, back sideThis year brought an early Christmas present: my first SLR. My new toy is a Canon EOS Rebel XS. Despite Canon’s apparent affection for product naming schemes that recall Apple’s in the Sculley/Schindler/Amelio dark ages, they really make a quality product. In many ways, the camera (at least in my week’s experience) is one of the most powerful (in a “number of cool things I can accomplish with it” sense) pieces of consumer gear I’ve ever owned. I am continually astonished with the sorts of things I can accomplish with it, even with minimal experience.

Tortoise (detail)At the most basic level, I can now shoot pictures-per-second instead of seconds-per-picture. I can capture images in a range of lighting conditions and at distances far beyond anything that would have been feasible before. I’ve now got a big zoom lens so that I could shoot this tortoise at a considerable distance without disturbing him.

IMG_0513.JPGThere are adjustments to make, too, of course. Physically, the camera (with its accompanying accessories) is much larger than any camera I’ve ever carried. One nice thing about pocket cameras is that they’re, well, pocket cameras, so taking one along with you is literally just a matter of grabbing it and going. Indeed, I’ve taken a large number of shots with my iPhone just because it’s always with me (that, and the auto-geotagging…) Conversely, taking the SLR anywhere mandates taking along a big camera bag. (I found a very nice bag, though, at the local Meijer.) I’m taking many more shots now (no, not really a bad thing), and the file sizes are much larger, which made this round of Flickr uploads an exercise in patience. :)

Loews Royal Pacific Resort - Blue Heron (cropped)I’m sure there’s some sort of Murphy-style law for photographers with multiple lenses that states that, at any given moment, you will always have the wrong lens attached for the type of picture you want to take. When this beautiful blue heron landed on the boat dock 40 or so feet in front of us I, of course, had the wide lens instead of the big zoom attached. I’m still at the point where that means many painful lost seconds bumbling around in the bag and fumbling with lens caps and sensor covers and the like, all the while trying not to make a lot of noise and fuss.

There’s also the fact that when you’re in an amusement park, you’re spending a lot of time on water rides and roller coasters where managing large and costly bits of electronic kit can occupy an inordinate amount of your attention. Thankfully Universal’s come up with a fairly elegant solution for that in convenience. In further posts I’ll talk a bit more about our experiences in Orlando, the resort, and Spring Hill/Brooksville.

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Mon, 18 Dec 2006

Spent A Week In Florida

Princess balloonsSpent a few days with mom and dad, then paid fealty to the Great Rodent. There are photos here.

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Tue, 14 Nov 2006

When The Sun Goes Down

Heh, when it gets dark it gets even colder (of course.) That wispy fog you see in the photo would be the fine mist of ice crystals that coats everything. Temps have been hovering around -25°F for most of the day.

From my hotel window, nightWhen it gets that cold, things get weird. The extension cord I use to plug in the car (heh) gets super stiff, and the plug attachment becomes insanely hard to detach. The air is extremely dry, and you’re wearing lots of layers of clothing which are constantly rubbing against each other so you’re generating tons of static electricity, so you’re constantly getting these little shocks when you touch stuff. I’m just waiting to fry a gadget. Batteries don’t work very well, so phones and cameras and things are pretty unhappy, too.

I’m still trying to get my nerve up to drive out of town at night so I can see the Aurora. I’m a wuss, though — worried about having an auto breakdown out in the middle of nowhere.

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Sun, 12 Nov 2006

It's A Dry Heat

Hotel room window, alternate takeWell, at least, that’s what folks in ridiculously hot climates like to say when they’re asked about how they can stand living in places like Phoenix and Dallas in the summer. I think I’ve discovered the cold weather equivalent in Fairbanks, Alaska. The temperature was a balmy -15°F when I arrived, and it’s been in that zone for pretty much my entire time here so far. I’ll admit I haven’t spent a heck of a lot of time outside, but it really doesn’t feel as cold as I’ve felt during the worst winters I’ve been through in Detroit — there’s almost no wind, which makes all the difference.

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Sun, 01 Oct 2006

Arrival Day: Sunday, September 24 (Narita)

Right on schedule (about 4:40 PM Tokyo time) we landed at Narita, which posessed the weird placelessness common to all airports. I knew I was in a foreign country because the announcements over the public address system were in Japanese first, then English, but otherwise, basically, an airport’s an airport. I went through the passport check and customs inspection uneventfully, though it did slightly bum me out that, out of the 10 or so inspectors checking passports, I got the scary guy wearing one of those SARS-masks (the only one of the inspectors wearing one.) That shit freaks me out — the only Americans wearing things like that are Michael Jackson. The passport / customs pricess went very smoothly, considering how many people (several hundred) were going through at the time I was there.

