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:: Returning back to the US

Ahh.. Today we leave this weird government sandbox and head back to our home. This trip has been a lot like visiting a foreign country. It's far away, a completely different terrain, and with all the security stuff, it's like we've had to go through customs. Since our flight wasn't until 2pm, we decided to check out Santa Fe a bit more. We woke up, admired the sky, and bundled up for another walk around town.


Big Stucco, Big Sky

As I was saying yesterday, Santa Fe is heavily oriented towards tourism. It seems like every other store in the downtown area is either an art gallery or a museum. This makes the walk a little weird because every other block or so there's this life-sized statue (e.g., a bear or a Native American) doing something thoughtful (e.g., eating a fish or stringing a bow). These things often make me wish I had some kind of sculpting talent. Well, mostly because I would make statues doing silly things (e.g., a bear checking his watch, an Eskimo with a gameboy, or a pioneer with a badminton racquet). Alas, it seems as though the world will be deprived of some of my greatest ideas.


HeCantHitHeCantHitSwingBattaMiss

One of the benefits of being in a town that caters to tourists is that sometimes there are restaurants you don't find in normal cities. While Amy was researching hotels yesterday, she discovered that there was a Cręperie within walking distance of our hotel. Being that there aren't any (non-dessert) Cręperies in Atlanta, we hopped over and ordered some crępes.. Me, I had a crepes with "Jambon" and eggs (like the good old days), followed by a Nutella Crępe, while Amy ordered something with a lot of vegetables. Mmm.. Maybe I should add "Proximity to Cręperie" to my job interview questions.

After breakfast we visited the Loretto Chapel, which is an old church built in 1873 or so. They have this story that they built a loft in the church for the choir, but had no way for the people to climb up to it. Being nuns, they prayed for a couple of days, and along came a carpenter on a donkey with a bunch of tools. Sure enough, he built them this nice looking wooden, spiral staircase, and then left before they could pay him. The stairs are supposed to be some kind of miracle as there doesn't seem to be much that's physically supporting them (later my mom told me that there was something like this in Charleston). In any case, the outside of the church prominently displayed a sign that said so-and-so church "as seen on Unsolved Mysteries". So you know it's the real deal, right?

We piddled around a bit longer in SF, buying random (and much needed) Christmas gifts. One of these was a wreath made out of chili peppers. It looked cool, but I really should have though about what a pain it was going to be to take it with me on the airplane. After picking up some sugar free chocolates for my dad, we climbed back in the car and drove to ABQ for our flight.


The Hotel's Smoking Pool

The trip back to Atlanta seemed to take forever. Once again we had to change planes in Houston, but this time we had to change couriers as well. For whatever reason, we had to physically leave the secure area and essentially re-enter the airport. It was kind of weird being in the Houston airport again- I have a few fuzzy memories of it from when I was 8 and we lived in the area. Even with all the recent renovations, it still pretty much looks the same as I remember it. Hmm.. one of the memories I have of the airport is that my family got yanked at the security line because either my brother or me had brought a squirt gun in our carry on bag. Maybe that's why I'm so paranoid at any kind of security check..

Otherwise, there's not too much to report on about the flight. I bought a copy of The Two Towers at an airport bookstore so I can finish reading the last two chapters (so we can see the movie tomorrow). They actually swabbed my laptop and stuck the sample in the bat computer to sniff for bombs. We eventually got into Atlanta (after dark) and promptly drove home and conked out. So much for taking it easy after you graduate..

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:: Tagged

Sick of the boring travel stories? Well, here's something different for you that I almost forgot to put up. A few weeks before graduation, we were going to bed when Amy let out a startled gasp as she was brushing her teeth.. She asked if I had been drawing things on the bathroom window. Confused, I came in and saw what she was talking about. Yep.. someone had tagged us..


Tagged

Sigh.. Now if you've read much of AN, you know that I like to follow some of the local graffiti that people do around town. There's a lot of creative (and political) stuff going on (I especially like the stencil work that someone's been doing, although they tend to be a bit redundant). However, there's nothing worse than talentless taggers who just scrawl something illegible on something. What? Are you saying j00 r00t3d my bathroom window? pretty lame.. Well, I unr00t3d the window the next morning with a wet paper towel.


Sigh.. All of this is just a reminder to us that we live in a crappy apartment. The place is tiny, the pipes break every so often and soak the carpet, and we hear everything the bozos upstairs do (3am sounds like a good time to work on that drum track for that song that you're going to make it big with). Now someone is writing stuff on our bathroom window. For anyone out there who thinks we're stalling looking for a new job.. believe me, we're pretty motivated to get out of here.

