Wednesday, August 30, 2006

M&M Reward


How about 2 million M&Ms for returning Munch's Scream, stolen from an Olso museum? Any takers? They are the dark ones.

Heading to the US Tomorrow

I have been quiet, as I have been very busy getting work taken care of so we can leave tomorrow. I am looking forward to returning, but not looking forward to the flight, if that makes sense.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Criterium Tomorrow

I had about two minutes of excitement from when a coworker informed me there was a crit almost across the street, until I found out it cost about $100 to enter and it had a 40,000nok total purse. There are just three race categories: juniors, women, and men. To be fair, it includes a time trial, hour long crit, and a hundred mile road race. I believe it is the Skagen Crit that has been bumped from downtown due to road construction. I also believe it is for semi-pros. Regardless, I already missed the entry date--- like I would have even had a chance. At least I can always watch.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Interesting Day

I did not bike to work today. Rather we had the ultrasound at the hospital. As this is not a parenting blog, I will just leave it as this: it was one of the coolest things I have ever seen and experienced. We certainly knew there was something lively inside, as we have been able to feel him (as we found out today) for a few weeks already. Everything looks great and healthy. Also, we are further along that we realized-- are most likely looking at a Christmas baby, rather than in mid January. I realize billions of people have gone through pregnancy and birth, but when it happens to you, it is an entirely different story. I am so accustomed to tuning people out when they discuss such matters. Now I am beginning to relate.

After work, I went to an event sponsored by the British Embassy. The world's second largest oil messe is in town. I had a nice meeting with the Oslo representatives. I would have sworn they were Brits rather than Norwegian, by the way they spoke.

On a related note, the other day when I was cycling past the Statoil station down the street, I noticed they had constructed grandstands facing a gas pump. It made no sense until I saw the news last night. It is a hydrogen "pump." There are all sorts of hydrogen concept cars in town. They look cool, although the Mazda sports car mysteriously loses 140 horsepower when running on hydrogen.

What is wonderful about today's high oil prices is that companies can afford to drill responsibly. They have never paid so much attention to the environment (in the north sea) as they do today. Maybe there is hope for the future.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Suit That Fits

Last October I purchased two new suits before moving here. It was probably not a smart time to buy clothes, since I had been biking 40 miles a day on my commutes to work. Commuting in particular keeps me in the perfect cardio zone. My suits fit perfectly.

By Christmas, after having no gym membership, constant rain, dark days, and general ennui, they no longer fit so well. They still fit, but not like they did a few months earlier. I next wore them after returning from the first trip to India-- over May 17th. We had eaten at four star restaurants nonstop for a week. Again, the fit just wasn't there.

Yesterday, everything was back to normal.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Oslo

I flew to Oslo today- left at 8:15 and was home by 5:30ish. I spent less time in the air than I would spend in busy Twin Cities traffic. We had a great meeting. When I arrived home I noticed in the news that a Russian plane crashed. Not at all a happy thought.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Blue Monday

Not my mood, but an obscure New Order reference. We were looking out the office window at work and saw a huge ship heading toward Stavanger. Ola pulled up this site and we found out it was some 300m long cruise ship heading toward downtown. The info here is amazing. It is probably of little interest to anyone outside the region, but hey. Here it is.

Thunderstorm

Yesterday evening I could see huge thunderheads across the mountains- a rare sight. Gradually it grew darker and darker. Eventually I heard my first thunder around here. It made my day. There wasn't much, but it gave me a fix until I am back in the US.

This morning, there was a mammoth mushroom cloud over the ocean, illuminated by the sun rising in the east. At maybe seven or eight miles tall, it could easily be over a hundred miles away. It was a natural work of art.

I rode to work today. It was about 60-ish. Not too cool. Tomorrow I travel to Oslo for the day, so no biking to work. I am becoming intimately familiar with the Sola airport. I will be on Norwegian Airline, which is an experience. It is ideal for work travel. I grab my laptop bag, head straight to the gate, show my driver's license, and sit anywhere I want on the plane. No standing in line at check-in. We then catch a ticketless train to downtown Oslo. I swipe my credit card to board, and to leave the station. I am then charged for how far I have traveled. I know the routine already.

