Champaign-Urbana empties every summer as students leave for home or jobs. Those of us who remain have to be creative when thinking of ways to entertain ourselves. My friends and I have come up with some unique ideas. We made up a game involving chopsticks and M&Ms, cooked hairy hotdogs, and tried (and failed at) stargazing.
M&M Chopstick Challenge
One night, several friends and I were debating different ways of holding chopsticks. That discussion led inevitably to a contest to determine who was the best at handling chopsticks. We set up a round-robin tournament in which pairs of participants had to move 15 M&Ms from a plate to a bowl. Whoever cleared their plate fastest won.
We used smooth chopsticks and ceramic plates, which made it infuriatingly hard. I was eliminated in the first round. Kevin won in a photo finish against Yun Young with a time of just under a minute.
I don't know who first had the idea to skewer hot dogs with uncooked spaghetti, but it likely came from somewhere in Russia. The idea spread across the internet and inspired Alejandro, Yun Young, and me to make it ourselves.
A while back my father gave Yun Young his old six-inch reflector telescope that he was hoping to sell. Two nights ago Yun Young and I took the telescope to a dark cornfield to see what we could see.
Unfortunately, storm clouds rolled in as soon as we set up the telescope, but we did see some impressive lightning in the distance.
I recently visited central Texas. Between Tuesday, May 18 and Monday, May 24, I visited Elise in Dallas, Eric and Shannon in Austin, and Marc and Shantelle in San Antonio. Along the way, I also admired the Dallas Botanical Gardens, spoke at the University of Texas at Austin, remembered the Alamo, and explored the Texas hill country.
When I told people I was going to New Zealand to present my ReAssert paper, nearly everyone asked if I was planning to travel around the country. Absolutely. One does not visit New Zealand for a three-day conference, then immediately turn around and go home. I stayed for 10 days. During that time, I attended the conference, toured Auckland, drove all over the south island with Yun Young and Danny, and saw more interesting things than I could possibly fit into one weblog post.
I considered writing a travel report like my Yellowstone or California posts, but the length of this trip made me feel that a different approach was necessary. The map below shows the path I/we took through New Zealand. Clicking it will take you to an annotated, interactive map with descriptions and pictures of the interesting places.
Even though most of my time is taken up by graduate school and medical appointments, I recently managed to find time to travel. I spent each of the past four weekends visiting friends all over the Midwest. First I helped Charlie celebrate his birthday in Louisville, Kentucky. Then, Michael had a bachelor campout—like a bachelor party with less debauchery and more trees—at Stuart's family's farm in Ohio. The following weekend, several UIUC friends and I visited Josh at his new graduate school home in Nashville, Tennessee. Finally, last weekend Michael and Alice got married in northwestern Indiana.
Each trip could fill its own post, but for now I will just describe one particularly noteworthy event from each.
Charlie and the Belly Dancers
Last year I helped Charlie celebrate his birthday in Montana. This year he came to Louisville, Kentucky, where he had spent several years at the University of Louisville. He visited several UofL and high school friends who were in the area. I drove south from Indianapolis to meet them there.
Charlie had his birthday dinner at a restaurant in the blocks-long entertainment district of downtown Louisville. The restaurant was decorated with faux-Greek wall hangings and pottery. The entertainment as well as the food also had a Mediterranean flavor. About halfway through the meal, three belly dancers in sequined dresses began dancing through the aisles, playing castanets and hand drums. It wasn't salacious dancing—it was a family restaurant, after all—just surprising and pleasant entertainment.
Charlie, knowing, it seems, everyone in town, recognized one of the dancers. I mentioned this and the fact that it was Charlie's birthday to the server. She in turn told the dancers, who came to the table and danced around Charlie. Afterward, the head dancer got all the other restaurant patrons to wish Charlie a happy birthday. It is difficult to embarrass Charlie, but I think that experience came close.
Michael's Bachelor Camping Trip
Two weeks prior to his wedding (which I write about below), Michael had his bachelor party. Unlike most bachelor parties, we went camping. Stuart offered his family's farm as the destination. It had a beautiful man-made lake surrounded by woods and cornfields.
We did normal campout activities like sit around the campfire roasting hot dogs, but I also got to do something I had never done before: shoot a gun. Before leaving for the farm, Michael's father gave us a small 22-caliber target rifle and an old mailbox. He urged us to destroy the mailbox. We placed it by an earthen berm next to one bank of the lake and did just that.
It was deeply satisfying to hear the loud "ping!" when one hit the mailbox. We noticed that some of the bullets left trails along the edge of the mailbox or failed to make it all the way through both walls.
