Iceland to London (Day 3)

Short update today, as it's already midnight and it's been a long day.

Highlights of the day included the Blue Lagoon, an amazing spa and freaky-milky-blue-pool-set-in-a-moonscape in Iceland. Fun, and extremely relaxing, with a touch of sci-fi (every guest gets chipped with an RFID that does everything to let you into the pool to locking and unlocking your locker to buying drinks). The landscape around that area looks like the earth punched up huge rocks that then cracked as they came up - and there are cracks and crevices that you could fall into (or get your foot stuck in) where it's impossible to see the bottom of. It's kinda creepy!

After that, we returned the car, went to the Reykjavik airport (on the ONLY sunny day we've seen since we've been here, I might add - boo!) and then flew to London. London was, unsurprisingly, rainy. It was nice, though, because I knew exactly where the B&B was (as it's the same one Camille and I stayed in before) and could navigate quickly to a decent food area nearby.

Day 3 pictures begin here:

Tomorrow is day one in LONDON! Yay!

Iceland, day 2

Today was a fresh day in Iceland, and began with a visit to the local bakery (yum!) followed by Zach and I driving around parts of the "Golden Circle", though not necessarily via the same routes used by most tourists. More on that later.

I learned a lot today:
  • Reykjavik traffic engineers apparently think that roundabouts on the highway are an acceptable form of traffic control and save money on exits. Lemme tell you, whipping around a roundabout in the middle of an otherwise divided highway is a bizarre experience. Especially when it happens every 3-400 meters.
  • GPS units should probably stay with the vehicle they are rented with. In particular, GPS systems used with vehicles that have tires up to Zach's waist should not be rented with little Ford cars without resetting their settings.
  • Without tires up to Zach's waist, "shortest route" is rarely the quickest route in Iceland. Though sometimes it is a mighty fun route.
  • If Chicago is correctly called the windy city, Iceland needs to be named "the hurricane continent".
  • To quote Zach, the weather here is like a DM rolling a d20 on the weather chart with a new roll every 15 minutes. Rain, partly cloudy, and gale-force winds occur in all possible combinations and change regularly.
  • I am really glad I packed my coat. I nearly didn't, because Reykjavik is about 10 degrees cooler than Seattle, and I'd been fine without. But wind, rain, and chilly weather means I was actually slightly cold today even with the jacket and hat.

We saw a lot of amazing scenery today, including:
  • Þingvallavatn/Alþingi (Thingvallavatn/Althing)
  • Rushhour in Iceland (twice!)
  • Strokkur and other thermal features
  • Some crazy stuff our map called a "road", and
  • Gullfoss

Want the full story? Available through captioning at Facebook (finally started working again), starting here. Zach's photos on Facebook can be found here - he's also putting the full set up on Flickr.

We ended the day by eating dinner at a Cafe in Reykjavik - a stew made with Icelandic lamb. Yum!

Iceland, day 1

Zach and I arrived in Iceland today after an overnight trip from Seattle. I'm pretty tired, as I found it nearly impossible to fall asleep at 5PM PST on a plane seat that didn't recline.

Today was mostly spent wandering around Reykjavik and drinking coffee to wake up. The early morning was quite quiet - not too many people on the streets at 8AM on a Sunday. By noon things had picked up a bit and we could get into our rooms (YAY, shower!). Interestingly, the hot water here is drilled for and I think is centrally provided - it can reach up to 185 degrees out of the tap! It also smells sulfurous, which is odd to catch a whiff of in my hair every so often.

After putting stuff in our rooms and showering, we went to a local Danish "open-faced sandwich shop" and got fish on a super grainy bread (no wheat in it, I think) with mustard, lox, and roe on top. Quite tasty. Afterwards we went to the culture museum, which was so-so. They had several medieval manuscripts of the Eddas, which were quite interesting, and a "natural history" section which was primarily Victorian-era taxidermy (interesting, though odd), and a film exhibit that was rather plain.

[Addendum: We went to Icelandic Fish and Chips for dinner and although they initially goofed our order by forgetting to fill it, they plied us with so much stuff that I nearly felt embarrassed by the end. I got a free Malt Extract beverage (like nothing I've had before, and not worth getting again), Zach got a free fruit drink, we both got free onion rings, which were by far THE BEST onion rings I've ever had (they used flake sea salt to season them and a lot of grease, which might be the trick), free herbal tea at the end, and were offered free dessert but were just way too full. Our meal, which incidentally was also good, was essentially fish and chips on top of salad.]

