Recent Reads

Cusipata

First adventure today was heading down to church, which had probably 80 people, some in traditional colorful clothing, and others in Columbia vests and similar. A lot of songs were sung, some of which I knew, and a lot of Spanish was spoken, very little of which I could translate for myself on the fly. At the end, everyone filed out into a long line, which made it so each person shook the hand of every other person there. Pretty cool.

Neither ourselves or the locals will be working on the water system on Saturday or Sunday, so later today we may go explore a local lake, and tomorrow we may go explore a high altitude (16k) lake. Will post pictures, for sure, but for now I can post a picture of the view of the river valley where ADRA is situated.

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Chuquicahuana

Landing in Cusco is an amazing experience for at least two reasons: the approach, and the altitude shock. The approach brings you low (maybe 500 feet) above numerous ridges, and after floating over the final ridge the plane banks hard to the left, goes full flaps, and drops to the runway. I’m not sure a go-around is even possible with the mountains in front and on both sides, but if it is possible, it must be extremely white-knuckle too.

Once you stick the landing, the cabin pressure does the opposite of what you might expect: it drops. You feel it in your ears and lungs, and you can’t help but gasp for breath. At just over 11,000 feet, I was unable to stop gasping for at least a couple hours. Even now, 6 hours after landing, I still feel out of breath upon standing, say, or lifting my carry-on. They say it takes two or three days to acclimate.  I’ll let you know.

Upon arrival, I grabbed my luggage and huffed it across the parking lot to the ’80s Toyota 4Runner driven by Pulsiano, an ADRA employee who was kind enough to pick me up. I rode with him for about 2 hours (not more than 40 miles) along a stunning river valley that also includes the Cusco-Puno rail line, watching the early sunset and hanging on for dear life as we passed vehicles left and right. As a driver who has pride in my own abilities, it is hard not to admire the ability of drivers here to always time the pass in such a way as to leave the minimum amount of space between themselves and the oncoming car/semi/llama cart. 

Stunningly, we arrived at the ADRA camp here in Chuquicahuana, which is a really nice collection of buildings (thank you ADRA Canada, evidently?) including a dormitory and dining hall, all with electricity, water, and electric water heaters in each showerhead that will zap you through the shower water if you get within 6 inches of the showerhead.  Nice.

I’m going to work on acclimating tonight via a process that will make my wife very jealous: sleeping. Maybe don’t tell her.

Selfiellama

Not sure if any good can be expected of an 8-hour overnight flight, but then LAN does include good hot meals, still surprising to this American traveler. So after crossing turbulent Mexico, skirting Central America, and shooting the gap between the Galapagos and Ecuador, I arrived in cool, humid, foggy, gray Lima. The fog plus the surrounding sandy hills does actually look very much like the area around SFO, begging the question of why I needed to make this long journey in the first place.  

The chatter of language foreign to me, my curiosity to travel and see how other people adapt and thrive, and my desire, likely genetic, to help remind me why I’m here. In theory, I’m traveling as an ambassador of engineering, bringing knowledge and experience (that I gained from others, of course) to Peru in an effort to improve the water supply, and health, of two small villages of 60 people each. (These communities are in a valley, yet still perched at the breathtaking altitude of 14,500 feet. Imagine living on the summit of Mt. Rainier.) 

In practice, I plan to learn much more than I teach, and the first lesson is right here at the Lima airport, where multinational electronics giant LG has set up kiosks where travelers, such as myself, can take a selfie with a backdrop of a llama and some Incan ruins. The selfiellama.  Seems insulting to refuse this hospitable gesture, so…

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Power & Light

I don’t know how anyone could land at LAX at night without being somewhat staggered by the breadth, depth, and overwhelming nature of human accomplishment. A giant grid, with rows and columns as far as can be seen, teeming with cars, water, electricity, and, of course, people. I’m not saying it looks nice, but it does inspire a certain sort of awe.

Starting Out

SFO is amazing. From the intersecting sets of double runways with a constant stream of takeoffs and landings, to the upgraded interior, with a “napa farms market” in terminal 2 offering kara’s cupcakes, mini-macaroons, and natural spring water bottled very nearby, at mt. palomar, san diego county.  (Wait, how do they still have water in this drought?) 

Most amazing to me, though, are the nonstop destinations. Within an hour of my takeoff to LAX, planes leave SFO for Munich, Tokyo Haneda, Auckland, and Wuhan, China, otherwise known as the Chicago of China, evidently. 

Sticking closer to home, I could also fly to Monterey, Fresno, Redding, or Arcata.  

But tonight, I start with a short hop to LA where I can grab a flight from North America to South, across the equator, to a city with a cool, coastal climate not unlike the Bay Area, from what I hear. I’ll find out for sure tomorrow.

Tying & Tidying

An interesting thing about travel is the way it changes you before you go. Normally mundane events, like lunchtime, a commute, or a phone call, take on more meaning as they are occurring before, and hopefully in contrast to, the GREAT BIG UNKNOWN that is waiting for a traveler.

Even after preparing as thoroughly as an engineer can (which is no trivial thing, believe me), and even after recalling some of my previous travel to Africa, Asia, and Central America, I cannot do anything other than imagine a fictional Peru filled with people, landscapes, and ways of living that I have filled my mind with based on the reports of others (drawing heavily from wikipedia and google also, of course).