This picture illustrates the best part about visiting Josh in Nashville: getting to spend time with good friends.
It is a good thing we visited because Josh has been so busy that he has not gotten a chance to enjoy Nashville's famous music district. It was a new experience for all of us. We found several venues with live music, but the best came when we found a jam band playing mid-90s alternative rock. One member of the band soloed on electric violin, which gave them an especially interesting and unique sound. The lead guitarist would also trade his guitar with friends in the audience. That informality and the style of music reminded me strongly of the shows I saw my friends play in high school.
Michael finally married Alice, the fellow Purdue alum that he has been dating since right around the time he and I graduated.
Like the trip to Louisville, the wedding gave me a chance to catch up with longtime friends. Of course that includes Michael and Alice, but Stuart, Todd, Matt, Joe, Josh H., Brittany, and Megan also attended. Even though I have been keeping this weblog for over eight years, it is amazing (and discouraging) how much I have forgotten about my time at Purdue. Similarly, despite electronic social networks, I knew less than I would have liked about the lives and activities of the other attendees that I knew from that point in my life. The wedding underscored the importance personal contact with friends.
I am sure this pales in comparison to Michael's experience at his own wedding, so I won't try to overstate anything. Instead, I can simply say that I am deeply honored to have helped him celebrate his marriage, and I wish him and his wife the absolute best in their new life together.
Seen north of Knox, Indiana next to an old railroad bed and train station. The building is bigger than it looks in the picture; about 10 feet off the ground and big enough to hold maybe two people. Any guesses on what it was used for?
I have been around computers for my entire life. I remember playing DOOM across the home network; dialing into a bulletin board system on a 14.4 Kbit/s modem; helping my father install one of the first 1 gigabyte hard disks; and writing games in Excel's macro language. I recently came across two photos showing even earlier examples of the technology I had around me.
Here is a picture of my sister, father, and I using a cutting-edge (in 1987) Compaq 286. Obviously, my sister and I were already pair programming, 13 years before the advent of eXtreme Programming.
And here we are in 1988 playing a video game on our Commodore 64. Note the Atari joysticks.
The following photomosaic is made up of almost 15,000 images contributed and assembled by several of my CS friends (click to enlarge):
The full-size PNG takes up 86.1 MB and measures 6,000 pixels wide by 9,009 pixels high. The small portion below shows the constituent images at full resolution.
The source image and many of the constituent images come from when when Josh, Alejandro, Zack, Lucas, and I traveled to New York last Christmas. Josh, I am told, contributed many additional pictures, and Alejandro created the mosaic using AndreaMosaic. Then, they printed, framed, and gave it to me two weekends ago when I finally got a chance to visit Champaign after being away for almost two months. It is almost life-size! What a great gift!
Walnut Street Tea Company – I buy most of my caffeinated beverages from this store. On one visit, I mentioned that I had found this image from 1975. The proprietor told me she had bought the suite in the early 1980s.
One week ago I finished the first chemotherapy treatment for my most recent cancer diagnosis. But this post is not about that. Knowing that I would be going into the hospital, I took the preceding week off, spent a day in Chicago, flew to Salt Lake City, then went on a long car trip through four western states, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and several national forests. I saw some beautiful countryside and got to reconnect with my old friend Charlie.
I got the idea for the trip soon after the initial diagnosis. I was eating dinner with my family, and my father asked, "what would you like to do before you start treatments?" My thoughts returned to my cross-country trips to and from California. I greatly enjoyed these trips because they allowed me to be alone with my thoughts and pass through part of the country that I had never seen before. The trips also showed me how much I had left to see. Who knows when or if I would get another chance.
For this trip, I wanted to go on walkabout again and spend time in some of the national parks that I had been forced to bypass. I decided to fly into Salt Lake City and drive from there to Yellowstone. I left the rest of the week largely undefined. This open plan proved beneficial; it left time to take scenic back roads and do several things that I could have never expected.
I booked tickets just three days in advance. Three events coincided to make the trip much easier. First, a group of friends and I had already made plans to visit Chicago the day before my flight, so I was able to fly direct from O'Hare Airport. Second, Charlie and his family live in Big Sky, Montana, just north of Yellowstone. Despite such short notice, they eagerly agreed to let me stay with them for a few nights, removing the need to find a hotel. Finally, I arrived at the end of the summer tourist season, so I found superb weather, early fall colors, and minimal crowds everywhere I went.
And so, on Saturday, September 20, I began my week-long western vacation.
