Category Archives: Adventures in the Big Blue Room

Caribbean Sampler

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The time had come to expand my world some. I daydream of travel all the time, and I’ve done my best to poke around the southwestern U.S. on my own. I’ve also been lucky enough to explore several cities when I went to SuperComputing conferences when I was with CHPC at the University of Utah. Several years ago Debbie, Kayla, and I went on a cruise to Hawaii, and I learned that while a cruise is not really great for experiencing a location, it’s really good for getting a taste of places so you can see if you want to come back. My friend Jack and his family invited us to tag along with them on a cruise to the Western Caribbean and it sounded like just the right medicine for me.

The cruise was on the Norwegian Cruise Line ship Getaway, a monster of a floating hotel. It set sail for the seven day cruise from Miami and headed to the furthest south point of the trip, the Honduran island of Roatan. I think this was my favorite stop. We had booked an excursion of snorkeling and sea kayaking.DCIM100GOPRO

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The sea was a little murky because of some storms that had come through the last few days, but we did see a lot of cool fish and corals.  Kayla got an up-close experience with the reef, but didn’t get too scraped up. When we headed out to go kayaking, Debbie wasn’t too sure she wanted any part of it, but we had a really cool tour guide named Christopher Flores who convinced her to give it a go. In fact he told her to go on the front of his Kayak and he’d make sure it was ok. She did, in her zealous paddling, dump them both out into the drink just a bit out of the gate, but Christopher talked her into continuing on. He did take away her paddle, though. The water was really warm, more than I remember from even Hawaii, which was nice and seemed too warm to be real.

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Christopher Flores and Debbie

Christopher, at the end of our Kayaking destination took us into the fringe of the jungle and showed us a lot of things like how to dig up a crab in its hole and bush remedies from the plants growing along the beach. He climbed up a tree and grabbed a coconut and showed how to husk it and grate it and get some of the milk from the coconut meat. He also gave us a method for the way the Hondurans cook rice and beans in the coconut milk that I really want to try.

As we were sitting on the ship as it was getting ready to sail from Roatan I suddenly had the urge to jump ship and go native. It passed quickly enough, but I had to actually pull out my pencils and try to capture this view in my sketchbook before the sun went down.

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The next stop was Belize, which was somewhat of a disappointment as far as the city went. It was a run-down kind of sad, and lots of the buildings were leaning and sunk in the earth up to the first floor windows because of improper foundations in the swamp it’s built on. We were headed to the Mayan ruins at Lamanai. We needed to be the first ones off the ship because we had a long bus ride followed by a long river trip before getting to the site. The river jumping off point is significant in that next door to the cafe is the house that once belonged to John McAfee before he fled into the jungle to evade the federales.

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McAfee’s former property.

The river trip took us up past Belize’s Amish country and through several rain squalls. There was abundant life along the river including termite nests in the tops of trees and the aptly named Jesus Bird that walks on water. One fellow cruiser in the boat ahead of us showed me a picture of a river crocodile he took.

The rains let up just as we reached the ruins to hear the most horrible sound. It turned out to be just Howler Monkeys, but they sound just like a broken bone chainsaw. The amazing thing, to me, about the ruins is that people are just allowed to climb all over them. It’s probably a point of view particular to people raised around U.S. national parks. I could post pictures of this place all evening, but I’ll spare you and just pick a few of the best.

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Jack and his family atop the pyramid

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I think I need to mock up something like this for my yard.

The next day we got to Costa Maya, Mexico and went on our second ruins trip.  The ruins at Kohunlich were a little more diverse than the Belize ruins in that there were more buildings and common areas preserved.

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And just a little proof we were there and that this isn’t just a fabrication, unless it’s a really good photoshop.

Our last stop was in Cozumel, Mexico for another round of snorkeling and a stingray encounter. Debbie was fairly adamant that there would be no stingray touching, or stingray kissing, or possibly going in the water. But she proved to be more daring than her predictions. A few minutes cab ride from the port was the stingray preserve where they let us snorkel in the fenced-in area where they’re protecting and breeding the stingrays. The fish here were of the petting-zoo variety in that they clustered around the person that was going to feed them, but it was still pretty cool.