Pictures and commentary are available on Facebook, here:

If only I were more pop-culture literate...

With my poor ability to even recognize Michael Jackson songs, I'm quite sure that this message, found in the Junk E-mail folder of my Microsoft account, isn't for me:

Hope you receive this message!!!

On behalf of the Trustees and Executor of the estate of Late Michael Jackson. I once again try to notify you as my earlier letter were returned undelivered. I wish to notify you that late King of Pop. Michael Jackson made you a beneficiary to his WILL. He left the sum of Five Million, Dollars (USD$5,000.000.00) to you in the Codicil and last testament to his WILL. This may sound strange and unbelievable to you, but it is real and true. Being widely entertainer, he must have been in contact with you in the past or simply you were nominated to him by one of his numerous fans abroad who wished you good.

I'm sure they just mixed me up with another Jonobie, though, one who is a super fan and longtime friend of the King of Pop. Too bad she didn't get this email so she could claim her money.

Running in circles for stamps (again)

Yesterday was Puzzle Safari: The Search for Stamps event -- my third such event. The Puzzle Safari format is officially my most favoritest puzzle event ever (see Safari 08 writeup and Safari 07 writeup). Unfortunately, despite hopes that we would crack the top 3 this year, our team didn't do so well. (Partially due to a team-wide error where we neglected to stick the challenge stickers to our book prior to turning it in. But even with that, we weren't doing as well as we'd hoped; not sure why. I definitely had more trouble finding the stamps this year.) It was still a fun event. In particular, I loved the Star Trek theme. SciFi nerdiness everwhere!

I wore my GPS again this year and have the goofy route of a runner mapped out below. Last year I ran an hour longer and an additional 5 miles. Some of this just meant I was more efficient in my route (I essentially made only one loop per half, instead of several). But I also felt really slow in finding stamps and was unable to get all of the first half stamps before reaching the second half, where they're worth fewer points. I probably should have started running a half hour or so earlier.

The route (10.3 miles, click for big):

New running challenges this year included:
  • A record high of 89 degrees (this hit me harder than expected; I tried to do a sprint at the end, ran out of gas, forced myself to keep going and then very nearly threw up on the official iPhone timekeeping device)
  • Three separate times when I stumbled from fatigue and feared that I'd sprained my right ankle (never did, thankfully)
  • Being attacked by a dog enroute (yes, really! Someone was walking their dog, and it got excited as I ran past and nipped at me)

Honestly, the hardest thing is having to wait another WHOLE YEAR for a chance at redemption!

Amazingly lucky

I realized a few weeks ago that something amazing had happened.

With one notable exception, pretty much every sentence that I had growing up that began with "I've always wished I could..." has been done or is in-progress. Not that I don't have new dreams popping up all the time, but it's pretty cool to reflect back and realize how lucky I've been for where I am in life.

Some (non-exhaustive) examples:
  • "I've always wished I could travel Europe with one of my college buddies." Done, spent time with Camille in London in an absolutely fabulous trip.
  • "I've always wished I could learn to draw." Not done yet, but registered for a Drawing 101 class this summer at a local community college.
  • "I always wished I could go somewhere fabulous on vacation with a lover." Done, Jeff and I went to Lisbon when we lived in Austin, he took me to Hawaii a couple of years ago, and we're planning to go to the upcoming Winter Olympic Games.
  • "I've always wished I could find something related to Computer Science that wasn't coding that I could make a living at." Done, I love my job as a Content Publishing Manager at Microsoft. (It's telling that unlike some years past, I can no longer think of jobs I'd rather be doing.)
  • "I've always wished I could have cats of my own." Easily done, once I was out of college.
  • "I've always wished I could have painted walls." Done, now that Jeff and I have painted our bedroom, bathroom & living room.
  • "I've always wished I could go on a yoga retreat." Done, went to Yelapa, Mexico a few years ago. By myself, which was a huge confidence-builder. Fantastic trip.
  • "I've always wished I could leave near a really cool city where public transportation was readily available." Done, Seattle is fun and easily accessible by bus from where I live. (OK, I think the original version of this required a subway and me living in a downtown condo, but I've mostly gotten over that.)

The one exception? I always wished I could go into space. Maybe someday there will be space tourism for more than the super-fantastically wealthy.

