Archive for the 'Wanderings' Category

New Hampshire

13 November 2018 at 8:00 pm
by Berck

I’ve managed to talk my way out of coming to New Hampshire so far, but most of the rest of the competent folks at work have put in their shift. I reluctantly agreed, not because of any dislike for New Hampshire, but because the purpose of the work trip seems to me to have little value.

I’ve been saying for awhile that I’ve been to every state in the U.S. except for Alaska, but I’m not entirely sure that’s true. I was able to come up with a concrete example for every state except New Hampshire. My airline flew into MHT, so it seemed likely I’d done that at some point, but my logbook says I haven’t.

So now I’ve been to New Hampshire. It’s a weird state to have missed, but being an airline pilot is a weird way to see the country.

For whatever reason, the folks who went a year ago managed to go during prime leaf changing season, but the event this year was a few weeks later and the few remaining leaves are brown. The weather is not hot, which is good, but of course I’ve missed a big snow storm at home. It always snows when I leave home. (Home. I have a home, now. I don’t think I’d have said that a decade ago.)

As I watched an airline pilot go through a known crewmember checkpoint, I wondered if flying for a living is any better than it was a decade ago. There was only one known crewmember checkpoint in the country at the time I got furloughed. The airlines are now more desperate, and the pay is slightly better, but I’m not sure the quality of life has improved at all. My biggest complaints were that 5-on, 2-off is a stupid schedule for anyone, but is especially asinine for commuting pilots.

So my complaint wasn’t at all about travel. I like travel, though I hate flying in the back of airliners. The old Southwest biddies managed to keep the cabin temperature at about 78F on the way over, and I find that sort of heat in a closed airline cabin to be claustrophobic-inducing.

I miss geographic displacement. It’s good for the soul. But spending all day in this building is not:

This is my coworker unboxing our stuff. People I work with make questionable decisions regularly. That’s a box that was shipped on a pallet. It contained a single 4U rackmount unit that could have been shipped via UPS had it been packed in, you know, a normal box. The room is a lot bigger, but we’re under NDA’s so I had to make sure that I didn’t photograph anything anyone might care about.

I spent 10 hours in there yesterday, mostly working remotely and offering moral support to my coworker who dealt with other people. Our particular product, for some reason, has fans that at full volume produce noise levels comparable to a 737 at takeoff. I spent much of the morning figuring out how to throttle them back, but even so, the noise was bad. About 15 minutes before we left, I experienced piercing tinnitus unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. I actually thought someone else had turned on something louder than our box, before I realized that it was all in my head. It persisted for an hour before it finally started to fade. I was worried it was going to be permanent, and I don’t think I’d have been able to live with it. So today I brought my noise-canceling headphones.

We managed to get what we needed to get done a little early today and headed out shortly before 3pm. I gave Gopal the choice of visiting a submarine or heading up the coast. He picked heading up the coast.

I managed to get the second-best rental car I’ve ever had by pure luck. I always choose “compact”, but more often than not I get “upgraded” to some American barge. I usually argue when this happens, and the rental companies never understand why I don’t think it’s an upgrade. I didn’t get upgraded, and was shocked to discover that my car was a loaded Ford Focus hatchback. It’s the same basic car as Jonah’s, only with more comfortable leather seats, heated seats, power seats, sunroof, heated steering wheel, navigation system, fog lights. It has a better turning radius, more comfortable suspension and more pleasant interior that Jonah’s car.

It’s also grey, (the second-worst color for a car), has a terrible automatic transmission (actually, it’s one of the best automatics I’ve ever used, but all automatics are terrible), isn’t very fast, doesn’t make a very good noise, is front wheel drive, exhibits a fair amount of torque steer for not actually producing any torque, and did I mention it has an automatic transmission?

The best part about it is that I know where everything is, and the second best part is that it has Android Auto. Which means I don’t need to use the terrible ford-supplied navigation system and can, instead, have google maps on a giant screen where it’s convenient. I don’t know how anyone ever found their way around New Hampshire without GPS.

I’m taking some amusing joy in knowing that I get to drive around in a Ford Focus rental while Jonah is driving around in a GMC cruise ship waiting for her Ford Focus to get fixed.

Here’s some photos.