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Snorkeling with a wedgie.

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There were even some Mexican Pokemon.

I didn’t explore the ship much like I did on the Hawaiian cruise, but we had fewer days at sea. I never went through the ropes course, or on the several water slides. I just wanted to relax and sat on the shady side of the boat watching the water slide by. I wish this kind of trip was doable every year, there’s so much out there I want to see, but when I think about what few opportunities my forbears had in experiencing things like this I have to count myself very lucky.

More walking

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Lots more walking around today and some impressive scenery, but my camera ran out of batteries just as I came across this first one. Lots of artists choke on large installations, I think. But this one was really nice, especially once I looked at the close-ups and could make out the interconnected pieces. I got the feeling in art school I was a little too simple and literal to be considered much good, but I’m all about simple beauty. And size is hard.
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Walking in Portland

convention-bell.jpg.JPG Today was the first day of the Supercomputing 09 conference. It’s been one of the highlights of my year for the six times I’ve been able to attend before this one. It’s fun to go see what is up with the industry and see whats new and interesting, but I’ve really had a ball just walking around most of the cities that I’ve got the chance to visit.
Portland has kind of a funny vibe so far. I’ve been here a couple times before, but always alone and always just for the afternoon as I was on my way to the coast. This is the first chance that I’ve had to just spend time aimlessly poking around. I’m really digging the variety of architecture, especially the late 1800’s masonry and the way the regooding hasn’t seemed to caught it all yet. One of the best examples I saw of this today was a preserved corner facade of a building that separated another building from the street, complete with trees growing inside the old building space. If my legs work tomorrow I’m going to see if I can’t get some better pictures when there’s some light, and when I have something other than my phone to capture it.
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I’ve also not seen so many people begging for cash since Baltimore in ’02, and the Baltimore panhandlers were at least soft-spoken lot and only gave each person one shot. Most of the ones I’ve been approached by here are persistent and fairly obnoxious. The homeless situation here is heartbreaking, as you can’t walk from here to the convention center without seeing several people wrapped in blue tarps in doorways and under the bridges. The hotel in which I’m staying has two buildings next door that have little cardboard gates in front of their stoops with people huddled against the chill and the rain. I’m not sure as to what good a 1′ high cardboard barrier provides, but maybe it’s a talisman for personal space.
The light rail system is really nice for getting around as we’re in the free-fare zone, although it does tend to shake my room every 15 minutes or so enough that I’m often tempted to toss the conductor a quarter for the vibrating bed. But today the preferred mode was walking in the light drizzle that the locals have referred to as ‘the rainy season’. It’s been a fairly mild and pleasant, but gray storm all day, and going over google maps from one destination to another it looks like I may have walked between seven and ten miles. My legs are feeling it, too. I’m starting to get the landmarks down. There’s a building with a greenish neon strip at the top that puts me close to my hotel. The North Steel Bridge shows up near the river, but there’s not a lot of real skyline that is visible for a long distance to get my bearings, and without mountains or big, distant buildings I’m left to navigate from the light rail maps (when I don’t get them turned around).
One if the huge differences is it’s just really hard not to j-walk across these tiny roads. There hasn’t been much traffic most times and it just feels stupid to stop at a streetlight with no traffic when you can practically spit across the street. And with the majority of the streets seeming to be one-way it’s not like some traffic is going to surprise you. We got so caviler about it that it’s almost funny the way I nearly fell into the streets several times when I’ve actually seen that I needed to stop. At least there’s been the added humor of looking for the purported sources of the names of The Simpson’s characters on the street signs. We’ve seen Flanders and Lovejoy, but those are the only ones I’ve recognized so far.
But for now it’s off to bed with the rattle and squeal of the Morrison train to rock me to sleep. I think I hear one coming now.
Did I mention I tend to ramble when I’m tired?