St. Louis is traditionally seen as the gateway to the west, but my trip began in Chicago. Alejandro's girlfriend Alejandra was visiting, so the two of them, Josh, Lucas, and I traveled to several of Chicago's traditional tourist sites. I am ashamed that this was only the second time I have been to downtown Chicago since becoming a UIUC student. Fortunately, I got to see a lot of what I missed last time. We had a full day, including a Segway tour of the waterfront, deep-dish pizza for lunch, the Art Institute of Chicago, Navy Pier, and a trendy Thai restaurant for dinner.
I could say more about Chicago, but this post is about my trip west. I posted pictures in the gallery. Alejandra posted her pictures on Facebook. At the end of the day, the group dropped me off at a hotel near O'Hare Airport, and I flew to Salt Lake City the next afternoon.
Day One and Two: Drive from Salt Lake City to Big Sky, Montana
I woke at dawn so I could use every minute of sunlight for the drive. To my surprise, I found not sunlight, but deep gray rain clouds. The attendant at the visitor center in Logan said it was the first rain in a long time.
Near Brigham City, I entered Cache National Forest, the first of several national forests that I would pass through over the course of the week. Almost immediately, the road was surrounded by vibrant foliage contrasting with the gray cliffs and clouds. The rain only made the colors more vivid. Periodically, the cliffs would open up, revealing a sprawling basin lined with stands of pine and bright yellow birch.
The clouds began to part when I reached Bear Lake on the Utah-Idaho border. I stopped at a vista point overlooking the valley and was amazed at the surreal aqua color of the water. According to one of the information placards, it is caused by limestone leaching from the surrounding mountains.
Like my previous cross-country road trips, I was amazed at how quickly the landscape changed. I crossed several cultivated valleys in Wyoming and Idaho in which one side of the road looked up to a rocky hillside sprinkled with shrubs and pine trees and the other over a sweeping panorama of golden wheat fields. Several times I stopped, walked away from the car, and stood listening to the quiet hissing of the wind over the rolling hills. It made a different sound than the wind through Illinois' corn and soybean fields.
I never saw much vehicle traffic, but I was forced onto gravel farm roads near Ashton, Idaho ("Worlds Largest Seed-Producing Area") due to what appeared to be an alfalfa spill.
Soon after, I avoided bovine traffic plodding slowly down the road.
The wheat fields returned to pine forests as I rose into the Greater Yellowstone region. The road crossed into Montana, then jogged in and out of Yellowstone and Wyoming. This stretch, lined with rock outcropping that reminded me of aged faces, was Charlie's daily commute.
I almost missed Big Sky. My GPS did not know it was a city because, I would later learn, there were ongoing incorporation disputes related to liquor licenses. Fortunately, as Charlie told me on the phone, "there's not much to Big Sky", and I was able to find the appropriate street by zooming in as close as possible. After about 11 hours of driving, I pulled into Charlie's driveway at sunset.
Yellowstone is spectacular. Since returning home, I have been telling my friends to do whatever they can to visit. After my father saw the pictures, he said succinctly, "that looks a lot like my happy place."
The park is famous for its geological features, and the loop took Charlie and me past many otherworldly thermal basins.
My favorites were the paint pots. The bubbles in the thick liquid were fascinating to watch and made entertaining burbling noises.
The bacterial mats and mineral deposits surrounding the geysers and hot springs exhibited deep fractal complexity and were just as interesting to examine at as the thermal features themselves.
Charlie and I stopped for lunch at a restaurant near Old Faithful. Unknown to us, we were eating during an eruption. When we passed the next day, we would have had to wait another hour. We finally saw Old Faithful's famous plume on day five while returning from Jackson, Wyoming.
Old Faithful, like the other thermal features we saw, was surrounded by a raised boardwalk. These boardwalks and the amount of driving made Yellowstone much different from most other nature parks that I have been to in which the best attractions are visible only to hikers on backcountry trails. In Yellowstone, I was amazed how easy it was to simply drive, park, and walk a hundred paces to a natural wonder of the world. Is this good or bad? On one hand I was dismayed to see a miniature freeway overpass leading to Old Faithful. On the other, I am thankful that so many people—including the old, young, and handicapped— are able to experience Yellowstone. I, for one, feel fortunate that I could see so much so quickly, even though it only accounts for a small sliver of the park's total area.
The wildlife, at least, lacked boardwalks. We saw mostly Bison and Elk, often standing in a far-off meadow. The closest we came to Yellowstone's fauna was when we rounded a turn and saw several Bison slowly walking down the road.
The highlight of the day's trip came near the end of the loop when we stopped at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It was then that the inspiration for the park's name became apparent.
There are more pictures of the canyon and the rest of the park in the gallery.
Day Four: Grand Teton and Jackson, Wyoming
On day four, I had originally expected to drive alone through Grand Teton National Park and spend the night in Jackson, Wyoming. From there, I would circle back to Salt Lake City via Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area and Dinosaur National Monument. However, Charlie also wanted to see Grand Teton and Jackson, so we devised an alternate plan in which both of us would go to Jackson and return to Big Sky the following day. This plan worked especially well since I would then be in town for Charlie's birthday party. I didn't know it at the time, but it would also prove fortunate that I had someone with which to enjoy Jackson's night life.
One of the guide books—I can't find it now, so I'm paraphrasing—accurately described Grand Teton National Park as "providing many angles and vistas from which to view the mountains of the Teton Range". And what angles and vistas they are! The park doesn't have the thermal features of Yellowstone, but that hardly seems to matter. The views of the Tetons are noteworthy in that the mountains lack foothills and instead shoot up from relatively flat surrounding land.
As for the vistas, Signal Mountain, overlooking the Snake River from 7,593 feet, was one of the most impressive of the entire trip. I had my binoculars with me and must have spent 30 minutes surveying the miles of breathtaking landscape.
Charlie and I got a closer look at some of the park when we took several short hikes at various points along the banks of Jackson Lake. At one, Charlie decided to chase a flock of geese.
At another, I left a small cairn at the trailhead.
It seemed like no time at all before we reached the park's southern entrance and Jackson. You can find more pictures of the park in the gallery.
Jackson, Wyoming is an unapologetically goofy western-themed tourist town. Western outfitters, taxidermists, and souvenir stores line the main square. The park inside the square has four arches made of discarded elk antlers. Unfortunately, I do not have pictures of the town since I left my camera at the hotel.
Inspired by the wildlife in Yellowstone, Charlie and I wanted bison burgers for dinner. We expected they would be easy to find in a town like Jackson. We were wrong. The receptionist at our hotel suggested a restaurant that was split down the middle: one side was a sit-down steakhouse and the other was a short order diner. Neither side had bison burgers. The next place we found was much fancier, but while it had elk steaks ($35), it lacked bison burgers. Finally, we found a family-style grill with bison on the menu. I told Charlie, "food tastes better when you hunt for it."
After dinner, Charlie and I went to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. Like the town itself, the bar flaunted its western theme with a wonderful lack of subtlety. The wood-paneled walls supported display cases containing Winchester rifles and Native American artifacts. Charlie and I got a table next to stuffed mountain lion. A lanky singer who sounded like Weird Al with a southern accent led a country-western band on the main stage. It was entertaining, but Charlie and I eventually decided it wasn't our scene. Fortunately, I had picked up a local paper at the front door and read that a nearby coffeehouse was having an open mic night.
The laidback open mic night could not have been more different than the over-the-top Cowboy Bar. When we arrived, there were maybe eight people in the dimly-lit coffeehouse. One was singing and strumming a guitar in the corner of the room, while another in the audience provided rhythm with a small djembe drum. None had cowboy hats or boots. The singer completed several songs, then asked if anyone else wanted to play. When no one replied, Charlie stood up.
Charlie regularly plays shows around Big Sky, so he essentially had a set list prepared. The small audience was surprised, I think, to see how well Charlie played, having just walked in from the street. At one point, he had everyone laughing at an improvised song about the cowboy bar.
I, too, got a chance to play. The crowd was very receptive, but my guitar-only songs did not captivate them like Charlie's singing had.
After we left, Charlie and I reflected on how fortunate it was that I had noticed the event in the paper. Who knows how different the evening would have been otherwise?
Day Five and Six: Charlie's Birthday, a Horse Ride, and Return to Salt Lake City
Charlie bartends at a tourist ranch near Yellowstone. On the evening of the fifth day, after returning from Jackson, I helped the colorful staff of the ranch celebrate Charlie's birthday. During the party, a discussion with the stable master—who I managed to beat at pool—led to Charlie and me join a group of other visitors on a horseback ride the next morning. Unfortunately, I did not get pictures of that trip, either, but Charlie's friend Claire sent one of her pictures of the three of us in a mountain meadow. I was left amazed not only at the scenery but at how well the horses navigated the rocky trails. Neither a person nor an ATV could have made it up the steep and rugged ravines that we followed. I am convinced that horses provide the best way to see the backcountry and hope I get a chance to ride again (with a camera, of course).