I’ve always thought Kennebunkport was one of the more ridiculous place names and was surprised to drive through it accidentally.

My plan was to meander up to Portland, getting there about the time it got dark and find a good dinner. It gets dark at about 4:45pm here this time of year, so I misjudged by a bit, and ended up hopping over to I-95 after it did, since there didn’t seem much point in driving the winding beach roads in the dark.

Kelsey eventually returned my phone call. I’d called him because I knew he’d have a good recommendation for a place to eat in Portland, since he’d just spent weeks there. He did, and it was fantastic.

Belgian fries fried in duck fat.

Duck poutine. Fries fried in duck fat, duck confit, duck gravy, and a duck egg sunny side up.

I second his recommendation of Duckfat in Portland.

Horn OK Please

11 March 2018 at 10:46 am
by Berck

India is a mess.

I tend to be more sensitive to sensory input than most people, and India is constantly in a state of assaulting all my senses.

India is absolutely full of smells, and almost all of them are not pleasant. The streets smell of vehicular exhaust, rotting garbage and urine. The inside of most places seem to be heavily artificially scented with perfumes and incense, none of which I find pleasant. Restaurants are the only places that actually smell good. I find even the inside of my hotel room to be quite unpleasant for a few minutes until I adjust.

It’s hot and sticky. I am poorly adapted to hot climates. I sweat constantly, everything gets sticky and I just want to take a shower. I’ve taken 3 today. I set the thermostat to 19 degrees in hotel room, a temperature that it’s only able to reach when the sun has set. It mostly hovers around 21.5, which is still cooler than whatever passes for room temperature in India.

And then there’s the noise. Here’s a video I shot on my walk this evening. I took it at an average intersection in Bangalore that wasn’t particularly busy and at a time of day with overall light traffic.

At first listen, it seems likely completely arbitrary and capricious use of the horn. Sadly, it’s far worse than that. In India, they actually believe that it’s polite to honk as you’re passing someone in order to let them know you’re there. The back of every single truck has a hand-painted slogan that reads some variation of, “Horn OK Please”, or “Sound OK Horn”. They are actually requesting that people honk at them so they know that they’re there. This is completely insane in a modern city, and is mostly insane anywhere else. It’s the driver’s responsibility to check his mirrors, not the overtaker’s responsibility to notify the driver that he’s passing.

Some parts of India have realized that this is a problem and have tried to address the problem by banning the phrase on trucks but it’s such engrained behavior that I’m not sure it can be changed. Rickshaw drivers tend to suffer hearing loss at disturbing rates. Surely someone must think, “Gee, it would be a lot nicer to be a person in India if I didn’t have to listen to this honking all the time.”

I can only presume that there are traffic laws India, but it doesn’t appear that they’re obeyed. It makes sense that they refuse to pay any attention to the painted lane markers because the roads can’t handle the traffic. It makes sense that they ignore the absurdly slow posted speed limits. It probably doesn’t make sense that they drive the wrong way on a divided highway because they can’t be bothered to find the next break in the median. Overall, though, I would rate your average Indian driver as far more competent than the average American driver. They pay attention, have excellent situational awareness, and don’t take up unnecessary space.

I think the “Horn OK Please,” mentality reflects the general problems I have with India. I’m not sure if there’s any city planning at all, or if anyone stops and thinks before building or modifying a structure. There’s trash all over the place, but there are teams of street sweepers on the highways. That is, women with small brooms, who push the trash into a pile. I’m not sure that the piles ever get picked up, but it seems that given the city is only about 25% covered in debris piles that some of them must get picked up some times.

The infrastructure is generally a mess. Here I am, walking along one of the better sidewalks in a wealthy part of Bangalore:

After I get past that, I encounter:

From what I gather, the local government in power in Karnataka has decided to launch a massive bit of infrastructure overhaul just before the elections. I’m not sure it’s going to engender the good will they’re hoping for. Here was the scene outside our restaurant this afternoon:

But even if things are trash-free, not dug up… what is going on here? This is typical. What is in this building, anyway? Is the place I go for a lampshade the same place I go for a kingfisher? Is the whole place the Brooklyn Tap, or is that upstairs? Maybe the lamp shades are on the roof?

