I recently visited central Texas. Between Tuesday, May 18 and Monday, May 24, I visited
I also posted many pictures in the gallery. Here are a few of my favorites:
I recently visited central Texas. Between Tuesday, May 18 and Monday, May 24, I visited
I also posted many pictures in the gallery. Here are a few of my favorites:
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
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
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
Each trip could fill its own post, but for now I will just describe one particularly noteworthy event from each.
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.
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.
There are more pictures in the gallery.
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,
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.
Most Midwestern geohashing points fall in corn or soybean fields.
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,
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.
I could say more about Chicago, but this post is about my trip west. I posted pictures in the gallery. Alejandra posted
My flight arrived in Salt Lake City shortly before dark, so I picked up my rental car and found a hotel north of the city. The next day, I took the
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
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.
I woke up early enough the next morning to watch the sun rise over the mountains east of Big Sky. Charlie and I spent the day
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.
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
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
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?
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
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 rest of the trips and some pictures can be found on
We first passed through the meticulously-groomed formal gardens.
Then we entered the peaceful and shadowy nature trail. I periodically pointed out the trees I recognized and the animal tracks that crossed the path.
Eventually, the trail curved to follow the
It was obvious from the muddy trail and lack of groundcover that the river had recently flooded the area.
We had to detour around standing water or ford small streams several times. The moisture also meant that we had to constantly fight off swarms of mosquitoes. Unfortunately, I had forgotten the insect repellent. When we passed through sunbeams I could see dozens of the insects buzzing around our backs and unprotected arms. At one point, Manish killed five mosquitoes with one slap. Today my shoulders and elbows are covered with red welts.
Despite that, we all enjoyed the hike. The forest was lush and beautiful, and I found it fascinating to see the effects of the flood.
We made it to the opposite end of the park and returned along the higher and dryer access road. We passed a family attempting to break into their car, having locked their keys inside. I called AAA for a nearby service station, but the father decided to break a back window instead. That idea excited his young daughter who enthusiastically ran into the woods to find a big rock. We left before she found one.
After returning to my car, we circled the park to the day's
It was a fun day trip, and all three of us look forward to exploring the rest of Allerton south of the river.
Yun-young posted her pictures in
Champaign's May 31 geohashing coordinates fell
The drive was sublime. The sky was clear, and the fields were just beginning to turn green. I had the windows and sunroof open the entire time.
Near Gibson City I saw dozens of wind turbines spinning on the horizon. I turned and drove to get a closer look. They were further away than I had expected; I drove at least five miles before meeting the first.
As I got closer, more and more turbines appeared over the treetops.
I had no idea that such a large wind farm existed so close to Champaign. According to
After driving among the windmills like an ant among giant flowers, I resumed the trip north to the geohashing coordinates. The precise point fell in a cornfield near
I was not surprised that no other XKCD readers were there since I arrived about 30 minutes late and the coordinates were so far away from everything. I did not hike into the field this time.
A pickup truck passed as I was getting back into my car. The driver rolled down his window and asked if anything was wrong. I thought about how I could explain geohashing but instead told him I just stopped to take some pictures.
From there, I slowly made it back to the main roads and arrived in Chicago in time for the concert.
On Wednesday, the wonderful
I love everything about the idea. First, it can't help but be spontaneous, since one cannot know the location in advance. If someone could predict the stock market, I doubt he or she would use it to plan for an XKCD meetup. Second, it gives one a reason to travel off the beaten path (vis. the "
I first drove to the intersection at the northwest corner of the field. I got out and surveyed the silent, open countryside around me. There was a farmer feeding his cattle near where I parked. He looked at me curiously when I started walking along the road, holding my camera and GPS. I realized I could park closer to the destination, so I retraced the road east about half a mile to the northern edge of the field. From there, the destination was only a half a mile directly south.