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:: Visiting Home

This week Amy and I are in Summerville, SC visiting my parents for the Christmas holidays. As usual we're pretty far behind on the Christmas gifts, but at least this year I have a valid excuse (graduation/job hunt). On the drive into s'ville, we stopped in Columbia and saw Genevieve and her brother. Ahh.. Columbia. Columbia seems like it would be a nice place to live.. Too bad there's no tech industry to speak of. And then of course, there are all those racist rednecks I grew up with. Gen told us about a local BBQ chain called Maurice's, where the owner is one of these diehard confederate flag losers. People have told me that he's got propaganda in his restaurants explaining how "slavery was actually a good thing". You may remember him as the guy who put up a sign that read "NAACP Retarded People" a couple of years ago when folks were marching to have the confederate flag taken down at the capitol. Sigh.. forget what I said about Columbia seeming like a nice place to live.

Anyways, things have been pretty normal for a trip back home.. Yes, that means that I started working on yet another stupid and ambitious project to make my parent's computer situation a little better. This year I'm splitting their cable modem connection with a linksys box, and fixing up an old Celeron 400 system so mom can have her own computer while dad's online. Doesn't sound so hard, does it? Well.. we'll see.


Don't move Amy, there's a tree sneaking up on you

Today was the big mad dash for gifts. For whatever reason we decided to do the same stupid thing we do every year before Christmas- Amy and I wound up driving to Best Buy near the mall. As usual the traffic was horrible (took about a half hour to get out of the parking lot). Oof. At least some things are always the same back home..

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:: Going into town

Believe it or not, today we actually left the house. In the morning we went into S'ville and bought a 17" lcd monitor for my mom (which we got a great deal on). Amy then said it was ok for us to have lunch at Sticky Fingers, a pretty good local bbq place. Over lunch my dad told us a bit more about that BBQ chain I mentioned in the last post. Apparently, the racist guy has a sensible brother who opened up his own bbq chain, partly because he was ashamed of his racist brother (which makes me want to go there). My dad also said that one of his African American co-workers told him about how he used to have to go to the back door to be served BBQ at the racist guy's place, back in the day. Sigh.. That's the South for you..


Civil War meets Dr. Strangelove

Anyways, after lunch Amy and I split off and drove into Charleston to walk around and take some pictures. I haven't taken any pictures of Charleston since.. around the 8th grade, so I went a bit nuts with the digital camera (hopefully I'll get a picture gallery thing up soon.. These will have to do for now).


Along the Cooper river

We wound up walking all over the place. First, we went along the Cooper river side of Charleston, stopping by rainbow row and the waterfront park. We then headed inland a bit to see some of the big churches. We wandered around the graveyards for a bit hoping to spot a famous name, but didn't have much luck (well, except for Charleston bigwigs).


Rainbow Row? I think they misspelled Roy G. Biv's name..

Ahh.. While we were walking around, I came across something that brought a smile to my face. On the back of a street sign, someone had stuck one of those " Andre the Giant Has a Posse" stickers that skateboarders were putting everywhere about ten years ago. I saw another one later on down the road. It's good to see that these stickers blend in with the local area.


Andre has a 200 year old house in the historic district

Hmm.. so Genevieve told us about this other big attraction in Charleston. In the Columbia Newspaper, there was some story about how someone along the battery in Charleston had decorated these pig statues with Christmas costumes. Being that Gen couldn't make it down to see this herself, Amy and I set out to find this spectacle. After a bit of driving (the battery is bigger than you think), we noticed some people gawking at someone's yard. Sure enough, it was the pigs. We parked the car and rather sheepishly strolled up to the fence to take a few pictures. Personally, I like the tiara..

While I'm rambling on and on about Charleston, let me throw in one last link: the live City of Charleston BridgeCam.. If you catch it on a clear day, you might be able to see the Cooper River bridge in the background. Oh, and make sure you look for Hootie..


We ended the day by meeting my parents and brother for dinner at the Southend Brewery and Smokehouse on East Bay street (where the old East Bay Trading Co. used to be). Ahh.. local beers and fresh fish. Once again it's a shame there's no tech industry in Charleston. It might be a fun place to live for a while. Right now, it's much more appealing than Boston, where I'll be going next week for another job interview. To be fair, I should come back in the Summer to refresh my memory of Charleston's humidity, though..

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:: Boston.. Again..

Jeez.. Apparently all I'm doing is traveling these days. I just wish it was under circumstances that were more fun. Today I flew up to Boston for a plant trip to MIT's Licoln Laboratory. For those of you who don't know LL is a national lab kinda place that's located just outside of Boston's beltway. I think they were founded in the 50's as a place for radar or microwave research. Yeah, as you can tell, I'm fully prepared for my interviews, as usual.