I do like my hotel. There are some strange things, like the security. In addition to the xray/magnetometer dance every time I come and go, the elevators scan my room key, but poorly. The bed is a bit hard. The light switches are confusing, and everything turns off if you don’t have a room key inserted. But what’s best is the shower. It’s definitely the best shower I’ve had in a hotel room. I should post a picture of it. Maybe tomorrow. I’m sure that the water saving laws in the U.S. would prevent such an awesome shower.

In short, I’m glad I’m getting to see (at least this little part of) India, but I have no intention of spending my own money to buy a plane ticket to get back here. And I didn’t even get to the fact that I can’t walk anywhere without being harassed.

I’m in India

10 March 2018 at 8:32 am
by Berck

Premium economy made it not so terrible, even though I didn’t sleep much. Lufthansa in-flight entertainment is great and even includes camera views outside the plane, but mostly I just read DODO and tried to sleep.

I ate 4 airplane meals, which given the 1.5 calendar days of travel makes sense, I guess? The first was not-terrible vegetarian pasta. The second was a nearly inedible “spinach omelette”. The flight to India had an Indian vegetarian option, which I selected. I have no idea what I ate, but I’m certain that it was better than the “chicken and barbecue sauce” option. It included a packet of sugar and fennel which I did not eat, but I did spread the container of chilis on everything except the dessert. The dessert was some sort of rice pudding with pistachios, or so said the menu. I tried to order the Indian option for the last leg, but they ran out.

The 747 is a seriously impressive machine. I was startled at the size of the wings and just how quiet it is. Watching the outboard third of the wings flex upward at takeoff is impressive.

We had to go through security after immigration and before customs, which makes no sense. The unintelligible command, “Vials and Water Inside Bag,” was actually “Mobile and Wallet Inside Bag” which I did not do.

Our rental car came with a moderately aggressive driver who still had an impressive density of traffic to navigate given that it was 3am. We’re staying in a swanky Marriott that xrayed our luggage and made us go through a metal detector.

New York Photos

6 November 2017 at 9:10 pm
by Jonah

My photos of our New York trip are in the gallery.  They are also here. Berck is slowly printing his film. Here’s a photo he took of me:


Totality Snapshots

27 August 2017 at 7:38 pm
by Jonah

We were listening to this podcast on our way down to Mexico this spring and thought, hey, maybe this total eclipse thing is worth seeing. We’d both seen partial eclipses before and were like, that’s pretty cool, but it didn’t really seem worth going out of the way to see.  But if all hotel rooms were booked a year in advance all along the path of totality and all we had to do was drive a few hours north to Wyoming to see it?  Why not?  So as soon as we got back from Mexico, I put on my company calendar that I would be out August 21.  Berck ordered some eclipse glasses from Amazon.

A couple weeks before the eclipse, our friend Andrew called Berck to ask about flying up to the path of totality.  Berck told him there were too many variables involved in flying, and besides, we had already planned to drive Frances the Land Cruiser to Wyoming the day before and find a good place to camp, or at least park, and watch the eclipse the next day.  And that we had an empty back seat.  He decided to join us on our adventure.

Berck got an e-mail from Amazon saying that they had been unable to verify from the manufacturer that the eclipse glasses they’d shipped us were safe, despite saying all over the package that they were (it also said they were made in China).  By now we had tried them out by staring at the sun with them on. Fortunately, he Thursday before the eclipse, one of Berck’s coworkers gave him two certified eclipse glasses.

Saturday I baked buns, and Berck cooked brats in beer.  Berck cut up and gathered two plastic tubs of wood for a campfire.  Then he checked one more time and saw that a fire ban had been put in place for Wyoming.  He took the tubs of firewood back out of the Land Cruiser.

Sunday morning we got up early and packed up.  Berck had me buy 60 pounds of ice, only 50 of which we could fit in our cooler and mash tun (which also happens to be a cooler).

Stopped in Boulder and had a delicious brunch with Andrew and his girlfriend Kayleigh, who was also able to come.

Andrew made me check if we were in the path of totality yet every five minutes or so of driving.

Stopped in Laramie for ice cream and beer.  Had to drive a whole block away to find a parking place.  Guy at the brewery said they were slammed with all the out of town traffic.