Ballad of the Lonely Argonauts

How does it feel
to roam this land like Hart and Twain did?
How, how, how does it feel?
A thousand miles closer to hell
–Beulah
Here I sit in Boulder contemplating my meager bag of dried fruit and nuts, wondering if I can ration it out till Saturday along with the 12 pack of cokes I got at the arco station a mile up the road…
“Is there some reason you would need a car?” The words seemed so innocuous. I decided not to push it. After all, Boulder is only a $46 shuttle ride from the Denver Airport, what could go wrong? We still got to the hotel by 8:30, and decided to head out and look for food. There’s nothing but trees around here, and I don’t see any buildings, so we head towards traffic lights. “We’re going to starve to death”, Robert said at one point. I agreed. I caught a tiny frog and had a Bear Grylls moment, only I couldn’t hold on to the little thing and it liberated itself among the roadside weeds. “I think it peed on me”, I said, Robert’s words echoing in my head. “We’re gong to starve to death.”
We return to the hotel and catch the young receptionists as they were hastily closing up for the night. We’re hungry and have not eaten since lunch. “Can we help you?” But their eyes dart towards the door and the cool, cool evening, with the promise of Absinthe and young men’s gazes. “Is there any food?” The brunette’s face blanched, “Not within walking distance!”, but her blonde companion pulled at a sliver of memory. “Maybe the deli?” “Yes!” the brunette blushed, “But it is almost nine.” The blonde tugged at her nose wistfully, “Maybe they’re open til half past?” she suggested imaginatively. “No never, half past”, said her friend. “But maybe there’s something 5 blocks further? A taco bell?”
They burst into a flurry of closing activity, the conversation come to an end, and I look at Robert. “We must find sustenance, but I fear the worst.” “Yes, the worst”, answered Robert, “Still…” and we headed out into the night…

All over but the cryin’

The booth is in a pile awaiting packing, My room is in order for the final stowage and I’m about falling into bed for the last sleep before I can go home. It’s funny how every year I look forward to this week, and it stays elusive and unreal until it falls on me, then before it’s over I can’t wait to get back. It’s worse now that I have a family than before, but even then the whole conference thing wears a little by Thursday morning.
My dad worked for a company that contracted in the aerospace industry and spent a lot of time at conferences. We were always excited to see what he’d bring back for us from his trips, and a lot of my memories from my youth involve the excitement of going to the airport Friday nights to pick him up after he was gone all week. I used to imagine going off on trips like he did and flying all over the world to some conference, but I never believed it was anything more than a dream. I can’t really imagine doing more than the one a year, but I make up for it by bringing home more schwag.
Tuesday I was walking back around town and I saw a star on the sidewalk with a name that somehow rang a Patsy Cline-ish bell in my head. Paying it little heed, I eased on down the road. I ran across another star that said Sandra Day O’connor. I mused on this somewhat more as I walked towards another star. Mean Joe Green was printed on this one and it stopped me in my tracks. My head nearly burst trying to make some sort of order of the three before I hit the pressure release valve by deciding it must just have to do with Texans. It was almost as surprising to see how many different recognizable names there were on these markers, as it was to see the back-street way in which they are presented. Arguably having them around the convention center gives them exposed to the tourist traffic that would give them more notice, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more gum-spotted and pigeon-flecked nondescript thoroughfare in my limited travels.
I suppose there is more to tell, but I’m still mulling over the events I’ve not quite sorted through yet, and it’s midnight, so I suppose I ought to sleep some. I wouldn’t want to doze off on my flight.