Number 7 Bus StopI picked up my suitcase and headed into the ground transportation area at Narita and had my first encounter with several thousand people heading in dozens of directions, all very much more sure of where they were headed than I was. This was to be one of the themes of my trip. At my third bus counter, I found the correct bus line and got my ticket for Omiya Station. I walked out into the beautiful clear evening and got my first taste of Japan. It’s warmer here than in Detroit — high temperatures have been hovering around 75F / 24C most days. Japan doesn’t do Daylight Savings Time, so it gets dark around 6PM.

My bus arrived at precisely the scheduled time, which is how things work here. The bus ride was a fairly long one, nearly 90 minutes. We must have travelled on 4 ot 5 different highways on the way to Omiya. It seems that all the freeway signs had Roman place names as well as Kanji, but I still imagine it would be terrifying to try to drive somewhere as a non-Japanese speaker.

I arrived at Omiya station shortly before 8PM. A couple of Americans working for a local company who were in town for a few weeks saw me and waved enthusiastically. It turns out that they thought that I was another gentleman coming to work with them from the US. They were very helpful, and, I could tell, quite homesick (they’d been in Omiya 3 weeks, with another week to go.) They got me pointed towards my hotel, and even walked me part of the way there.

I checked in at the counter and noticed a group of about a half dozen sumo wrestlers across the lobby. They were being fussed over by a couple of attendants — I don’t know whether they were their hosts or their management staff. Being a good tourist, I couldn’t resist the temptation to make this the very first picture I sent back to the folks at home.

An attendant took me upstairs and I dropped off my luggage. This was my first exposure to Japanese hotel rooms, which are very, very, very small. My room in Omiya was about 10 feet / 3 meters on a side, not counting the short entry hall and bathroom. It was dominated by the bed, with a very small desk (with a tiny LCD tv) and a small stool against the wall to the left. The ceiling was maybe 7 feet or so high. After a few minutes, the phone rang, and my compatriots from our Japanese office: Kokubo, Taka, and Mai let me know that they were downstairs. I knew them all from their previous visits to our corporate headquarters in Troy, MI.

Busy street in OmiyaWe went back towards Omiya station and out of the opposite gate and into the other side of town, which is neatly bisected by the train tracks. The general pattern in just about every area I’ve visited in Japan is that there tends to be a large number of retail and food establishments clustered near every train station. This actually makes things convenient for visitors, as it’s possible to get food and grab necessities from convenience stores and such all without having to worry too much about getting lost. I quickly figured out that I was never truly “lost” as long as I kept straight in my head where the train station was.

Had Dinner here Sunday night...We headed off into one such retail quadrant in Omiya, and my hosts had selected a traditional yakitori restaurant. This was my first exposure to Japanese-style dining, where you order many small plates which are then shared communally around the table. The staff brings out a plate or two, which everyone takes a bit from, then, as the meal progresses, you order more and more small plates. The very first plate consisted of chicken sashimi, taken from the wing, thigh, and breast. Okay, now, as an American, I have a confession to make. We Yanks, in general, have a problem with raw. Many of us, myself included, have gotten past this and enjoy various seafood sushi and seafood sashimi. But chicken? Chicken? Culturally, speaking as an African American, our tradition is to regard chicken as a fairly “dirty” animal that you, well, cook the shit out of. I might eat my beef medium rare, but generally speaking, even the slightest bit of blood is enough to totally turn me off a chicken dish. Chicken is eaten well-done or not at all.

So here I had this frankly beautiful platter, perfectly balanced in color and texture with various garnishes, condiments, and accents, featuring several wafer-thin slices of, um, raw chicken. What did I do? I took a long pull on my Asahi, speared a likely looking piece with my fork (more on this later), dipped it in soy sauce and, accompamnied with a small bit of wasabi, placed it in my mouth, chewed a few times, and swallowed. I then took another long pull on my Asahi. Everything from there on was easy, though. We had a number of delicious vegetables, many of which I’d never even heard of before. Everything was strikingly fresh, crispy, aromatic, you name it.