How is it that people actually adapted to farming and surviving at 12, 14, even up to 18,000 feet? How did the Inca put the great stones of Macchu Picchu in place? How does a population of 7-9 million, that of the Bay Area, fit inside Lima, within 1/7th of the land area? If I can fly round trip from the USA West Coast to Lima (5,000+ miles each way) for ~$700, why do similar-length flights to Munich or Tokyo cost double or more? What should a lifelong vegetarian eat in Peru? How will my family and I do with a significant distance between us? Will my 3-year-old son miss me, or will Youtube hits like “The Most Extreme Trucks In The World” keep him preoccupied? Will my 1-year-old son remember me after a 10-day absence? When I get home, will my wife immediately depart for a 10-day absence? Will it be to a Munich or Tokyo (see above)?

Excitement awaits, that’s for sure, and I’m hoping, confident even, that the reality of Peru will be a good replacement for the fiction of Peru.

Madre de Dios

762 days after my last post, it’s time to fire up this blog again! The occasion? Well, it’s not as if nothing of significance has happened over the last two years. Quite the opposite: our family has doubled its number of children (from one to two, but doubling may still be understating the impact), survived being in close proximity to a 6.0 earthquake last summer, and moved from a cozy and complete condo to a house that we decided to significantly remodel during and after we moved in last fall.

All these events have certainly been blog-worthy, except no time! So, to the present: I’m traveling to Peru with Engineer’s Without Borders soon, and I want to document the trip in something more than status updates. Please, if you’re still reading, shake the dust off your RSS reader, go back in time to the world where blogs were king (requires a precise time machine, i know), and enjoy my attempts at sharing my experiences inside the (water pipe) trenches in the high Andes!

Weekly Best Reads 009

If internet news is like a bottomless bag of M&M’s, these reads are a good sit down meal that will leave you filled for hours afterward. Join the Slow Internet movement (not related to your ISP’s intermittent but ongoing movement of the same name).

The Vitamin Myth – Why We Think We Need Supplements – Let’s just say this article is more than a bit disappointing to those of us who grew up believing that Vitamin C could work magic against colds, coughs, etc. Turns out we’ve been following the sage advice of a Nobel prize winning scientist who, strangely, perpetuated utter myth when it comes to multivitamins in general and Vitamin C in particular. One punch line? Multivitamins have been shown to reduce your life expectancy. (Paul Offit for The Atlantic)

The Last Days of Big Law – Not sure the premise is true in all areas of law, but this article makes some compelling arguments that the golden age of The Partner is nothing but a distant memory. (Noam Scheiber for The New Republic)

Something More Wrong – Life on the inside (and outside) of Ward 3B at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens. (Katherine B. Olson for The Big Round Table)

Should Reddit Be Blamed For The Spreading Of A Smear? – Who’s responsible for the fallout over the misidentification of Sunil Tripathi as Boston Bombing Suspect No. 2 for a few short hours on the night of April 19? (Jay Caspian Kang for The New York Times)

Bonus Feature

Constructing The World’s Largest Self-Anchored Suspension Span – Incredible high-def closeup photos by a photographer who’s been taking pictures of the Bay Bridge construction for 15 years. (Photos: Joseph Blum)

blum_bay bridge

Weekly Best Reads 008

Some of these are pretty long, but they’re all the best. Every last one of them.

The Pixar Theory – This might be the ultimate Theory Of Everything. Jon Negroni posits that all Pixar movies come from the same universe, and are actually all part of one story, maybe even with a moral. (Jon Negroni)

Protestants parading around… – Onion-style article ripping the 12th of July parade in Northern Ireland, and, really, all holidays ever. (the daily mash)

Ever Rethinking The Lord’s Prayer – Who says science and religion can’t agree? Lots of people, I guess, but R. Buckminster Fuller isn’t one of them. (Maria Popova for Brain Pickings)

The Road To Resilience: How Unscientific Innovation Saved Marlin Steel – Innovation doesn’t always have a fancy touchscreen or a higher connection speed, but it does always involve thinking outside the box. (Charles Fishman for Fast Company)

Weekly Best Reads 007

After a couple amazing weeks in Europe and a long, jet-lagged 4th of July weekend, Weekly Best Reads is struggling to recover its mojo. Luckily, there were still a few great reads from the last few weeks:

Mysterious Radio Bursts Come From Outside Our Galaxy – Seriously, what are these? (John Timmer for Ars Technica)

Uncovering The Mystery Behind An Atlantic Tsunami – Filed under “another strange happening in the universe,” the Atlantic seaboard experienced a tsunami last month with no apparent cause. (Bradley Campbell for Rhode Island Public Radio)

Coffee and Tea In NYC – You know I can’t go a week (or three) without a link to a cool map. This weeks maps the density and brand penetration of coffee and tea shops in the city. (Andrea Moore for NYCEDC)

The Tesla Bubble Visualized – It is really amazing what Tesla the company has accomplished in the last 12 months, but it is truly astounding what the Tesla stock has risen to in that same time period. Possibly the biggest game of hot potato ever. (Vconomics)