Stopped at the Medicine Bow VOR, which Berck had flown over countless times but never seen from the ground.  Kayleigh was mostly amazed at the amount of cow hair stuck to the fence from them scratching against it.

We gassed up in Casper in the middle of horrible dust storm, but it was the last gas until Shoshoni.  We pulled off in the thriving metropolis of Moneta for Andrew to take a photo next to the unincorporated municipality sign then headed south from Highway 24 down Castle Garden Road.  Our research had told us that this area was likely to have clear weather and that all the land we were on was BLM land, on which it is perfectly legal to camp anywhere, as long as you’re 100 feet from any water source and bury your poop at least six inches.  I’d bought a shovel the week before at a military surplus store.

Andrew and Kayleigh set up their tent, and we blew up their air mattress from the cigarette lighter in the Land Cruiser; then we blew up ours.  We set our air mattress out on a tarp on the ground, after a search for the area with the fewest cacti.


Andrew and Kayleigh thought that was such a great idea that, after stuffing their air mattress into their tent, they extricated it and laid it out in another area relatively free of cacti.

Berck set up the camp stove and heated up the brats.  We opened the cooler and popped open bottles of beer and sat in our camp chairs and ate, eventually turning out the lantern and admiring the Perseids streaming out of the north sky. The weather was perfect, and the biting flies only bit so much (I got a nice bite on my right hand and side of my neck). We slept under the Milky Way.

I awoke just as the sun was rising.

Everyone else stayed asleep, so I went for a walk and then read my book.  Once Berck and Kayleigh were awake, I cleaned the brat pot to heat water for coffee and make bacon and French toast.

Andrew set up a pop-up, which was awfully nice to be under once it started getting hot.

As the partial eclipse started, we put on our glasses periodically to watch its progress. You can’t see anything else wearing them.

Totality was getting close, so we decided to hike up to the top of a nearby hill to watch.  Here’s the darkness approaching from the west.

Finally, the last little bit of sunshine disappeared, and we took off our glasses.  We’d been listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon play on a Bluetooth speaker Andrew was carrying around.  Andrew had set the album to start playing so that the final song “Eclipse” would come on right at this moment, and it did.

For the weeks prior to the total eclipse, the news media had been doing stories on the eclipse non-stop.  I listen to a lot of Public Radio, so I’d heard story after story of eclipse chasers and people who say it’s an amazing experience.  The media had played recordings of people watching past eclipses, and the sounds of rapture were amusing and alluring all at once.  People just couldn’t seem to be able to keep from shouting when totality happened.

And that’s what happened to us.  Despite the fact that the four of us were standing close together atop a hill, watching something we had come here specifically to watch, we started shouting in amazement anyway.  I’ve seen lots of photos and videos of totality, and nothing seems to be able to truly capture it.

Here’s a picture I tried to take with my phone.  It’s blurry because it was pretty dark, like dusk, but the sun’s corona is still really bright.  What you can’t see is the black hole where the sun should be.  It was dark enough that we could see Jupiter clearly.  It wasn’t quite dark enough to see stars.  After much fiddling with the settings on his SLR, Berck was able to take this photo, which is closely cropped.

It didn’t look like that because the sky was still blue.  The air got cold.  And then it started getting light around us and the sun poked out a tiny ray of sunshine.  Our bodies cast shadows again, and warmth came back.  And right then Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse” ended and the next song Andrew had set to play came on, Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”.

The total eclipse was definitely worth seeing.  Even if we had to sit in traffic on two lane highways for three hours in the Wyoming sun on our way home.  Because we were willing to take backroads, we probably had to wait in traffic for a lot less time than a lot of people, and Andrew’s plan to take the west route home instead of back through Casper turned out to be an excellent decision, as I later heard from my friends trying to get back to Colorado Springs from Casper (a 13 hour trip). But we’d gassed up in Shoshoni, and I’d brought enough water and snacks for a small army.

Once we got to I-80, things got a lot easier, and we even had time to meet our friends Laura and Jared in Ft. Collins for dinner at an excellent Afghan restaurant, where Andrew got to exclaim, for the very last time this trip, “The difference between a partial eclipse and a total eclipse is LITERALLY night and day!”