We exited into the night air and my hosts walked me back to my hotel. I got back at about 10:30, and promptly fell into dreamless sleep. Not counting a couple of catnaps on the plane, I’d been awake, as far as my body knew, 26 hours. By the clock, I’d been up 38. Yep.

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Tue, 26 Sep 2006

Saturday Sept. 23rd: Departure Day (Romulus, MI, USA)

I’ll skip over all the chicken-with-my-head-cut-offness of my preparation, as it’s completely uninteresting to anyone but myself… actually, it’s not even interesting to me.

I planned to leave myself plenty of time to get to the airport, check in, and clear security. I arrived at the airport at about 11:45 am for a 2:25 pm flight. Since I’d left myself so much extra time, of course, I flew through security in record time. As much as I usually bag on our local institutions, Detroit Metro Airport’s McNamara terminal really is a well-oiled machine. I checked in at the Northwest counter, checked my baggage, and cleared security by 12 noon, for an international flight. That gave me plenty of time to kill before my flight boarded, so I took out my laptop, but I got the old “sign up for Boingo” cockblock instead of the free WiFi that is the inherent right of wired travelers everywhere. Bah. I reholstered the laptop and opened my official airport book, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I’ve been reading it forever, because, though I’m enjoying it immensely, I seem to only read it when I’m flying and it’s about the size of a telephone book. I grabbed a torpedo at National Coney Island, and they announced boarding for NWA flight 25 to Tokyo Narita airport right as I returned to the gate.

A Boeing 747-400 is a truly enormous airplane. This was my first time aboard one, and it really is striking how very much plane there is there. That said, when you pack over 400 people onto one (it was a completely full flight), coach class becomes the same miserable crampfest that it is on every other airplane. I so dearly wish I’d had enough miles to go for the business class upgrade. They basically get sofas up there. And personal video monitors. And pie. There’s always pie…

So I got a cramped seat over the wing (so much for seeing landmarks as we flew over), where I proceeded to sit. For the next 14 hours. They fed the plane’s GPS and weather data into a cool display, that constantly updated our position, heading, and the outside temperature, at least when the screen wasn’t showing the in-flight movies or the NWA ads. That was really cool, though unfortunately we had a very non-chatty pilot. I always enjoy it when the captain takes time to point out landmarks as you fly over them, but after giving us a status update on our departure delay (we had to hit a certain window for when out path would be clear through Russian airspace) he pretty much stayed quiet for the whole trip.

As I mentioned, there were in-flight movies, which I had a limited view of because the woman in front of me had the world’s largest head. I mean, seriously, this woman had a freaking pumpkin sitting on top of her neck, and a semi-bouffant besides. To make it worse, she and her husband weren’t even watching the in-flight movie, they had their own DVD player and phones, but I still had her colossal head directly in my line of sight. The films were RV, which I watched without the headphones by halfheartedly reading lips, and I think I got the gist of it well enough (i.e. a less-funny National Lampoon’s Vacation with Robin Williams in the Chevy Chase role and Jeff Daniels in the Randy Quaid role), Inside Man, which, at least the parts I got to see around Madame Bighead, seemed like a pretty damned good “Topkapi”-type caper film, and some horrible Lindsay Lohan thing, which for some odd reason didn’t feature her snorting barrels of blow and passing out in a club bathroom.

I really didn’t manage a lot of sleep on the flight. I was just too darned uncomfortable, for the most part. I had a scare about 3/4 of the way through. I got a stomach ache, which I eventually decided was just a touch of indigestion, but the last thing you want 3 weeks after abdominal surgery when you’re on an airplane over the Pacific Ocean is stomach pain. Nightmare scenarios started playing themselves in my head. Thankfully, the pains retreated on their own.

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Sun, 24 Sep 2006

I Made It!

Hanging with my boys...

That was a very long plane ride... Time to sleep.

:: 11:09
:: /entertainment/travel/japan | [+]
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Fri, 22 Sep 2006

Head East, Young Man

If you’ve been keeping an eye on my del.icio.us links over in the sidebar, you may have noticed a theme over the last couple of weeks… Yes, I’m going to be visiting Japan on business— specifically, I’ll be staying a couple of days in Omiya (Saitama) and about a week in Tokyo (Shinagawa / Minato area.) I’m really excited about this trip.

I’ll be taking pictures and, depending on how much net access I have, I’ll try to post here semi-regularly and drop reasonably current pics in my Flickr stream. I have no idea what sort of phone I’ll have there, but I’ll at least try to monitor my gmail account (marmoset) so if, by some coincidence someone reading this will be in Tokyo during the second half of next week / weekend / early the following week, drop me a line.

