Pockets of Blue

musings of my mind

Month: January 2006

Blogging about blogs about blogging

Blog.  I’m quickly growing tired of the term.  It’s kind of like "hot" in pop culture ("omg that’s soooooo hot") or "stress" of the 90s ("dude, stop stressin’ it").  In reality it’s just a "hip" way of saying web-log, or web-journal, or the space you can rant about whatever you want to the entire world. 

Over the past few days I’ve learned quite a few things about blogs in general (through a former RIT student’s new company that I just happened to stumble upon via Google), as well as my own audience for this blog.  I’m proud to say that I didn’t learn a thing from the aformentioned site’s "writing for the web" article (guess I’m just a natural), but his views on human interfaces and the world of blogging were quite interesting.  Also, I had thought that my audience was almost entirely family, but in reality it’s only a part.  This was due to the large proportion of comments coming from family rather than friends.  After all, comments are my only form of direct feedback relating to the blog, so through them I perceive my audience.  Tell me what you think!

I should mention that TypePad keeps fairly detailed statistics on the traffic coming to the site (including referrers), so I have a fairly good idea of the volume of visitors I get to the blog and related photo albums.  However, it’s impossible to tell exactly who has been frequenting this site, so all you freaky voyeurs out there are safe (well for now, until I install an automated IP-address identification tool…hahaha, kidding…I’m not that vain).

All in all, though, I am pleased with the traffic and positive feedback, and am very glad I started this site in the first place.  But we all know communication is a two-sided activity, and each party motivates the other…so don’t be afraid to drop a line.

Blog bliggity blog blog bloggity bliggity blogg!

A Lesson Learned

Right before Christmas break started our Methods of AI class was assigned a programming assignment, to be due the second monday of classes after break. This left the class an ample four weeks to do the necessary research, ask questions, and program a solution. Naturally, I never even glanced at any of my course materials over the entire break (it’s called vacation for a reason). These three weeks of zero academic responsibility weren’t very good for my self-motivation skills; thus Friday rolled around and I still hadn’t started the assignment. In class, near the end, someone spoke up about having a lot of tests next week and how it would be difficult to study and complete the project over the weekend. We had a short discussion and our professor said he would think about it and to keep an eye on our email inbox over the weekend. So, saturday rolled around and I spent a few hours working on it, getting accustomed to the domain of the problem (a formal logic representation of a travel problem). I hosted a party that night, which was great, and left me rather hungover for a good chunk of Sunday. At around 3-4 I started really attacking the problem, and by 11 PM or so I was ready to start the programming aspect (after completing the logical representation part). Midnight rolls around and I’m progressing well, until I hear that the extension had indeed been given. Just before midnight the professor had emailed everyone in the class to give the extension, 12 HOURS before it was due! This was so outrageous (extensions of any sort are laughably improbable at RIT, not to mention weekend communication with professors) that I immediately ceased working on the project, and instead am writing what you’re currently reading. Hahaha, oh yes.

Europe is great.

But it’s too bad I just chugged all that coffee…

The Austrian Alps

Skiing in the Alps lives up to it’s hype…and then some.  It was easily the best skiing I have enjoyed in my life, and I don’t think there exists a better place for it…there’s a reason why all the winter olympic alpine competitions are dominated by the Austrians and Swiss.

I spent five full days and six nights in Bad Gastein, Austria.  The train ride down was around 10 hours, but passed fairly quickly as I had reservations on each train and slept for at least half the ride.  Very nice, since I was battling a pretty fierce cold at the time.  I changed trains at Hannnover and München, and rode all the way into Bad Gastein, directly south of Salzburg and in the heart of the Alps. 

In total there are three villages and five very skiable mountains in the spectacular Gastein valley.  Some of the mountains are connected by trails, but most you have to take a bus to.  Check out this link for a map of the area (Just download the .gif provided at the bottom if the navigation doesn’t work).  Each mountain has it’s own character, and fantastically varied trails are abound (supposedly 860 km of them total in the valley).