It was interesting having the Americans visiting. They spent most of their time on Kvits√ły at a summer home. They have already seen far more of Norway than I have. Our visits have been to see family in the past. Now that we live here, I only do work travel. I really need to explore this country more.

I am feeling much better today. I think that the air pollution in Chennai really started to affect me. It is too easy to take clean air and water for granted. India has neither.

Yesterday Lise picked a bunch of blackberries and blueberries growing wild in our neighborhood, then made a smoothie. Wild berries grow all over in this area. It isn't often we can be hunter-gatherers of our own food. For dinner we had cod that the Americans caught- another local food.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Class Reunion

Warning: the following blog post is decidedly maudlin. The self-serving remarks are the sole result of posting on a Sunday, and are not the views normally held by the author on any other days of the week. Tomorrow we will return to your regularly scheduled postings of biking, work, and life in Norway.

My twenty year class reunion is nearing--- Labor Day weekend. It will be our first time back in the US since we moved. I must be getting old and sentimental, because I actually am looking forward to this.

For many years, I had a real ambivalence about the 80s and my high school experience. Pardon me while I wax autobiographical for a moment. I am from a small town that much resembles Mayberry. It has changed a little with the recent influx of Mexican laborers who work in the non-union factories in town— and from the newly built riverboat casino. But back when I lived there, it was your typical mid-American town of about 2000 people.

I don’t think it is any secret that I really didn’t like living there at the time. There were simply too few people. I graduated in a class of 54 students. It is just a step or two beyond a one room school house. But don’t think for a minute that the size of the school had anything to do with academic quality. Our class was off the charts in standardized test results, college entrance exams, etc. Hey, it was Iowa. At least I realized that high school would never be “the best years of my life.” My goal was to get a decent education and go off to college. Beyond that I had no clue what I would do.

I also figured out that I could get an almost free education through scholarships, so I threw myself at getting good grades and ended up with a bunch of scholarships that paid for most of my education at a private university—but that is another story altogether. Somehow, I ended up as class valedictorian. It generally is not the best path to social popularity to be that academic, but it was a small town where everyone played a variety of roles. I doubt I could have ever played football or basketball as I had, if I went to a metro school.

With just 54 students, we all knew each other too well. Most of us began kindergarten together. I think I knew everyone’s parents. There is something claustrophobic about spending years in that kind of environment, where most peoples’ destinies are well-established before first grade. But it doesn’t really matter. We were all in the same boat, and tried to make the best of it. I am sure that if I went to a huge school, there would have been an entirely different set of “issues.”

To make high school even more challenging, at the height of my need to establish my independence, I was attending the same school where my father taught. Children of known authority figures, like clergy, police, or teachers, are usually socially doomed in some way. Actually, I think that I managed the circumstances OK. In hindsight, I didn’t have to endure any of the cruel hazings that many of my classmates went through. So my parentage definitely had some benefits.

Of course, life at college quickly confirmed how different life could be elsewhere. I loved college life— for the most part. Some of the late-80s materialism was a bit much, and career-wise, with a full twelve years of Reagan-Bush politics, I was a little nihilistic by the end. MBA grads were taking tickets in movie theaters— I certainly wasn’t ramping up to fit into a specific career. Besides, everyone drummed that businesses all want liberal arts grads. That was a myth that should have been debunked a long time ago. But there I was. I figured my major really wouldn't matter much anyway. We were all supposed to be dead from a nuclear blast well before my student loans would ever be paid off. It was a real zeitgeist.

I never really kept in touch with my high school classmates. I attended the five and ten year reunions. I skipped number 15, as it seemed to be a meaningless interval. Five years is probably too soon. Not much happens the first five years anyway.

My parents are not from the town where they still live. I doubt they ever imagined they would live there the rest of their lives when they moved there some 40 years ago. We have no ancestral roots there. I actually wouldn’t object if they retired somewhere warm, but I don’t see that happening. Most of my classmates who still live in the area probably have family going back at least 100 years. I have never felt those kinds of roots, but I respect those that do.

