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Recreational Travel

Getting back in the saddle

I got back from the maize meeting in Italy last night to find my DSL connection at home was dead again. I’m now at work and think I’m pretty much caught up with the backlog of internet related stuff that accumulated during my absence. So if you e-mailed me, tweeted at me, or commented on a post sometime in the last week, please accept my apologies for not getting back to you before now.

And if you still haven’t heard back from me, please try getting in touch again.

Random thoughts from my travels:

  • Carrying a 40 inch long poster case 1/3 of the way around the earth and back again certainly gives me a new appreciation for the training old fashioned riflemen (whose rifles were much longer than my poster) must have had.
  • Travelling with three other Americans makes other countries seem a lot less foreign. We talked among ourselves in english, and while the language barrier meant we never asked for directions, as a group of four men we wouldn’t have been living up to our stereotype by asking for directions even if we’d been able to. Walk even 100 feet away and the awareness of being in a strange land (and not speaking a word of the native language), suddenly sinks in.
  • German airports list departing flights by time of departure, not the name of the destination city. (It look an embarrassingly long moment to realize flights weren’t simply listed at random.)

iPhones In Iowa

One of the gifts I received for Christmas this year was an iPhone. Well, actually a gift card for an iPhone, apple has become very picky about allowing anyone to purchase an iPhone without signing up for the service contract right there on the spot. (There’s so much demand for them in foreign countries where it hasn’t be introduced yet, and from people in the US who want to use iPhones on other carriers.)

Anyway, I finally purchased said iPhone at a nearby apple store in Berkeley (located as it happens in an open-air mall which is a much better idea in California than it is here in Iowa (with months of freezing winters and more months of blazing hot heat) yet they’re currently in the process of constructing such a structure in my hometown because open air malls are the “in thing.”) And it’s a good thing I did. It was a lifesaver during my delayed and re-routed trip home. Air travel is a lot less stressful and a lot less boring when you’re able to check and respond to e-mail and surf the web. Plus with a free app called stanza the iPhone makes a quite passable e-book reader.

Getting back into Iowa has been a lot of fun. Hickory Park would never survive in California, but I love it:

And it really is winter here:

Did I mention that with my iPhone, I can now upload geotagged photos (click through to flickr on this photo, and it’ll tell you where it was taken along with a link to display the exact location on yahoo maps):
Matthew with Athena

I am now in complete awe of my friend Ben’s ability with infants. If I ever am in a position where I’m going to be expected to take care of one myself, he’s the guy I’ll call for advice. His little niece is tiny (less than a month old) and smelly…
Monty with Inara

Stuck In SFO

So my flight back to Iowa by way of Chicago was delayed so now Im waiting for a flight to Denver. Getting the transfer was hard but afterwards the customer service rep I had to get my new ticket with was polite which knocked we straight from anger to acceptance. (See the seven stages of airport grieving.)

Did you know they made amaretto cake?

I sure didn’t before we had some for christmas.

Visit was a lot of fun, even if I was half dead the whole time. (Three hour jet lag + red-eye + stress of major holiday = zombie james.)

One moment of terror came when I lost my ability to connect to my server back in the apartment. My fears ranged a roommate who killed the power before she left, to break in attempts, to having the electricity cut off, but fortunately it turned out to be an issue with my ISP which they’ve since resolved. This is the first time I’ve had any sort of outage that was the result of the network rather than my equipment, which makes Time Warner, Qwest and Comcast all look pretty shabby by comparison.

Point Lobos

On the retreat this weekend we had a three hour break in our schedule and a bunch of us drove down to a park on the coast called point lobos. Pictures have been posted to flickr.

Overview
Forest Trail

First Retreat

The department gathered in Monterey (home of the apparently famous pebble beach golf course) to discuss science and meet/embarrass the new grad students.

Highlights (in no particular order):

The people who study magnetic bactera are really enthusiastic about the science they’re doing. The logic regarding how the bacteria are gaining an advantage by producing magnetic crystals seems a little hazy to me, although I’m not a microbiologist. But whatever the reason, the fact that they are is really cool.

Huge studies looking at the linkages between alleles of genes and the effects of drugs in humans. These are pure associate mapping studies, since you can’t do any controlled mating. Thousands or tens of thousands of subjects from drug studies. Convincing results that you can tie genetic data to drugs have no effect, enhanced effects or negative effects. The problem is that you can’t do anything cool about it. You can make more people take prevenative drugs. But you can’t introgress beneficial alleles into the rest of the population. Or make a transgenic line to test for complementation. This is why I work on plants.

The fields surrounding Gilroy, California produce some rediculus fraction of the total garlic crop in the US. The town features such cullinary delights as garlic flavored gum and garlic flavored ice cream as well as hosting an annual garlic festival, at which they crown the Gilroy Garlic Queen. We were told we’d be able to smell garlic just driving through on the highway and believe it or not we could.

Bonfires on the beach of the pacific ocean both nights. I haven’t seen the coast in daylight as of yet. But a good time was had by all. I was inducted into the secret society of grad students and given the sacred position of “fire bringer.” Translation: one of the graduating students handed me a box of matches and said: “ok, now it’s your responsibility to always remember to bring these.”

A weekend in the bay area

On Saturday visited SF with three of the other new students. It’s remarkably simple to get there on the subway. Saw the tail end of one of the famous farmers markets, and walked along the city near the north coast. Briefly visited pier 39 and saw more than a hundred sea lions there. A little farther along the coast a restored sailing ship was tied up to a dock. Constant stream of oil tankers and container ships into and out of the bay.

Walking back we cut through the city. Some streets are steep enough the adjacent sidewalks have been replaced by stairs. Chinatown seemed nice. As did Union square. Overall it’s a very different impression from my one evening in New York City.

Today my main accomplishment was making it to Target through back-to-school sunday traffic to purchase a microwave and enough food to last me another few days. The rest of the day was intended for quite reading, a plan that was foiled by the minor music festival held outside this evening that made it too loud within the apartment to hold a conversation on the phone without shouting.

Travel Photoset!

I had a bit of downtime today (waiting for a package that still hasn’t arrived) so I finally uploaded a set of photos from my drive along I-80. As always, here are a couple of highlights:

Construction of a wind farm in Western Iowa. I hadn’t realized just how big the blades were for these. It was really impressive.
Assembling a Windmill

The Utah Salt Flats. They stretch on for miles and miles, but there was rest stop near the end where we could get out and wonder out onto them. They win for coolest terrain.
Bonneville Salt Flats

And my favorite picture from the drive actually comes from Nebraska. To me this photo look like an idealized version of the midwest, what we should look like, even if a lot of us doesn’t.
Nebraska Farmland

This one goes out to my car

For transporting myself, my girlfriend, and all my worldly possessions more than 2000 miles across half a continent, through seven states, mountain ranges, deserts, and over the continental divide and, after all that, passing a California emissions test. Truly you are a prince among automobiles.

Subaru really makes an excellent vehicle.

Internet In Berkeley

Finally got my internet up and running. It was rather embarrassing having to call tech support because I couldn’t figure out the instructions for self-activation, but I’ve got that out of the way now, and will be writing up the details of my trip as I find time. For now: The apartment is great, I’m alive and well, and Berkeley seems to have more Indian restaurants per capita than any city I’ve ever visited!