On two occasions my fake leg surprised the guide. The first occurred when I mounted the horse at the stable. The guide adjusted the position of my leg in the stirrup and noticed that it didn't move normally. Later, when we were an hour into the ride, I noticed the toe of my left leg was pointed 90° to the right. The stirrup had pressed the release button without my knowledge. I called out, "I need to stop. My leg fell off." After reattaching the leg, I removed the release button, and the rest of the ride passed without incident.
The horseback ride occurred early enough in the morning that I was able to return to Salt Lake City by sunset. I said goodbye to Charlie and his family, thanked them profusely for their hospitality, and set off down the interstate.
The drive was less scenic than the back roads I had taken driving north, but I did get to see some volcanic flows and and the back side of the Teton Range.
Cancer motivated me to take this trip, but it wasn't the reason for the trip. I have wanted travel west again for months; Cancer just gave me a deadline after which a week-long vacation would become much more difficult. Did it make me more ready for cancer treatments? I don't think so, but it did give me time during which I didn't have to think about the disease and could instead enjoy the beauty of nature and reconnect with an old friend. Those qualities would make any vacation a success regardless of the motivation.
The tower was funded by H. Richard McFarland, a 1952 UIUC graduate and owner of McFarland Foods Corporation , in memory of his wife Sally . Right now it is an ugly and imposing mass of gray concrete, but it will eventually reach 185 feet, be painted to match the surrounding buildings, and contain 49 bells controllable by computer or keyboard . Opinion is mixed, though I agree with others that it looks like the Tower of Barad-dûr from Lord of the Rings.
Last weekend, Vilas and I went climbing at Upper Limits Rock Gym. The gym, located in Bloomington, Illinois, is held in a converted grain elevator. What a great way to reuse an old building!
The warehouse-sized main room is covered in climbing surfaces.
But most impressive are several silos containing routes along their inside walls.
Unfortunately, Vilas and I could not go all the way to the top since we were not trained to belay back down. Nevertheless, we both enjoyed the routes available to us and left the gym thoroughly exhausted.
I watched Champaign and Urbana's Independence Day fireworks from on top of a tall parking garage. It could see several shows at once, but they lost a lot of their impact since I could not feel the explosions.
Afterward, I took some long-exposure pictures of the Carle Hospital campus and the progressing state of the 309 Green and 310 Burnham highrises.
And since I am posting night shots, I'll (re)post my favorite photo. It is a panorama of Purdue's Loeb Fountain, taken from the roof of Matthews Hall.
Indianapolis Executive Airport is a small, single-runway airfield that serves Hamilton County northeast of Indianapolis. On June 14, while driving to my parents' house to celebrate Father's Day and my sister's birthday, I happened to pass the airport during an open house benefiting the Indiana Down Syndrome Foundation. The event gave me a close look at three interesting helicopters: a Vietnam-era Huey, an Indiana State Police "eye-in-the-sky", and an air medical transport.
The Huey, serial number 70-16369, was an Army air ambulance deployed to Vietnam in 1971. It returned in 1972 and continued to perform air evacuations in South Carolina, Texas, Illinois, and Ohio until the Army retired it in 2001. At that point, the army transferred ownership to the not-for-profit Down East Emergency Medicine Institute in Maine, which used it for emergency search and rescue. In 2005, brothers John and Allen Walker purchased the helicopter, trailered it 1,300 miles to Peru, Indiana, and formed the not-for-profit American Huey 369 Organization to preserve the aircraft.
The Huey still flies, and one can purchase "memberships" that allow one to go on rides. When I arrived at the airport, the pilot was preparing to take a load of new members into the air.
I desperately wanted a turn. I spoke to an attendant and filled out one of the membership forms, only to be turned away when I pulled out my credit card. They only accepted cash or check.
An Indiana State Police helicopter, a Bell L3, number N54SP, was parked near the Huey. It is one of three helicopters in the state police's fleet of 14 aircraft. The pilot said he and the helicopter had come directly from helping helping flood victims south of Indianapolis.
A 1985 Eurocopter BK117, number N112LL, came last in the line of helicopters. It is one of four Lifeline helicopters operated by Clarian Health. Since 1979, it and the other Lifeline helicopters have transported more than 29,000 patients. The pilot said he averages about one flight per day and can range up to 150 nautical miles.
The back of the helicopter opens completely to allow access to the gurney. As one might expect, the cabin is filled with all sorts of medical supplies.
It was fortunate that I stumbled upon the open house. I found it fascinating to see these purpose-built machines up close and to talk to the pilots and crew.