Recent Reads

München

I didn’t know what to expect from this city, especially after seeing this welcome sign while waiting for our baggage:

Welcome to Munich!
With safety it’s a pleasure

Hmmm. I guess that’s good. I like safety. But anyway, for a city that is nearly 1,000 years old, and named after monks (was every european city founded by them???), I should not have been surprised to learn that Munich was the center of the counter-reformation. However, since I don’t know my history very well, I was. This was confirmed by the “heartfelt welcome” I received from the holy father a little later in the trip.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Our first act in Munich, if I remember correctly (which is doubtful given the mind-numbing jet lag that is required to traverse 133 degrees of longitude), was to find a cafe in our neighborhood. We eventually succeeded in getting some coffee and mozzarella and tomato sandwiches from a streetcorner deli, but not before going through the awkwardness of sitting down at an outdoor cafe, failing to grasp the german menu, and having to get up and leave after 10 minutes when the waitress came by and failed to grasp our failure to grasp the menu. Clearly we should have done a little more german language preparation before going on this trip. Luckily, we are possessed with unflagging American optimism, so we elected not to catch the next flight west and instead pushed on to explore the city.

What a city it is! Most of the inner city is pedestrian-only, or at least pedestrian friendly, and the (clean, quiet, frequent) subway (U-bahn) is like nothing I’ve seen elsewhere. The seats look like they came from Ikea (in a good way), and since they use the honor system for tickets, there are no annoying fare gates to pass through. But the most striking thing is the sound – these trains are almost silent, even through curves and underground. For a system that opened in 1971 (one year before BART), it really puts BART to shame in terms of both comfort and efficiency.

But enough about trains. Munich, being the capital city of Bavaria, is the home of Bavarian Motor Works, so of course we paid a visit to the newly-opened BMW Welt on the morning of our second day there. This turned out to be the right time to visit, because in addition to having a fantastic showroom of BMW’s of all shapes and sizes, you can rent almost any BMW currently in production for, well, a tiny fraction of the cost of owning one, and since we were there in the morning, we could pick one up for the entire day. So we did.

Since we hadn’t made any prior reservations, all of the super sporty cars were unavailable…but nonetheless, our 330d wagon did not fail to impress. With more punch and better handling than any car I’ve driven before, this car knows how to be smooth, and it feels rock solid even cruising the autobahn somewhere north of 90 mph. After an entire afternoon of driving, we averaged around 42 mpg, and this is with a 3.0 liter and 240 horsepower! We took it about 110 miles outside Munich to Königssee, a popular lake situated in the Alps just outside Salzburg.

On the way we had the opportunity for our first truly Bavarian meal…käsespätzle.

Literally, this translates as “cheese sparrows”, but it actually is egg noodles with cheese. I know it doesn’t look like that much food on the plate, but I couldn’t even finish more than half of it, which says something about what strong constitutions the Bavarians must possess. I’m not sure exactly what it says, but it definitely says something.

I’m having a hard time summarizing my experience of the architecture of Munich, so I’ll just post a photo and let you draw your own conclusions. This view is from the top of St. Stephan’s cathedral (the 1st of many such named churches we visited on this trip).

The last place we visited before leaving Munich was the Viktualienmarkt, an open-air produce market that has been in existence since the early 1800’s. Clearly that has been costly, as a nice bunch of asparagus will set you back a cool €10.95 (~$16).

Which brings me to my last point: if you’re visiting Europe, make sure you bring lots of money. You will need it!

So It Goes

These might be the most beautiful two pages I have ever read:

Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this:

“American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France a few German fighter planes flew at the backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for the wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers in the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody again.

The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby, Billy Pilgrim supposed. That wasn’t in the movie. Billy was extrapolating. Everybody turned into a baby, and all humanity, without exception, conspired biologically to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed.”

– Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Liveblogging my workday

Most days, I leave work with a fairly high stress level and a sense that I didn’t get “enough” done. So today I’m writing everything I do, in painful detail, to hopefully get some traction on where my time is actually going. Hope it’s not too boring.

4:57 – time to meet and greet. should be fun to meet some cal students and try not to let them know how challenging this job is sometimes.

4:41 – getting nervous about presenting, can’t really focus any more. maybe i’ll update my address book to pass the time.