I could not see anyone on the road or field—not surprising since UIUC is out for the summer and most of my CS friends were either busy or out of town— so I started walking along the grassy drainage ditch toward the destination. I had traveled about 300 yards when a car pulled up behind mine. I waved at the occupants as they started walking toward me. The internet delivers!
I returned to the road to introduce myself and shook hands all around. Kyle, Kim, and Matt were former UIUC students now living in Champaign. They hadn't expected anyone else to show up either.
We set off toward the destination, chatting about UIUC and XKCD. We had to be careful not to step on the rows of corn seedlings. It did not take long to walk across the field. When our GPS units told us we had arrived, we took some pictures of the thoroughly nondescript cornfield and discussed how we could mark the spot. I will have to bring a flag to next week's meetup.
We did not stay long, but like any trip, the journey was more important than the destination.
Last week, between April 20 and May 7, I took a long vacation in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was a full week: I caught up with
I have wanted to revisit the Bay Area since interning in Mountain View last summer. I fell in love with Silicon Valley's pervasive geek culture, perfect climate, beautiful mountain parks, and vibrant urban areas. This summer I accepted a great opportunity with a company in UIUC's research park. That meant I would not have to move across the country, but I would need to find another excuse to go to California. The excuse came when I learned that this year's Maker Faire fell much earlier than last year, perfectly positioned between a paper deadline and the start of my summer job.
I booked plane tickets a month in advance and asked several friends if they wanted to join me for part of the trip. That week worked perfectly for me but was terrible for almost everyone else thanks to final exams and term projects. Fortunately, Eric was very interested in the Maker Faire, so he and his girlfriend Shannon decided to meet me in San Francisco.
I also emailed my housemates from last summer, asking if I could stay in the house during my visit.
They said I could and went out of their way to make me feel welcome. Joseph picked me up from the airport on the day I arrived, Sarah set up a couch in the garage with an incredibly comfortable sleeping bag and let me use her bike for the entire trip, Laura gave me a ride to the second day of the Maker Faire and let me use her laptop when my wireless connection didn't work, and they even had a barbecue and took me to see
I spend the first morning of my vacation biking around Mountain View, Los Altos, and Palo Alto. The entire area is crisscrossed with bike paths.
That afternoon, Eric and Shannon picked me up in their rental car, and we drove to Big Basin Redwoods State Park southwest of Mountain View.
We hiked one of the shorter trails through the towering redwoods. We did not see the largest trees in the park, but the ones we passed were still very impressive.
On the second day of the trip, the three of us sampled wines from several wineries in Sonoma County's Russian River Valley. For me, the day began with a train ride into San Francisco where I met Eric and Shannon at their hotel overlooking Telegraph Hill.
From there, we drove about an hour north to wine country.
The four wineries could not have been more different. Kendall Jackson looked like a French mansion complete with manicured garden. Martinelli appeared more rustic, offering wine samples at a rough-hewn wooden counter in the back of a dimly-lit barn. Hook & Ladder was much more industrial with stainless steel tanks behind a prefabricated building. The fourth looked like an Italian villa with olive trees lining the building and a mural behind the wine rack.
Eric was the most well-informed judge of the wine since he took a wine-tasting class during his senior year. Shannon and I just enjoyed trying the different varieties.
We returned to San Francisco for dinner in Chinatown. I have never seen a more frenzied staff than at the restaurant where we ate. The hostess ran full-tilt down the main aisle several times, and I cringed when she brushed inches away from fully-loaded waiters speedwalking in the opposite direction.
Maker Faire provided the initial motivation for my trip, and the two-day celebration of technological creativity did not disappoint. The theme of the weekend remained unchanged from last year: to show off a huge variety of interesting gadgets, artwork, robots, and tools. However, I was impressed at how different it was from last year's event and that the two days had different exhibits and talks.
There were too many amazing creations to describe individually, but I particularly liked seeing several items in person that I had only seen online. For example, I got to try on
...and watch the motion of
I also took many more pictures.