So at 4:30 PM or so I arrived in Bad Gastein.  By then it was dark out and snowing very heavily.  Hardly anything was plowed so I had to haul my enormous suitcase through 3-4 inches of snow until I finally reached the hostel.  After checking in and taking a shower I headed upstairs to have some dinner and a few beers with a few English dudes, who I ended up hanging out with for the first few days.  The hostel was really great, the dorms were downstairs and had a nice, big, clean shower/bathroom/washroom area.  Upstairs there was the reception area connected to a large, cozy TV room area with a few computers for internet access.  I must say I have missed TV in my few months here in Germany, so I spent a lot of time soaking up its glow.  Also there was a dining room (serving delicious Austrian food) and two bars, the downstairs one looking more like a sauna than a bar.  It was completely decked out in wood from ceiling to floor and was pretty cozy.  In another room was the (free) breakfast-eating area, with a view of the slope across the street.

Sometime that night I had a weird feeling of fluid build-up in my ears…turns out they had gotten inflamed during the day.  Thus, the next morning I woke up early and sought out a doctor (never had an ear infection that I can remember), who gave me some antibiotics.  After picking up skis and a lift ticket, I headed to the mountain. 


100_0662_1
The view from the hostel, looking at the bottom of
Stubnerkogel (click to enlarge)

The lift you see there is the one I headed up after a short wait.  It is a nice, fast gondola going all the way to the summit.  I never timed how long it took, but I want to say around 10-15 minutes or so (Definitely longer than it would take to get down 🙂  So I skiied all day, all on Stubnerkogel’s front slopes.  It was a pretty messy day and I spent a good part of it tumbling down the slopes after mishandling a ski/myself/my speed.  Soon this would change, and by the end of the day I had almost gotten my legs back.

The next day I got up early (it had snowed all evening) and was determined to hit some of the fresh show.  And did I ever, oh my.  It was a bit clearer that day (first day at the summit the visibility was about 20 meters) so I realized there was a trail I hadn’t realized existed going to the back of the mountain.  I took it and was rewarded with the finest skiing of my life.  The slopes were nice and steep, but more importantly with a fresh 3-4 inch layer of white, crisp, virgin snow.  I was in ecstacy the first few runs; it’s indescribable how enjoyable carving nice long turns is in such snow.  Furthermore, it was still snowing, and the kind where you can see the unique character of every single flake as it lands on your glove.  Fantastic.  After a view luscious runs I made my way down to Skizentrum Angertal, then up the facing mountain, Schlossalm, for the first time.  It was still early enough that the wait was short, and I headed up.  For the first run I took one of the intermediate side trails all the way to the bottom, and it was great.  Like skiing through butter.  It wound back and forth, both down gradual and very steep pitches under arched bridges and sharp, narrow paths to the bottom.  That ended up being the most enjoyable run of my life, and I never did run it again because I knew it wouldn’t compare to the first.  At the bottom I waited forever to get onto the lift up (by this time I was in Bad Hofgastein).  The lift here was actually a kind of railway shuttle that took 85 people at a time.  Once you got off that there was another wait for the next type of shuttle to carry you to the top (Think of a gondola, but 15x bigger and carrying 85 people at a time).  At the top I did a few runs and spent most of the day on Schlossalm, eventually skiing my way back to Bad Gastein by 4 PM.

The next day was clear and beautiful.  The downside was a lack of fresh snow to ski on.  Ah well, I can’t have everything.  My goal for the day was checking out the rather intimidating expert trail on Stubnerkogel as well as the 14km (8.7 mile)-long H1 trail on Schlossalm.  The expert trail was kinda dumb, just a steeper version of the trails above and nice and icy where everyone had scraped the snow off.  My solution was finding pockets of collected snow to turn on, otherwise I would just slide down the ice and wipe out.  The H1 trail was legendary (it runs behind a large shoulder of Schossalm, separated from all the other trails) and I took a lot of pictures.  Eventually I made it back up and wanted to take advantage of its layout without stopping to take a picture every 100m.  So I bombed down it like it was meant to be skiied.

By the fourth day I had tired of Stubnerkogel/Schlossalm and wanted to check out something else.  At this point I was a better skiier than I had ever been and was feeling pretty confident, so I was looking for some more challenging runs.  Apparently Sportgastein had some unmaintained "natural" runs so I wanted to take a bus over there.  Unfortunately (at the time), the first bus I hopped on went to Graukogel instead.  So I thought I’d check out the runs and head over to Sportgastein for the afternoon since this would be my last day of skiing.  Well, after a few runs I realized that Graukogel was pretty kickass in its own right (even though the lifts were slow 2-seaters).  It had 3 real nice expert-level trails, 2 of them covered in moguls.  I was totally into moguls by this time as they were the only real challenge left, and ran them for most of the day.  The blue side trail was very nice too, winding with lots of room for creativity (read: taking "shortcuts" through the woods).  I never made it to Sportgastein for I was having far too much fun.