4:32 – helped another PM with his estimate on a much bigger project. finished my deliverables list, now to track down the originators and get the QA/QC forms signed. almost time to head downstairs to meet with future employees.

3:50 – helped field a call from a subcontractor who “really wants to join our team” for a couple projects. unfortunately, those ships have sailed. how do these people get our numbers, anyway? in this case, they actually cold called the office.

3:29 – filled out my timecard. downloaded the latest bridge inspection report from our florida office. almost done figuring out what our deliverables to date have been on this project.

3:21 – just helped a GIS pro translate some existing ground surfaces from .dtm to .xml. these surfaces are for the california high speed rail. really wish i could do some of the engineering for them!

3:07 – also, got sidetracked by this site (haven’t found a US equivalent yet), which tracks government spending and opens that information up in nice summaries to the public. this i like.

3:05 – just got word that one of our project reports has been approved! this document has taken about 30 months to complete, including public circulation and comment, and it means we can now move ahead with design. we got the final approving signature today!

2:51 – shooting the breeze. gossiping about the RFP intel. my e-mail now got forwarded to other offices – hope it was good intel. also, active for life conference call was good. some people are really doing cool things with this program!

2:35 – call finished. check out this quote from earlier linked article: between the dawn of civilisation and 2003, we only created five exabytes; now we’re creating that amount every two days. holy wow.

2:13 – spaced out and forgot to join a 2:00 conference call. just joined, hope nobody notices. got sidetracked by an e-mail that gave away some intel about how quickly the RFP will come out for a major project that we want to win. looks like it might come out next week, which could make me very busy.

1:46 – back on the estimate. got a revised one from one of our subs, updated our estimate. still need to cut a lot more.

1:30 – back at my cube after an extended lunch. some days i feel privileged to work where i do, and today is one of those days. we have a great leader who takes the time to mentor people.

12:00 – lunch. love lunch. vegetarian double-stuffed baked potato today!

11:30 – starting from scratch creating a deliverable list for a pretty large project is really awesome! just got a call that another person I’m having lunch with is here early, so I need to go kill some time with him before noon rolls around.

11:16 – sidetracked into monitor shopping. still watching the radar. now it’s time to fill out a spreadsheet with deliverables and track down the QA/QC forms for each one.

11:03 – here’s the link for how heavy the rain is. now, on to other things. having lunch with the regional manager today, need to come up with a few specific things i’d like to discuss. would salary be too obvious a choice?

11:00 – rain has been coming down really hard this morning. checking weather and river status sites, and yes, we have an urban and small stream flood advisory.

10:52 – discussion with PM and others, important project document might be approved today by important approver. also, celebration mugs that were ordered have shipped already. this is important stuff.

10:34 – I am like a quantum particle. When I observe my own behavior (by writing this post), my behavior changes to meet the expectations of the observer.

10:33 – ok, sent very watered-down e-mail asking for estimate reductions. i think i like negotiating. hopefully this will get us to where we need to be.

10:20 – about to lay the smack down via e-mail over this cost proposal. well, probably won’t actually, but I really would like to.

10:11 – updating cost estimate for upcoming BART project. trying to get our fee (and everyone else’s fee) down to a level that they can accept.

10:01 – just finished previous article. outstanding! our company puts an extremely high priority on safety, so I actually forwarded the blog to our safety officer. work accomplished? yes.

9:51 – loving this article (via schvin). reminds me of this blog.

9:44 – responding to e-mail and twitter about this post. *STILL NOT WORKING* :)

9:33 – discovered http://thinkquarterly.co.uk/ via twitter trending topics. looks interesting!

9:28 – checked facebook on my phone (blocked on company internet), linked to this post from twitter. must. do. real. work. now.

9:23 – finally, actually got around to putting presentation on thumb drive. procrastination strikes early and often, it appears.

9:18 – read strangers’ comments on blog posted by our wedding photographer. got warm fuzzies remembering the weekend.

9:13 – checked college basketball bracket, discussion about the possible fate of Arizona in tonight’s game. Consensus: Duke wins.

9:05 – finished presentation edits, saved to thumb drive.

8:55 – first hear about 6.8M Myanmar earthquake (3/24), read news, USGS site.

8:50 – start updating powerpoint to use at tonight’s student open house in our office.