Eric and Shannon joined me for part of the afternoon. They had an epic journey to the event center. First they had to return the rental car through San Francisco's rush hour traffic. Then, they had to take two trains: one to get out of the city and another to get to the event center. For some reason, the Maker Faire organizers did not advertise the train stop from which people could walk to the gate. Instead, they shuttled people from a more distant stop. So Eric and Shannon had to wait on the shuttle, then wait in a blocks-long line to get tickets. By the time they got in, they could only spend about two hours browsing the exhibits. Because of that, I don't think they enjoyed the event as much as they could have. Fortunately, they both live in Austin, Texas, so they can attend the Austin Maker Faire in October.
I spent most of the second day listening to talks.
The headliner was definitely
His talk culminated in a description of the process he followed to create a replica
All of the talks—and Maker Faire in general—have inspired me to build something.
I regretted going to San Francisco only once last summer, so I spent the last two days of my vacation biking around the city. On day five I
I started from the train station, then traveled roughly west on 4th, Market, and Haight streets. I passed the capitol building (with homeless people sleeping on its lawn) and the famous intersection of
Haight dropped me into the eastern entrance of Golden Gate Park. I passed more sleeping homeless people and was offered drugs three times. I walked the paths, passing the Conservatory of Flowers, then headed into the neighborhoods north of the park.
I resumed my westward journey, ending when I met the cliffs at the edge of the ocean. There, I got an amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Ocean Beach.
I reentered Golden Gate Park from the west.
I biked about halfway through the park, then decided to get lunch in a neighborhood to the south. I returned to the park after eating and walked through the
After leaving the garden, I biked the rest of the way through the park and along a winding path through the panhandle. I zigzagged back to San Francisco's eastern shore at the Ferry Building where I turned south to follow the Embarcadero back to the train station. I had traveled almost 20 miles by the time I collapsed into the train seat.
When I got back to Mountain View, I went to see Iron Man with Feddy and Laura. Finally, a good superhero movie! I thought it appropriate that I watched a movie about a robotic suit of armor a day after going to the Maker Faire.
On my sixth day, I met my former coworker and collaborator
The Cartoon Art Museum had some interesting original artworks—including an original Calvin and Hobbes—and a good collection of cell animation. A TV on one wall played old Popeye cartoons in a loop. The museum was smaller than I had expected, only filling a normal-sized retail space.
I circled the dock around Pier 39. Like when I saw Alcatraz, I could not shake images of the Pier 39 course in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater video game. I saw Pier 39's famous sea lions lounging in the sun.
Fishermans Wharf was teeming with people.
I passed quickly through the crowd to get to the Musee Mechanique hidden behind the main shops. The Musee Mechanique contained dozens of ingenious coin-operated machines. I particularly liked the player pianos with their punched scores and pneumatic tubes. Unfortunately I was unable to get any pictures since the light was terrible.
The WWII-era USS Pampanito submarine was tied to the dock behind the Musee Mechanique.
I took a walking tour through the ship. I found it amazing that submariners lived in its cramped hull for weeks at a time. I took many pictures, but cannot explain much of what they show.
After that, I returned to the train station and Mountain View to prepare for my flight back to Illinois the following day.
I visited California to capture some of what I missed last summer. I feel I got everything I needed and wanted out of the trip and did enough in just six days to fill a summer. Thanks again to Eric and Shannon for meeting me in San Francisco and to my Mountain View housemates for their hospitality.
Now I need to find another excuse to visit.
You can find all of my pictures in my California Vacation Gallery.
Last weekend I went camping with a group of CS and
We quickly set up camp. I assembled my small one-person tent while the others fought with two mansions that Lyndsy and Dave got as wedding gifts.
We relaxed for the rest of the afternoon with several rounds of
The frigid night made me glad I packed my cold weather sleeping bag. The next morning we breakfasted on eggs from Zach's family's chickens. We originally planned to spend part of the day at
Despite cutting the trip short, we all had a great time.