Southern Seeds

Aloha from Austin. Normally a picture would go here, but in the myriad of cables I packed into my backpack I somehow left out anything that will let my camera feed my laptop like an angry baby bird. I did remember the phone charger. And the camera charger. And the laptop charger. And a cat-5 cable for the laptop. And the phone USB cable. But not the camera USB cable. Or the media reader. I was sure I ordered one on this laptop, but there you go. It would be nice, maybe I’ll remember to look into it. Along with all those other things I’m supposed to remember.
Supercomputing (SC08) got underway yesterday. We landed about 3:00 and grabbed a quick dinner and set up the booth, and got back to the hotel just in time to close out the hot tub at the end of the day. It was fairly event-less, other than the usual travel complaints. Sharpie somehow got a late flight by himself going home Friday and gets in after 11:00 p.m. while we all land around 7:00. Our flight out of Denver was delayed while we sat in the plane for half an hour while they rebooted the right engine’s computer, or something like that. Several times there was a sound like a compressor-driven wrench that seemed to shake the plane for its volume from the starboard side that was a bit unnerving. We made it alright but for some turbulence that showed which of us ‘really’ didn’t like to fly. The hysterical laughing by a toddler in the back of the plane after every shimmy caused several passengers to roll their eyes. I liked it too, but then again, I suppose I’ve never had a really scary flight.
The weather here is really nice. Much better than last year in Reno, which tried to be nice, but only succeeded in foreboding the coming winter. It seems like every conference I end up finding seeds. I suppose it’s the time of the year for it, but for some reason every November I end up walking around a strange town with a pocket full of some sort of potential floral offspring. This year it started last night. We were waiting for the shuttle bus after checking in to the hotel when we noticed some pods, like gamma irradiated edamame, hanging from a small tree. Stepping on them revealed some hard reddish seeds that made my hands itch from carrying them around. I have some in my bag. Today as I detoured slightly en route to the bus I came across the biggest acorns I have ever seen. Some that looked disturbingly uncircumcised. They were lying under the scrawniest little oakling which caused me to search the surroundings for some sort of benefactor (Santa Squirrel? The Thanksgiving Bunny?) or perhaps it was just a baby sitter for some Oak who’s gone on holiday. They were as big as small eggs from the dairy section. One slipped into my bag and I was off to the conference.
There were no tutorials today that I felt compelled to attend, no matter how much I tried. The last couple years the tutorials seemed either outside the realm of usefulness or redundant to previous ones I’ve attended. I manned the booth for a bit as USU set up their portion. Really, I sat and read the news and refreshed the Iseult message board. Restless, I stowed my gear, obfuscated my conference badge and meandered back out into sunlight.
On the ride to the convention center I’d noticed we crossed a big river (maybe it’s a lake, there didn’t seem to be any current, but it’s long and narrow, so go figure). With a little aid from Google maps on my phone I found the ubiquitous Caesar Chavez St. and the waterfront. As my left hand doesn’t know what’s up on the other side I made the routine wrong turn and headed towards a seedier side of town. I was watching fat squirrels pester noisy blackbirds when I ran across what seems to be some sort of southern pine-cone. Although it does somewhat resemble a cross between a miniscule cantaloupe and a walnut. It does, however, smell of clean kitchens. Four found their way into my pocket.
I crossed under the bat-bridge. There are enough bats nesting under the overpass to qualify it as a tourist attraction, and I attest it was the squeakiest bridge I’ve ever heard. I may have to hang around till dusk one of these nights. As I meandered around I stopped at one point on a bridge and was watching two turtles compete for the world record for holding their breath in the river, thinking about the shared nature of experience (If I never told anyone about the turtles would anyone hear?) a guy came up and asked me if I would help his brother propose matrimony to the girl he was jogging with in 10 minutes. He explained that his brother was about to pop the question and they had several people they were gathering to help out. I was supposed to stand on the bridge and hand a tuxedo jacket to him as he ran by. It was one of those moments where you know you’re about to choose one of the trouser legs of time to head down but I chickened out and headed down the path where I hustled back to the convention center. I need to make a post sometime exploring my savings throws vs. adventure, but, despite the headache, I’m in too good of a mood today.
Soon friends will appear and we can mosey off to the exhibitor party and there will be more tales I can procrastinate tell. And maybe tonight I’ll roll the adventure.
Someday pics will follow.