It is strange that I ended up so far from home— in Norway of all places. I can assure you that there was nothing in my past that would have predicted this. I was the guy who turned down a semester abroad during college because, well, I really don’t know. Somehow I had some idea that travel abroad was really, really foreign. I had never flown on a commercial plane until I was in my mid-20s. Before meeting my wife, I had only flown three times. Now, there are some months when I fly three times.

I guess where I am going with this is that for me, this reunion is a little like holding a mirror to my life. I really don’t care to compare my life with what my classmates have done, although I am sure some comparisons are inevitable. Rather, it symbolizes “what have I done the past twenty years?” Twenty years? I was only 17 when I graduated!

When I think back to being 17, nothing in my life has turned out like I expected it to—mainly because I had no expectations. I had no game plan, no timelines, no agenda. Some people may consider that to be a little aimless or unfocused, but all along the way my needs have always been met. Besides, getting there is half the fun. On the big things, like moving to Norway, we carefully planned and mapped out as much as we could. But even so, it involved a huge leap of faith, since not everything can be planned —we had no jobs waiting for us, for example.

Rather than regarding these “how did I get here” absurdities as Zelig moments, they just illustrate how small the world is, and how easy it is to reshuffle the deck and make huge changes with our lives.

But back to the reunion: I am genuinely looking forward to it. It is interesting how time can color my perspective. We all went to the same school and shared most of the same realities for a major portion of our most formative years. All things considered, I had it easy in high school compared to many people. And I don’t take myself too seriously to be able to see those years for what they really were- a rather innocent time when we weren’t really kids and we weren’t yet adults. And I could have lived in a larger city or attended a larger school and faced an entirely different set of issues, or my life may have turned out exactly the same way.


There is really only one thing missing in my life, and that is well on its way and due in January. OK, in all fairness, that is also something we carefully planned out. They say no one is really ever ready to be parents, but can’t imagine that we would ever be more ready.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

End of Week Recap

Tuesday was a blur- catch-up after a week out of the office. Wednesday flew by as well. I picked up my mountain bike after sending it on Monday for its three month checkup. The bearing was fixed, and the shifting is perfect. I would have fixed both, but I just didn't have the time. I was annoyed that they wet lubed my chain, but I guess it is a matter of taste. This isn't my rain bike. Afterward I picked up some American friends and helped get them to the ferry. Thursday? I can barely remember. Friday I think that I started to crack. I have been running at full speed for weeks. I just didn't feel right and left work early, having no energy. Later we went to Kvitsoy. I returned on the mid-morning ferry, and Lise on the evening ferry. I am still tired. Next week I travel to Oslo for the day on Tuesday. I am booked full until we leave for the US at the end of the month. I need a vacation, but I fear it will be even more running around as we scramble to see everyone.

Monday, August 14, 2006

It Can Happen to You

Last night we arrived at the airport three hours ahead of time as recommended. There was a heavy rain, forcing hundreds of Indians waiting for friends and relatives under the entrance overhang. In Chennai, people must pay money to wait for people inside the airport, so indoors is usually reserved for the stereotypic "driver holding a sign," although there is no shortage of those outdoors either. At any rate, there was a huge bottleneck to get into the airport.

Once inside, we were told we had to wait 45 minutes to actually enter the airport area, since our flight was leaving at 1:45am-- later than two other wide body planes heading further east. After our wait, there was a mess to get to the luggage scanners. In Chennai, they are in the middle of airport-- you actually watch your checked luggage being scanned. They had warnings about no liquids, gels, extra batteries, and who knows what else in carry-on luggage, so I repacked my laptop battery in my checked luggage. The real security hole with this is that they place security tape over your scanned luggage and give it back to you to approach check in. Of course, somebody could have something entirely improper in their jacket or purse, which is NOT scanned at this point. They could then slip it into a pocket of their scanned and sealed luggage, and it would be placed into the hold without further scanning. They use orange "security" tape and they don't "seal" every flap and zipper in a soft side case. I don't like this set up of returning luggage to passengers for check in. After being scanned, we should never see it again.

My boss and I joked around about asking for a business class upgrade. I suggested that we not ask, and offered an explanation that I believed people were more generous under those circumstances (since if you ask, they are responding to your asking, not acting generously of their own volition). While checking in, I was a little concerned when I noticed that we had the wrong rows on our tickets. I was in row 12 and he was in row 11- rather than 54 and 55 respectively. At the point I was about to ask about it, the ticketing agent told us we had been upgraded to business class. We decided this was indeed an auspicious day for travel.

We next endured another hour waiting for immigration control. Most countries don't seem to care who leaves, but not India. Cruelly, they had only one agent working our serpentine line, until reinforcements finally arrived. We headed upstairs, and my boss insisted that we wait in the Lufthansa Business Lounge, since we had tickets. We had to sort out a few issues with that, since we needed invitations that we did not possess to enter the lounge without charge, but we shortly agreed to pay the 300 rupees for the two of us. In other words, it was around $3 each, and we had free beverages and food. We eventually stood up to leave when a flight attendant infomed us that the plane was not boarding, and that she would tell us when it was. We waited another hour, then were whisked to the front of yet another security check-in for our carry-ons and then to the front of the boarding line. We were soon in our seats.

Keep in mind that this is a 9.5 hour flight. Our seats were so huge that I almost needed to undo my seatbelt to reach into the pocket in front of me. Our food was served on linen table clothes, with cloth napkins. We were served in real glassware. Lufthansa has always seemed to have steel "silverware"- so no broken plastic sporks. They had a brief wine list and menu. The seats reclined way, way back (without bothering those behind us). The most cheerful flight attendants worked our section. Even the bathroom was much larger. We were in heaven. I doubt I can ever go back to flying economy class.

I slept much of the night, if you consider they served us dinner at 3am. I also caught glimpses of a terrible Bruce Willis movie, 16 Bocks, although Mos Def was quite good (despite his irritating, affected voice). When we arrived in Frankfurt, we stopped for coffee. Like our flight out, the service was horrible. I believe that the business model is such that airport restaurants expect ZERO return business from customers. While I admire German efficiency in most areas, airport food service is not one of them. After a three hour layover we were on our plane to Norway. On board there was a group of maybe eight Russian men drinking vodka and eating McDonalds that they had carried on. It seemed one was always squeezing by to head towards the bathroom. They were loud, but more amusing than obnoxious. Later, several were smoking in the airport restroom-- something not permitted in Norway (although, I am quite sure it is completely socially acceptable to smoke at church in Germany).

Lise picked me up at the airport. She is showing quite a bit more than when I left-- or maybe it just seems that way. It is great to be home again and to breath fresh air. The pollution in Chennai was so terrible that it made my eyes water and throat burn. India already seems like it was only a dream, or a distant memory. It is such a different world that little of it carries over into life in Norway. After catching up, I took a long shower and washed the remnants of the past week away. All I need to do now is stay awake long enough to watch my Swedish "soap opera."

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Notes on Chennai

I have been very busy all week. Too busy to blog. We have literally worked from 10am to midnight daily-- if you count our working dinners. Although we have spend some time in Indian homes. The first was a few days ago when we stopped by a Swedish family's house. They have lived here almost 13 years. A few nights ago we stopped by our designer's house to view his art gallery. His work is excellent-- what I would consider decorative abstract style. I would love to buy a triptych for our new house, but I have no clue how to get them back to Norway. I also feel like I would be exploiting him, even at his asking price. He lived with his wife's parents. Tonight we ate dinner at another employee's home, and met her husband, two children, and her mother. Her kids spoke better English than most of our employees. It was a little uncomfortable since they had already eaten, so the watched us eat. Also, the glasses and plates had a little water on them when our food was served from being washed. That always makes me EXTREMELY nervous. I didn't eat much. I was obsessed with thinking about the source of that water. If it was tap water, I will have a hellish flight home tomorrow night. My presumption is that she knows better. Tap water will even make Indians ill, but my understanding is that quantity matters, and many locals can tolerate incidental doses of it. Nonetheless, it is nice seeing how real people live--- particularly our employees. It is nice to know they live comfortably. We see people of all types everywhere, and I have no idea what our people do or where they go when they are not at work. Tomorrow is my last day here for awhile. Already we are discussing when I will return.

Tomorrow night we fly back to Norway. The flight leaves at almost 2am. It is a horrible time to fly. I am guessing the plane will be empty, since the Indian Independence Day is on the 15th. Each year the State Department warns Americans about being in India. It isn't related to any particular intelligence other than the fact that terrorists love to show off on Independence Day. As for the flight, we can use a carry-on, but no liquids or gels. That is fine with me. Last time my boss had to send his laptop into the checked luggage, he never saw it again. I pity the poor Americans who cannot take their laptops with them. The damage/baggage loss waivers won't cover the price of a missing laptop, and there is no choice. Historically they have recommended NOT to check fragile or essential items. Now they are forcing people to do so-- and they are basically uninsured. Seems like a genius business model.

I find the US airlines' reaction to the recent news in the UK to be a bit extreme. While I want safe travel as much as anyone, life goes on. To live in fear is to let terrorists "win." Still, I don't understand the terrorists' fascination with planes. There are far less secure targets available that can provide even more damage. It seems that they have converged on airlines in a cat and mouse game, as a way to snub their noses at the safety precautions that have already been put in place. Still, it never seems to end.

When I look at Tamil Nadu, the Indian state where Chennai is located, the population is mostly Hindu. Last night we waited for a table at a hotel bar/nightclub, and it seemed odd to see women wearing pants and sleeveless tops. Southern Indians dress very modestly. A local hotel was shut down for two weeks when a photograph of an Indian couple kissing was published in a local paper. When we walked by the hotel bare where it occurred, there were two huge signs forbidding cameras in the bar. Western movies are censored so they do not show kissing on screen. Most of the women wear saris around here. Young people of both genders usually live with their parents until they are married-- and even then, they often continue living with a parent. Love marriages are almost non-existent. Rather, they are almost always arranged. Young people in generally accept these cultural values. Despite the emergence of a thriving middle-class, traditional values are still intact. They are not at war with the world. I see countless Hindus with marks of various colors on their foreheads to denote a ritual to their demigod. These people are taking their economic and social transformation in stride. Meanwhile, just to the north is Pakistan, where it appears most of the London terrorists have their roots.

Chennai Revisited





Friday, August 11, 2006

And Now for Something Completely Different

Rather than dwelling on the terrorism alert that the US State Department is issuing to Americans in Mumbai, Kolkata, and Delhi, I present you with this, which offers a pointed insight into an issue that any foreign traveler to India can relate.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Back in India






I made it. A strong storm hit just as we were leaving the airport. It is late. I am tired.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Mr. Grumpy

Windows IS a Virus
The other day our home PC had another meltdown. It has had a dubious past. It was a white box PC custom built for my music studio. At the time, Rambus seemed like a good idea. A few years ago, within a week, the IBM hard drive (which was also highly recommended at the time) had the dreaded click of death, and the mobo completely fried. Thanks to ebay I was able to replace the mobo, and I swapped out the IBM for a cheapo hard drive.

I started running into some data corruption issues-- blue screens of death and a bizarre issue where no network settings were accessible in the control panel. I had to reinstall Windows XP a few times over the years, but it was of little consequence as this box was retired from music duty. Just before moving here, it had another meltdown, so I installed a second version of XP on the same drive. Everything was moving along smoothly until Monday, when the PC would boot, flash a BSOD, and reboot--- in an endless loop. I thought the hard disk was acting up, so I purchased a new one. Last night I installed it and rebuilt everything. I was a happy camper until Windows Update came along and I was back to square one! Endless rebooting. On a fresh install of XP on a brand new hard drive! This was immediately after Windows Update. There was no system recovery that could fix this. I was livid. An entire evening wasted by Microsoft.

Today I booted from another HD and accessed and edited the hive file to fix the rebooting loop. I then reinstalled XP and was up and running quite quickly. Still, I hate this incompetent product, and am seriously considering Linux at this point. At least I can have fun fussing with it. At least I can get even with MS at work. They like to think they are a competitor to us.

Part II
I am mildly grumpy tonight for other reasons. It is very light out at 10pm- hot and rather humid. I am leaving for India again in a few days. I wish I wasn't taking a chunk out of this beautiful summer. When I was preparing to move to Norway, I was preparing for the absolute worst. This summer has been the warmest in 105 years- a wonderful summer by any measure. I probably catch MORE sun than I did back in the US, since it doesn't get so ungodly hot that I try to stay in the shade. Today was actually hot. I was caught in a light shower as I commuted home from work with my laptop. I also had another small mountain bike crash as I caught the bars on a tree that I was trying to squeeze through. Yesterday it was a wet rock-- slippery than ice. Riding off the beaten path guarantees a few spills. I usually do not stray to far when I have the laptop bag, but this new area was a little too tempting to resist. I then made my way up by NATO headquarters, and found that they had closed my trail. I had discovered a route that was almost all off-road, or at least unpaved- from home to work. I guess I will be taking the road for this section for awhile. What is tragic is that NATO will waste this excellent view for some nondescript office building.

So I made it home early to fix the PC and to oil the terrace. I cleaned it the other night with some caustic chemical weapon that you can buy at the COOP. I was a little skeptical of its efficacy until the power sprayer we had borrowed from Lise's brother to rinse it off sprayed a little onto my arm. It had a pleasant burn to it, if you are into that sort of thing. I think it is some sort of hardcore base. At this point I felt sorry for all the little critters living beneath the terrace, which accounts for our entire backyard. Of course tonight, there is too much chance for rain, so I will wait until tomorrow. Ordinarily, I would pay someone to handle these sorts of tasks, but it simply isn't done around here. I cannot think of an analogy, but the only reason I might be able to wiggle out of my home ownerly responsibility would be because I was a crazy American. So everyone paints their own homes, fixes up their own houses, and so on. Besides, what better way to meet your neighbors. Mine almost seemed offended that I hadn't asked to borrow his power sprayer. I also joked that I didn't fully grasp the metric system, and had purchased 50m of garden hose. Actually I was well aware of the length, but it was the economy of scale that appealed to me. 50m costs only slightly more than 20m. And besides, this is some crazy German hose-- the only option in hose- and it is pure hose. There are no connectors. Those are an added expense. I figured I would just cut the hose and buy a few extra sets of couplers so I could use it more efficiently. Or, if you know anyone who needs some hose, let me know.

So hopefully tomorrow I can finish outside. Tomorrow Lise's parents will be staying "in town" so they can catch a very early flight out of here. Later we will pick up some Americans that will be staying here for a night or two while they are around. Sunday I leave for India.

So I am a little grumpy because I planned for the worst. I never really wanted to move here in the first place, and was so emotionally prepared for hardship and suffering, that I don't really know how to deal with everything being perfect. Lise and I were joking how the dishwasher still isn't perfectly mounted (I don't have the tools right now). She put it into perspective by saying that within the last year, we sold our house and cars, quit our jobs, moved abroad, found new jobs, a car, a house-- so we can get things done. So it really doesn't matter if we take a time out from painting while the weather is so nice. Or that I don't mount the dishwasher perfectly right now. We take care of the things that really matter. The other part of the "everything is turning out better than planned" is that we are expecting a baby in January. We wanted to wait until we moved here, but I never dreamed we would be situated so well, so quickly. I would have never anticipated how wonderful this all is. The waiting business is a little strange. Metaphorically, I feel like a little kid already counting down the days until Christmas-- when the days just creep by, barely moving. Usually, as an adult, Christmas is here and gone before we know it. Of course, the other aspect is that we won't know exactly when it will happen. But this is way cooler than just a having a live-in designated driver for months on end.

It is getting late. I have bike to work daily for the past three weeks, except once when I was running a little late and discovered a flat tire. The hills for the commute can get to me. When I take the long way home, it has 1000ft of climbing. When I am tired, I don't like thinking about it. The distance is nothing-- but there is nowhere to ride without some interesting topography.