:: 10:38
:: /entertainment/travel/japan | [+]
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Fri, 11 Aug 2006

Seattle Next Week

I suspect there aren’t a lot of ‘softies reading this blog, but just in case, I’ll be working in the Bellevue/Redmond area next week, so if you feel like showing a Machead around town (I’ll buy the beer!), drop me a line, marmoset at gmail…

:: 21:25
:: /entertainment/travel | [+]
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Mon, 10 Apr 2006

Live, With Bread

Hello all. I’m on the road this week, posting this from a Panera somewhere in central New Jersey (I’m actually very near Rutgers, I think.) My room at the hotel (a crappy little featureless thing) has no net connection, so I’m getting my fix here.

This is a working trip, I’m spending my days at a local pharmaceutical company. I’m enjoying my visit to Soprano-land, though I haven’t managed to get any photos of any of the landmarks. I took a few years off my life by driving in Manhattan yesterday. Yikes.

:: 19:15
:: /entertainment/travel | [+]
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Sun, 18 Sep 2005

Travelling Man

I’ve been neglecting this blog because, well, I haven’t been home a whole lot. In the last two weeks I’ve been offsite in Atlanta, GA, San Jose, CA, and locally.

The Atlanta trip was a real quick, one-day-in-the-field sort of thing. I visited a company in the suburbs and had a really easy time of things, work-wise. It was the classic thing where all I really saw of the town was the airport and the hotel. There was lunch at Waffle House, so I knew I was down south, at least. Oh yeah, and the Atlanta airport really sucks.

Bonneville Salt FlatsI travelled to San Jose with several cow-orkers. The flight was pretty pretty uneventful. Believe it or not, I feel comfortable in saying that, at least when dealing with the McNamara Terminal, Detroit Metro Airport is actually wone of the better, more organized airports I’ve dealt with lately. The security lines are short and fast moving, parking and ground transportation are reasonable, etc.

This was a working trip, so there wasn’t a lot of tourism, basically just a day and a half. On the spur of the moment (I didn’t even have time to grab my camera) we drove into San Francisco on the first night. We went to Fisherman’s Wharf, in particular Pier 39. In general, it’s a terrifying outdoor mall with zillions of people walking around, but the sea lions are awesome.

More grapesThe next morning, we set off for Napa Valley to see the pretty wine country and spend a pleasantly tipsy afternoon sipping. One of our sales guys is a full-on oenophile, and he supplied what was known for the rest of the trip as The Map (all around you will observe a reverent hush when you speak its blessed name) — an annotated guide to wineries in the area. Of the people on our excursion, only one was a wine collector, but he deferred to the rest of us s we could see wineries we’d heard of.

VinesWith that in mind, our first stop was the Robert Mondavi winery. We walked around the grounds, enjoying the quite lovely scenery and tasting a few wines. We had a designated driver, of course, so the rest of us were free to enjoy ourselves. :)

Niebaum-CoppolaThe next stop was the Niebaum-Coppola estates, owned by Francis Ford Coppola and family. They’ve really outdone themselves with the grounds, which are beautiful. We spent quite a bit of time here, In addition to the tasting rooms, there is a mini-museum of movie memorabilia, which includes all sorts of items from Coppola’s personal collection. There are 19th-century zoetropes, props and costumes from Coppola’s films, and even some Oscars.

We visited several other wineries that day. We stopped in at Grgich Hills, where the woman at the tasting counter was extremely helpful. I bought a bottle of unspeakably good Madeira at V. Sattui. We also made a stop at the St. Helena Olive Oil Co., which was wonderful — all manner of dips, oils, sauces, vinegars, and anything else you can think of.

Seaside restaurant, Sausalito, twilightWe stopped off in Sausalito for dinner on the way back into San Jose, and took a few more photos. This was my first trip to the Bay Area, and I enjoyed myself quite a bit. It was surprisingly chilly — in fact, for basically the entire time we were there, it was colder in San Jose and San Francisco than it was in Detroit!.

The focus of rest of the week was a series of quite productive meetings with our Mountain View development staff, but that’s nothing I blog about here. :)

If you’re interested in seeing a larger selection of the photos I took, I made a set at Flickr.

:: 16:01
:: /entertainment/travel | [+]
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