Most of that evening was spent at the bar, and eventually at a club down the street with a few Aussies and other Americans.  The next day was pretty slow, so I sat around watching movies and eventually  checked out the spa cuz it was supposedly world-renowned.  Well, it was pretty damn nice and put the spa here in Osnabrück to shame.  The best part was the outdoor heated spa area.  You sit in a pool of bubbly, 32°C water while breathing in the fresh, crisp mountain air.  Then you go and run around in the snow for awhile, pegging one another with snowballs until you realize you’re freezing, at which time you jump back in the water.  Fun stuff.

That night I was to catch a 9 PM night train to Essen in northern Germany.  Well, I showed up at 9 and looked at the board (each train station has a board listing the daily train schedule for the stop) and realized my train wasn’t there.  This put me off a bit but I waited for a half-hour or so anyway, then walked back to the hostel thinking the train didn’t exist.  The really nice kid at the desk heard my story and called Die Bahn, who said the train was late, really late.  So I headed back to the train station and waited for an hour or so before running into the conductor, who graciously told me my train had come and gone.  Thanks for the announcement at 9, asshole.  So I booked another night at the hostel and took a 9 am sunday train back to Salzburg, München, Hannover, and eventually Osnabrück.  Sans reservations, which sucked.

Looking back on it, I should have bought a five-day pass and explored Sportgastein that fifth day.  No matter though, for I will be back.  Someday, I promise.  It’s just that good.

year++;

Another arbitrary point in time has passed, and we must now increment the last segment of our written dates. But really, it’s 2006, and the year will frame quite a few significant events of my life…my return to the States, college graduation, and introduction to the wide world of real work. I don’t like the fact that my first awakening in 2006 was accompanied by a myriad of cold symptoms, but I’m trying not to treat it as an omen…

For tomorrow I hop a train for Bad Gastein, Austria. Apparently I waited too long in reserving train seats, for my first and second choices for routes were both full from the ICE connection between Hannover and München. I managed to get a seat on one of the earliest trains, which bumps my departure time up to 6 AM from Osnabrück. Yet due to the magic of train travel (just hop on and go, no security checks, zero wait) I can actually take the bus down to the Hauptbanhof rather than walking the 1 km+ with all my baggage like earlier this break to get to the bus stop on the way to the airport…I have been totally psyched for this trip for about a month and tomorrow will mark by introduction to the Austrian Alps….sweet.

A few days ago I returned from a week-long vacation with my great-aunt and uncle Louise and Ernest in southeast England. I had a marvelous time spending the holidays with them, from seeing my first Pantomime (in all of it’s sexual ambiguity) to the annual Quality St. Christmas party. All of these events were interspersed with fine dining throughout and some delicious meals from the ever-modest Louise. On the 23rd I ventured into London again solo, and saw Westminster Abbey and the Tate Modern. Both were great, Westminster Abbey being especially spectacular. Their photo ban was a bit annoying, but surely helps preserve the incredibly rich, ancient atmosphere. On the last evening I was treated to a performance of “Once in a Lifetime,” a comedy that I truly enjoyed. It was quite interesting seeing British actors/actresses portraying Americans, complete with our accents (which were very well done and usually not over-the-top). Thanks again Louise and Ernest for your hospitality!

It’s been very quiet here in the apartment as only Christina and I are around…last night I attended a new year’s party at a friend’s apartment, which was very nice. It was just a quiet get-together with seven of us total. Just past midnight we wandered down to the street to shoot off the obligatory fireworks, which were a riot. Apparently there aren’t any restrictions on fireworks in Germany because the street was like a war zone, with bottle rockets and firecrackers going off at a chaotic rate…it seemed like every single resident was down on the street setting off fireworks, to the dismay of passing motorists! Being a bit of a pyro I had a lot of fun *mischievous grin*.

May 2006 bring everyone good health and good times!

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