8:44 – finished reading new work e-mail, surf internet.

8:38 – glance through shared magazines, initial and pass on.

8:35 – log in to my computer, open web browser, log in to work e-mail.

8:30 – arrive at work, stop at restroom.

8 Spruce Street

A Frank Gehry building just opened in NYC…



…and with over 900 residences, if you can handle $2,650/month for 500 sq ft, there’s probably room for you.

Missed It

Somehow, I didn’t feel this 4.5 magnitude earthquake yesterday at 6:20 pm. Strange.

The Unstoppable Dog

We happen to have this amazing dog, a chocolate lab named after a president (Ike), who pretty much demands no less than our full attention during his waking hours. Even a brief history of our life with him would fill a book, but since I don’t have time to write one, this recent picture will have to suffice:

Like most dogs, walking is his bread and butter, and his style of walking is the kind that will either strengthen or shatter most human shoulderblades that are on the other end of his leash. Basically, he pulls. All. the. time. We found this out when he was a puppy, and eventually found a workable solution in a “choke” collar, a device that would be an instrument of torture if his level of pain tolerance weren’t so high. Anyway, he doesn’t pull too much with the sharp teeth of the choke collar on, unless he sees another dog, or a cat, or a bird, or the wind blows, or a person a couple hundred yards away looks his direction, or a fly sneezes, or…you get the idea.

After nearly two years of doing these shoulder-strengthening exercises, I have developed a physique worthy of a world logging champion:

But, there’s more to life than being a world logging champion, so we have resumed our search for more humane methods of helping Ike slow down, preferably something that doesn’t include sharp self-tightening mechanisms that wrap around his throat. We seemed to have found one in a recent purchase ($31.99 for $1 dollar of nylon and $30.99 of packaging, shipping, and profit) that when installed simply loops two harnesses around him, one in front of his front legs and one behind them.

Somehow, this simple contraption causes him to change from a endlessly-bounding dog into a docile, sheep-like being who is content to walk as slowly and leisurely as one wishes. Evidently that $31.99 was well spent.

Except that now, going out on a walk with him on the new leash doesn’t even feel like walking with the same animal. Somehow, seeing him attempt with each step to infuse his normal energy into walking only to get discouraged by the hampering effects of the harness is a torture of a new kind. It’s like watching his spirit get slowly crushed into submission by a stupid little piece of nylon. Somehow, it seems like the choke collar is the more humane solution. Or, even better, we should just always go to the beach with no leash whatsoever.

The Sickness

I guess this about sums it up:

The flu is currently “widespread” throughout pretty much the entire country (except, of course, Hawaii). Somehow, this helps me feel slightly better about being sick.

Conference Championship

This week’s predictions – and for the record, I don’t actually want the Steelers to win, I just think they will.

Zeitoun

One of the most amazing stories I’ve ever read, Zeitoun follows the life of a New Orleans family through Hurricane Katrina and into the terrible aftermath. Without spoiling the plot, I’ll give a brief review.

Things I knew before reading this book:

1) The storm was very strong.
2) The breached levees left the city mostly underwater for a couple weeks.
3) Evacuating beforehand was difficult and painfully slow.

Things I didn’t know before reading this book:

1) The media created firestorms about horrific violence that was supposedly occurring, but most of that was speculation and acted as a cover for some groups to perpetrate racial and ethnic violence.
2) FEMA and police officers stocked themselves up after the storm by looting stores, while simultaneously arresting other people for doing the same thing.
3) The climate of fear allowed FEMA to arrest many people who stayed to protect their personal property, hold them without charging them, without a hearing or lawyer, without even a phone call, for weeks and even months.

I’m still struggling to grasp the implications of what people in official capacity did in their response to this storm, and am more than mildly concerned that so thin a line seems to exist between the actions required to restore order and the ease with which literal prison camps were constructed and their corresponding mentality of brutality, discrimination, subjugation, fear, and coercion took hold throughout the storm-ravaged region. While the effects from Katrina were bad, the response was exponentially worse.

And yet the story contains hope, as all good stories do, that the capacity to create, to protect, to believe, to (dare I say it) do the right thing remains an unstoppable force, even through the worst of times.

The Seattle Seahawks Won A Playoff Game!

…and here’s hoping they will do it again this week against the Bears!

This week’s predictions: