noideadog: (Default)
Something very exciting happened to me today. I was playing Words With Friends and I suddenly realised that I had the word LAQUER, and that I could put the Q on a triple letter square and then have the whole word cross a triple word square and get all of the points. Holy mackerel! Later, when I remembered that LAQUER isn't a word, I was a bit disappointed. That is how life goes.

Hello Livejournal! It's been a while really, hasn't it? How are you? I'm well. Life's pretty good. Here's a surprisingly good pictorial summary of what I've been up to for the last few months: https://plus.google.com/u/1/photos/109395676149872736665/posts?e=-RedirectToSandbox

I guess the biggest thing to mention is that I'm 30 weeks pregnant. Mental, huh? We're making a small girl who is currently known as poppyseed because we found out about her when she was very small indeed. We're looking forward to meeting her, but for now I'm also enjoying pregnancy a lot. It's very pleasant! Should I be stressed? I'm really not. Is that because pregnancy hormones? If so, they should bottle it. This is a good brain-state.

I think we're pretty prepared. We've seen a couple of daycares, which were both fine, and we've bought most of the baby-related gear we're going to need. No, that's such a lie, we've bought the Big Book of Trains and nothing else, but people have given us some clothes and things and I expect we'll get her somewhere to sleep and some other stuff as we realise we can't do without it. We're fighting the good fight against things that are pink and/or frilly, and our families are mostly on board with that. I'm sure we won't be able to protect her from the evils of gender normativity forever, but at least she can have baby clothes that aren't made for delicate flowers.

Is she likely to be a delicate flower? I doubt it, but who can predict what a new human will be like? She's probably doomed to inherit hay fever, shortsightedness and a tendency towards depression, but in return, she should get a geeky brain and a tremendous capacity for liking things. Are any of these things even genetic? We'll see.

Other things have been moving along pleasantly. I went to Ireland for a wedding, Aruba for some snorkelling, Baltimore for a conference, and Chicago to meet Mark and V and to kayak while looking at skyscrapers. I planted and tended some vegetables which grew spectacularly until the first heatwave, then all fried. We'll try bigger pots next year. Our cats are well. Alex is now distinctly a teenager. Lucy is exactly Lucy. They still don't like each other much.

I did this great algorithms class with Coursera and now I'm doing their equally great compilers class. The quality of these free online courses is quite astounding. The format's perfect too: it's easier to learn when you can to speed up or pause the lecturer as appropriate, and of course it's refreshing to do a course where nobody can ask "Is this on the exam?". Learning for fun is the most enjoyable kind of learning.

We've been working on de-chaosing our house, getting rid of clutter, making an easy place to live. We just finished a bathroom renovation -- the proper-sized house project I've ever owned! -- and have learned quite a lot about how to hire contractors, what things to clarify in writing, and (crucially) what things we like. Joel's been working on something much bigger -- a plan to gut most of the main floor of our apartment -- and has worked out a fairly ambitious plan with a local architect. It's a plan that we won't have time to implement this year, but it's there and I think it'll be good when we do. In the meantime, we'll try to get some insulation in before poppyseed arrives, because New York gets cold and our upstairs exterior walls might have been designed to be perfect thermal conductors.

Work is a lot of fun right now. I'm doing a bunch of things I really enjoy, and will be sorry when it's time to go on leave.

And, oh, lots of other things, but this is already too long. It feels good to write here though. I should do this more.
noideadog: (travel)
Over the holiday I organised pictures from my trip. Here's three months of circumnavigation: http://whereistanya.smugmug.com/
noideadog: (travel)
Hello! I've made a blog for the trip I'm taking this Autumn. Because duplicated internet content is one of the great first world problems of our time, I'm not going to crosspost to here.[1] If you care about my adventures in applying for visas and buying travel washing lines, I invite you to subscribe to http://blog.whereistanya.net, or [livejournal.com profile] whereistanya.

The travel blog will contain limited immorality and and no bad swears. Debauchery as usual (gardening, naps, reading classical novels, nice cups of tea) will continue here.

Thank you for your time.

[1] I might note on G+/twitter when it's updated though. Is that a good thing to do or does everyone on the planet use RSS by now?
noideadog: (travel)
Typhoid and polio in my left deltoid, hepatitis A and B in my right. Two neat bandaids on each shoulder.

That's all the vaccinations I'll need unless I plan to seek out rabies (by playing with stray dogs) or fecal matter (by eating street food... delightful!). I promised the doctor that I'd avoid the first and be cautious of the second, and she declared me fully vaccinated.

Other health precautions I'm taking are a steripen to kill giardia in the water, hand sanitiser to kill the common cold in the subway and a lot of insect repellent to, I hope, kill everything else everywhere else. I'll probably take a mosquito net for the sake of more pleasant sleep, but I'm not going anywhere with malaria.

47 days. Visa applications this weekend.



Posted via LjBeetle
noideadog: (Default)
Today I applied for a letter of Business Russian Visa Support, which seems to be the least painful way to stay in Russia for more than 30 days. It doesn't mean that you need to do business, the site insists; "business" and "long term" are interchangeable terms, and at no point will I be expected to do any business. Later it reminds me that I'll need a letter from my business. What? It's all very non-deterministic and I feel a bit anxious when I think too hard about it. I'm dealing with this by not thinking too hard about it.

The letter of invitation should take 14 days to arrive, after which I can apply for the actual visa. In the meantime, I'm waiting for confirmation of my ferry journey into China (Osaka to Shanghai) and my train tickets out again (Beijing to Ulan Bator) so that I have any chance of convincing the Chinese to give me a visa. In both cases, the actual tickets can't be sent out until closer to the time, so I'm hoping a convincing email receipt will be enough.

Oh, I'm sure it'll be fine, and if it's not, I'll have a lovely trip around the US and Europe.

51 days.
noideadog: (travel)
Background I haven't mentioned much on here before: I'm taking three months this Autumn to travel around the place and look at things. Definite plans[1][2] so far are the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, the Southwest Chief to LA, Korean Air 2 to Tokyo and (some time later) a Shanghai Ferry Co boat from Osaka to Shanghai. From there, I'll take the exciting new bullet train to Beijing and I hope, 28 days after I leave New York, to get onto train #3 on the start of the Trans Mongolian. I'm making a new blog for the journey, so I can give it to relatives who don't need to read all of the nonsense I post here (I'll link from here once the DNS is pointed), and this is what today's entry in that blog will say:

Today I tried to book a train ticket from Beijing to Ulan Bator. It's not possible to officially book the ticket more than 45 days in advance, but some sites, like russiantrains.com, will take your money and guarantee you a seat once it's available. In this case, 'seat' means 'bed'. It's a 29 hour journey, and in all classes you get a bunk to sleep in.

There's only a couple of trains a week between Beijing and Ulan Bator, so it's one of a few tickets I'm booking in advance. The Chinese government also likes to have some proof that you're not planning to sneakily stay in their country, so having an obvious exit ticket will help with getting a Chinese visa. So all my plans right now depend on the Beijing->UB ticket, and that's blocked on a bug in the russiantrains site that converts all addresses to replace the city and country with "Beijing, China". Rather than have my tickets sent out to Beijing, NY 11231, China, I've mailed the company to ask whether they might be doing it wrong.

I'm looking for a second bit of information too, which is whether it's possible to extend a Russian visa. I'd like to spend a couple of weeks in Russia, then travel around Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan a bit before taking the train back to Europe and deciding what to do next. Even a double entry Russian visa wants you out of the country by 30 days after you first entered though, and that's not enough time to get to Almaty (three days on the train!), give any sort of fair time to Samarkand, Bokhara and/or Khiva, then get the train back from Tashkent (another three days!). If the visa stuff isn't doable, I guess I'll go look at Belarus and Ukraine instead, but I've gotten pretty excited about reading about Uzbekistan and the Silk Road, so it'll be a bit disappointing. I've asked the good folks at the lonely planet forums what they reckon I should do.

So, waiting, waiting. Once I know a bit more, I'll book the start of the Trans Mongolian train, and I'll apply for a Russian visa. 52 days to go.

[1] http://www.tripit.com/trip/public/id/837FE400C619
[2] "Definite" is a bit of a joke because I'm waiting on the interview for my green card application, and it could well happen three days into the trip and I'll have to come back. They confidently expect it'll come through by last March though, so no worries.
noideadog: (natural dancer)
One other thing I did this weekend was try to figure out what new nonsense visa waiver people need to do to visit the US. Last time my parents came here they were scolded for not having filled out some internet form that neither the airline or their allegedly well-informed daughter had said anything about. They arrived all "ESTA! It's called ESTA and if you don't fill it in you can't go to America! But the man said we could go just this one time, but DON'T DO IT AGAIN." America can be such a dick to visitors.

It turns out that there is, in fact, something called ESTA, which is a crappy online form that you need to fill out before you get to the airport. Here's the start of its blurb:

"On March 4, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Travel Promotion Act (TPA) of 2009, Pub. L. No. 111-145. The Act directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish a fee for the use of the ESTA system, comprised of $10.00 for each VWP applicant receiving authorization to travel to the United States and $4.00 for the processing of the ESTA application."

In Soviet America, we make a Travel Promotion act that makes it harder and more confusing to visit. America, when we said you should think more like a global citizen, we didn't mean you should base your tourism policy on that of Turkmenistan!

In happier news, my kid sister Tina and her bloke Damian are visiting next weekend. It's the first time they've travelled abroad without a Responsible Adult, so it's all very exciting and scary and unknown for them. Airports! Immigration! How to spend six hours without Facebook! Unfortunately they have difficult schedules and I couldn't find affordable flights that didn't involve changing airlines in Heathrow... this will be the deep-end approach to learning how to do international travel. It's not the transfer that's most worrying them though:

"What if they ask me questions?", Tina has asked, several times. "It's easy. Just tell them the truth!" "But... *in tones of deep significance*... what if they make me go into a room".
noideadog: (a plan!)
I just noticed that my work visa expires in five weeks. The Company's visa renewal people mailed me a few months back about sorting this out in parallel with applying for a green card, but I haven't heard anything from them lately. I should probably chase that up, eh? Though I have been thinking about how I need a holiday...

Or not. November is not the best time of year to be deported to Ireland.

Joel and I are going to DC on October 29th for the Rally to Restore Sanity (or possibly the March to Keep Fear Alive; we haven't decided). Although I've lived in the US for 33 months now, this will be my first trip to DC. It might not be the best choice of weekends for a first visit.

It looks like the city is getting booked out and expensive, so if you're planning on going to any of that weekend's marches, you might want to get your booking on. Some bus companies are sold out by now too.

The other thing that's going on is that Daire and I are doing this knot tying class on Friday. We've been discussing this a bit at work and have concluded that although reef knots, bowlines, hitches, etc, are pretty damn useful, nobody who's not a sailor has ever needed to tie a sheet bend. It seems an odd choice to teach in Guides/Scouts. Have you ever used one?

If you're in New York on Friday, you should totally sign up to learn about knots with us. As the site says:

"One of the single most useful skills, and the best way to fake all-encompassing competence - step up out the background and tie a clever knot to secure an awkward load to the top of the truck, and the next thing you know people will be deferring to your opinion, no matter how poorly reasoned, and handing you the keys to their helicopter without question." http://www.eventbrite.com/event/578227494


Edit: Speaking of things that are cool and in New York, it looks like the next Nerd Nite will be investigating the phenomenon of bed bugs. But I'll be in California at the LISA conference (visa permitting). All of the interesting stuff happens at once.
noideadog: (travel)
We have booked our honeymoon! We have a flight to Paris and a posh first class compartment on the Elipsos Trenhotel to Barcelona and everything after that gets made up as we go along. (I still get to cross "plan honeymoon" off the todo list, so it's a win.)

I'm really excited about the trenhotel. First class tickets! When I take overnight trains, I always get the cheapest possible bunk in a six-person room where you squeeze in around a carpet of backpacks and flipflops and sandwiches and hoist yourself up onto a little narrow bunk and do a seventeen point turn as you figure out how to get a sheet under your arse without dropping your book, your boots or your entire self onto the old Chinese woman in the bunk below you. I've never had a private compartment before.

Imagine, none of the weird social interactions: no awkward introductions between people who aren't sure of the etiquette of getting to know the person who'll be snoring fifteen inches away from for the next thousand miles; no deciding whether you care enough to confront the big beardy man who has totally stolen your pillow and he knows he has and you know that he knows that he has; no gap year kids from Pennsylvania who are talking loudly and earnestly for half the night about how quaint Europe is and how they really identify with this slower pace of life; no weighing the satisfaction you'd get from beating one of them with their own Lonely Planet guide against the realisation that they'd probably find it a Cultural Experience (and who wants to be one of those).

But it is the same? Do you still lie on your belly listening to the train noises and feeling good about everything, staring out the window for hours at the landscape that it's too dark to see and thinking about things you don't normally think about and making odd connections and starting to think that wow, now you understand everything and now it all makes sense and once it's bright again you'll remember it so clearly and you'll write it all down and then you'll always remember, but you never do and you never do and you never do (and it's probably just as well). If you have a compartment, do you just turn on the light and read your book instead? I hope not.

I think nighttime trains are probably my favourite thing in the world. I love them, mad strangers and dusty seats and profound 3am thoughts and all. It's magical. Even if I'm tired, I love staying up late being on a train, and even if I'm not I love falling asleep in the rumbling of the carriage. Even when it's mundane, it's exciting. You know?

I've never done a swanky overnight train before though. Is it like in old movies with the Orient Express? Will there be a murder? Someone will at least hand me a martini and make a cryptic remark, right? (Note to self: buy a hat.)

Here's a silly flash tour of the trenhotel: http://www.elipsos.com/flash/paseo/popup.htm?lang=3
noideadog: (travel)
It is with great relief that I announce that we now have flights to our own wedding. Hurray! We're flying into Dublin a few days beforehand, doing some wedding, then leaving the next day. Some combination of trains, boats and planes will take us to Barcelona[1], then we'll travel slowly through the South of France in much the way that Pacman would (nom nom nom), have a look at Florence and fly back from Pisa. Something like that, anyway.

Lots of trains, some driving, scuba (if Joel has his way) and maybe a bit of bicycling (if I do). Lovely lovely. I'll have to get my folks to re-emphasise the 'no presents' policy to relatives though: backpacking through europe with a sandwich toaster and a delightful piece of waterford crystal would be the wrong kind of hilarious.

If you have South of France or Tuscany recommendations, lay 'em out, please.

[1] The Elipsos trenhotel from Orleans sounds rather nice, but I can't see how to do that without changing trains in Paris, and that's more stress than we'll want on day one of the trip. Paris is very fine, but it does make you earn your transit privileges.
noideadog: (travel)
Once again I am badly mosquitoed upon; once again I have swelled up like a balloon-animal[1]; once again the anti-histamines are putting me into a walking coma; once again I am blogging about it. It's been rather a theme for this year. You know, it would be more remarkable if I ever went somewhere near water and didn't spend the next two days in an itchy stupor. I promise to announce it to the (surely fascinated) world if that should ever happen.

It's lovely to be home, although it was gorgeous to be in Puerto Rico too. The trip was officially about team-building[2], but the organisers knew their participants: apart from one reminiscing/recrimination session, we were let do the kind of team building that involves splashing around in the sea, floating in the pool, playing cards together, or lazily waving from the beach for another mojito. It worked, I think. We all got to know and like each other pretty well, and there wasn't a single collaborative problem solving exercise. Builders of teams: please to watch and learn.

A few of us stayed on for the weekend to see a bit of the island. On Friday evening Joel and I walked to the Old Town to have a look at the fortifications and eat too many plaintains[3], and yesterday a carload of us went to have a look at the rainforest. We hiked a short trail through lush vegetation that was all aquiver with droplets, ending at Mount Briton lookout tower, which is quite literally in the clouds. It was wonderful to stand on top of the tower, clouds swirling around us, seeing only mist, then mountains, then mist again, and leaning out to look down at the tall treetops far below us.

Last night we went on a kayaking tour of Puerto Rico's Biobay. I've seen nothing like this before: plankton which glow when the water is agitated. It's a neat trick: it makes their predators glow too, so they in turn get eaten by bigger fish, and their numbers are kept down, and the plankton get to thrive. Good work, plankton! Since a bunch of biobays have been killed by cretins, access to this one is tightly restricted. We paddled in single file and almost pitch darkness through a narrow channel of overhanging red mangroves, watching the water around our paddles turn silvery with every stroke, occasionally trailing fingers in the water and watching it sparkle. It was spellbinding to move along in the darkness with just the glow of the water, the small red light from the kayak in front, and the tiny sounds of water and insects.

Immediately afterwards we we learned that American mosquitos still love me exclusively, even when I'm soaked in bug spray and Joel isn't, and he's two feet away. I wish I could use this super-power for good, or even for evil, or for anything other than getting drug-addled sleep.

[1] Actually, my right arm looks like a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. The rest of me is balloony though.
[2] My team and Joel's are merging, kind of. Not in a way that will require us to work together or go to the same meetings, or be on the same mailing lists, but in a way that means we go on the same offsites. It's a good deal.
[3] Mashed plantains are called "mofongo", which is a fantastic word, but plantains will never make my top-100-foods list.
noideadog: (Default)
Airports are all about waiting. I'm simultaneously impatient to be on the plane and dreading going home. The sunshine is addictive, and New York will be miserable.

I took no good photos of Puerto Rico. This will have to do.

Posted using http://moby.to/3sobnm
noideadog: (travel)

near mount st helens
Originally uploaded by xymb.
After a productive time in Portland (and by "productive" I mean that we bought books and drank beers and nothing else, and everyone I've spoken to about Portland has confirmed that that's what you do there, and that's what makes Portland great), we drove to Seattle via Mount St Helens.

Mount St Helens last erupted in 1982, and I suppose it's not surprising that it drastically changed the landscape, but the before and after pictures are still astonishing: the whole side of the mountain was blown off; new lakes were created; whole forests were knocked down like matchsticks. The road up the mountain is excellent -- a combination of tourism and a busy logging industry -- so we got further up than we expected, stopping at around 3800 feet when we went beyond the snow plough and got uncomfortable with the skiddy wheels and the snow scratching on the bottom of the car. We took a bunch of photographs, waded around in knee-deep snow, and headed back to the town for clam chowder with globs of butter floating in it. Which, by the way, was about the healthiest meal I ate for the next four days.

Seattle and its neighbour, Kirkland, have a climate very similar to Dublin's. It was dark in Kirkland. Apparently the mountains around there are spectacular, but it was too overcast to see anything. The sky was a uniform, drizzling grey, and I would have felt right at home if I hadn't been longing for my light box. The office there is good though (and whimsical: the cafe stations are called "sudo make me a sandwich" and "omm nom nom"), and I got to sync up with someone I work a lot with but have never met. Working together in real life is way better.

That only gets me caught up to Wednesday evening, but I should go catch a flight back to the New Yorks. More later about meeting Joel's entire extended family, attending my first ever wedding shower, and being given a family heirloom, for reals.
noideadog: (booze)

From Powells Bookshop, Portland
Originally uploaded by xymb.
Tanya: "All we did today was go to a bookshop and then drink good beer"
Joel: "That's not at all true! I had two cocktails."

So, yeah, Portland, that's working out for us. From the outside, I thought that Powell's bookshop didn't look like such a big deal, but the inside is somehow bigger than the outside, and it is, actually, all that and more. They have so many books that their categories get cute and funny: not just fiction, but romantic fiction, and romantic holiday fiction, and (I swear) romantic vampire holiday fiction. I was entertained that there exists "nautical fiction" and Joel was amused by "paranormal romances" and all of that was just in the first ten minutes before we headed off in different directions for two hours.

The comics section seemed weird and unbalanced -- a ridiculously complete selection of indie/small press comics, but missing some obvious things -- until I realised there was a whole separate superhero section, and a whole separate manga section, and, by the way, that in turn had whole separate "young adult" and "yaoi" sections neatly separated out. Lots and lots of books. Tons of them. Powells is worth coming to Portland for.

Since we're not in the final city of our trip, since books are heavy, since I vowed not to get carried away, I restricted myself to only books that aren't available on Kindle and books that I wouldn't run into at Cosmic Comics or The Strand; I had to stop anyway because my arms were aching.

Later we drank some beers, then came back to the hotel for a nap, then drank more beers. For posterity:

  • Deschutes Brewery Obsidian Stout: Beer Advocate gets all excited about this, but I didn't think it was very interesting. It's a decent stout, but it's lacking enough individual personality to stop me comparing it to other stouts I have known. And I grew up, as it were, on Guinness. It's fine, but not worth the 6.8%. If you're going to make a strong beer, it has to give something in return.

  • Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter: This, on the other hand, was delicious. Really rounded, maybe a bit thin, but full of taste and character. It's sort of burnt and chocolatey, but without trying too hard to make a burnt and chocolatey statement. You get excellent beerness with this undercurrent of sweetness that's not overpowering at all, but rather makes a perfect balance to the hops. This is a fantastic beer. A++ would seek out again.

  • Stone Brewery Smoked Porter: Although it sounds like damning with faint praise, this was a perfectly adequate, perfectly drinkable beer. It wasn't the sort of thing that would make you want to sit down and write to the brewer, but if it was on tap at a bar, I would happily down one any time. It's full and rounded and it's very tasty. The sort of thing you would put in your fridge. I had a second one; what more compliment does it need?

So, books and beers and that's what we saw of Portland today. As I put on twitter today, we're not exactly touristic overachievers.
noideadog: (travel)
I haven't spent much quality time with myself recently, so I'm off to Philadelphia this evening for a weekend getting rained on and doing nothing of consequence. The idea is to do a lot of walking, a lot of reading in cafes, a tiny bit of unavoidable touristing, and (most importantly) no spending of time with other people. I haven't travelled on my own in forever, and I'm thirsty for it like you wouldn't believe. What I really want is a month and a bunch of cities connected by long train journeys, but hopefully a weekend will be enough to stop parts of my brain from withering up and dropping off.

Philadelphia would have been Boston, but every hotel room in Boston is booked up by people going to Ted Kennedy's funeral.
noideadog: (travel)
Today we are mostly singing this SNL song (contains swearing). We were on a boat!
noideadog: (travel)
Gosh, this is terribly pleasant. Yesterday we snorkeled and today we kayaked and snorkeled and tomorrow we're going to the British Virgin Islands and (it seems likely) snorkeling some more. In a way, I just like saying "snorkel", but it's lovely to do too, drifting along on your belly in the buoyant water and looking at fishes and coral. There are lots of sea-urchins and sponges and sea cucumbers and things, as well as zippy brightly coloured fish. And it's loud under the water. I watched a parrot fish eat coral, all "crunch, crunch, crunch, nom". I'd never done that before yesterday. Snorkeling, I mean. Snorkel.

This place is beautiful. Our villa overlooks a bay, and right now I'm listening to little frogs going mental, and feeling a breeze coming in from the water. Is good.
noideadog: (natural dancer)
The Bologna-Paris train was full, so we're spending the day in Milan. Apart from having no laundry facilities whatsoever, Milan is surprisingly lovely. (And I guess we're in the right city to buy clean clothes).
noideadog: (travel)
We got a bit lost and had to climb a high fence to break into Bari, or out of the ferry port, depending on how you look at it, and a security guard shouted a lot about calling the police, but he probably didn't mean it, and anyway we ran away. Later a Smart Car tried to run me down, but Joel reckoned I could have taken it on and won. They're so leetle.

Now we're in Bologna which has Food. Athens also had Food and I understand that there's likely to be Food in Paris too. A couple of years ago, this girl I met said that any trip with travelling-around should have a name, and the Lucky Girl:So Good! tour of Korea was born. If you do something twice you can call it a tradition, so I'm calling this trip Lucky Girl:The Cheeselands. I hope to do Return To The Cheeselands sometime, because six days isn't long enough.

In the Americas, I told someone I was going to the land of cheese, and they said "Ah, Wisconsin". (I don't know if that's funny if you're not me.)
noideadog: (Default)
Still on a boat, the Ionian King, doing nothing much and liking it a lot. Travel euphoria eventually calmed down but I'm still very glad to be here. Travelling is brilliant, isn't it? Getting to places can be miles better than already being there.

According to Latitude, we're hugging the coast of Greece pretty closely. (I know I could have walked around to the other side of the boat to find this out.)

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