Warm fuzzies all over

We're at the review stage at Microsoft, and part of that process is soliciting peers to provide feedback on us. One of the managers on my product group sent me a copy of what he said (usually the comments are anonymously delivered to me). To say I was floored would be an understatement -- this is absolutely the highest praise I've seen shared with my management, and from a PM manager who has worked on Windows Server (a strong team from which we take much of our documentation strategy), I'm pretty awed. I'm really thrilled with this, and it's totally made my week.

What does this individual do well:
Jonobie is a true professional and a person I greatly enjoy working with. She's knowledgeable, prompt, action oriented and responsible. Over time, I have learned to both trust and respect Jonobie and know that whatever task she takes on, will be completed on time and with quality. In addition, I found Jonobie to be a fountain of feedback and she's an active member in my key feature team. I can say with certainty that Service Manager will be released as a better product because of her direct contributions. Finally, I'll mention that this feedback is repeated by all members of my Solutions team and other good folks on the SCSM team.

What should they stop doing:
Not a single thing. She’s the best content manager I have ever worked with (within System Center or Windows Server)

Additional comments:
Jonobie is a pleasure to work with. Her contributions continue to exceed my expectations and I couldn't hope to have a better professional work on our project. I can only hope that her strong and consistent contributions to the project will be both recognized and rewarded.

[Edit: Unlocked during my 5/10/2010 unlocking pass, since enough time has passed to obscure identifying details.]
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Then and now, Star Trek

When I was quite young, my parents still had an old black and white TV where we watched Star Trek. When my mother told me that they were buying a color TV, I was confused because I was absolutely convinced that I could see color on the screen. What follows is the subsequent conversation, after I informed her of this:
Her: Ok, so what color is Spock's uniform?
Me: Gray.
Her: And Captain Kirk's?
Me: Dark gray!

Yesterday morning, while working on the New York Times crossword, the following conversation.
Me: Hmm, this clue says "Vulcans and Romulans" and is 5 letters, but nothing fits. I mean, "pointy-eared" is too long, "green-blooded" is even longer, and frankly, "common ancestor" is too much of a stretch.
Jeff: Hon, you're over-thinking it. What ARE they?
Me: Oh. Aliens. That's not right, Vulcans aren't alien!


Five Heroes

I'm currently reading Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You, an excellent book about how our personalities leave an imprint on the types of things we keep around us. It's fascinating, and only 80 pages in, I'd absolutely recommend it. One of the ideas I'm currently reading is how most people have a narrative that they weave throughout their life and that if you listen to their stories and look for that, you'll often learn a lot about the person.

I've recently been gorging myself on stories - I'm about to go watch the Star Trek movie again, I've been gobbling up the new Dr. Who episodes, and I recently watched some of the original episodes of the Star Trek TV series again. All this made me think about what you can tell about a person based on their favorite characters or heroes.

Here are my five favorite characters (some fictional, some not), roughly in order of appearance into my life:
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More embroidery

After experimenting with embroidery on my own napkins, I decided to branch out and actually make a full set of napkins to give as a gift. Originally I had planned to embroider a set of video game characters, as I've been enchanted with all the Mario-themed crafts I've seen recently. But Jeff had an even better idea when I pitched the video game idea to him - embroider D&D monsters. Now that we've actually given the gift, I can share pictures here, yay!

This was a fun project - I started by tracing some monsters from the monster manual and looking online for sketches people had done of D&D monsters. These were used to create a set of cartoons for the embroidery, such as this one.

Once I had my cartoons, I traced the sketches onto the fabric using a washable ink pen. (A tablet PC works wonders as a lightbox for this part.) This project also taught me how to embroider in the corner of a fabric - once I'd situated the graphic on the edge of the napkin, I could no longer get the correct part of the fabric into the embroidery hoop. The solution is to baste muslin to the napkin fabric, cut a hole in the area behind the inked-on embroidery design, hoop the fabric and complete the embroidery, and then remove the basted-on fabric. I feel sorta foolish that I had to look this up in an embroidery book to figure out, as it was rather obvious once I saw it.

And here's the final result.

For the slightly-less nerdy among you who need identification of the monsters, they are, starting in the upper left and working clockwise: Violet fungi, Owlbear, Roper, Red Dragon, Umberhulk, Rust monster, Beholder, Gelatinous cube

I think my favorites are the Violet fungi and the Roper (lesson learned: embroidery works really well for tentacles), though the severed hand coming out of the Gelatinous cube gives me a giggle every time I look at it.

For more pictures of the pre-embroidery cartoons, see here.