When I arrived at the airport I was greeted with a nice surprise- LL and bought me a first class ticket.. Funny.. for what they paid, I could have easily have bought myself and Amy a regular ticket. In any case, everything was (thankfully) prearranged for me (including the rental car and hotel). I made it to the hotel at about five, and then went and had dinner with my brother at a place called the Naked Fish. I note this because it's probably the first decent restaurant that Todd's taken me to in Boston.. Not that he doesn't want to go somewhere nice, it's just that Todd's had trouble finding decent places to eat in Boston. Plus he has the same Taco Bell eating standards I have..

I'll admit that I'm fairly nervous about the whole LL trip. Of course I'm nervous about the talk. It involves public speaking, there's always a chance the laptop will die, and you never know who your audience is going to be. I have to say that I'm also a bit intimidated by the whole MIT factor.. It kind of feels like GT is the peasant engineering school (which I actually kind of like). As always, it's a bit odd talking with folks from different schools before you get to know them and all you have is some ranking structure that says someone else is better than you. Anyways, we'll see tomorrow. I'll be talking with a group leader who's actually a GT grad so it will probably be a nice intro..

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:: All day Interviews

Oof. Whatta day- I spent the whole day talking with people from Lincoln Labs. Things started at 9am with a chat with a guy from HR. After mauling through the benefit programs for a half hour I met the GT fellow who was sponsoring my trip. He was awfully nice, and gave me a good background about the lab and the kind of work he was interested in. His group was beginning to plan an infrastructure for a network of satellites and airplanes. I fit into all of this as a network and transmission protocols guy and would help investigate how these systems should be setup and designed to interface with existing networks. Fairly interesting stuff, and its not specifically for blowing up stuff.. it's more like it the stuff for telling people what stuff to blow up.. hmm..


Cold, cold, Boston

At 10am I gave my talk. As expected it was a small crowd (about 7 people), but as I found out later, there were some bigshots in the audience. At 11 I met with a network person who was doing some interesting network research on making satellite gateways spoof TCP gateways. At 11:30 I met two physical layer/coding engineers, and then at 12 we picked up a network engineer person for lunch. After lunch we talked some more about network and group issues. I then got punted to a different division (Sensors). I first met with a guy who seemed interested in my sensor network stuff, and then had two more sessions with a couple of guys working on.. uh.. target recognition and uh.. some kind of "black ops" stuff for the Navy seals. All of these guys were pretty interesting and perked up my interest in their division. I then met a group leader person who had worked on some really interesting radar projects (detecting land mines.. determining a terrain and evaluating whether a jeep could drive through it). I was then returned to the HR guy for some concluding stuff.. I got out at about 5pm.

After the visit I met up with Todd and a few guys he works with for dinner in Lexington. Todd's friends gave me some of the inside information about the stability of some of the groups that I had interviewed with. Plus they had more positive things to say than Todd does about the lab (Todd's always negative though..which of course can be helpful in engineering). Anyways, its kind of cool to see Todd with his work buddies.. You can see how in a few years there's a good chance they'll be running the show at the lab. As if today wasn't hard enough, they've asked me to come back tomorrow and see a few more people.

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:: A Few More Interviews

If I didn't say it oof. More interviews. I went in at 9am this morning to meet with a new group- embedded systems. Right off the bat I could tell these guys were my people. One of the secretary's desks was covered with Pez dispensers (Maybe they knew about PeZ).

The first guy I talked with sounded like he did a lot of the same kind of stuff I do. They work on implementing software on hardware, and often design stuff to work in real time. FPGAs, cluster computers, DSPs.. It was like an exact match of my resume. I then met with one of the hardware engineers in the group. We talked a good bit about FPGA design work (as well as layout). It sounded like they had built some cool custom designs. I then went to another engineer that was doing some work in flexible processing architectures. After a few minutes, I recognized the DARPA project she was working on (some of this project is being done at GT). She of course knew the GT end of the work, as well as Ken (they worked in the same group when they were at MIT). Anyhow, the three people I met from this group caught on to my thesis work pretty quickly.. It was nice to explain my work to other people and have them instantly recognize the cool parts.

Since there was a bit of free time in my schedule, they gave me a brief tour of some of the lab. Yikes. The first thing you see when you walked into their lab space is a pair of Cray T3Es (as well as an older model, I think). The next thing you see is a small cluster of PowerMacs/G4s (which I've been interested in for a while). They use Macs because their end real-time systems use PPC chips, so the mac cluster gives them something cheap to prototype on. Pretty cool stuff..

My next stop was to see the group leader for the second group I visited yesterday. I have to say this is where things fell apart for me. In short, I let the success of the previous interview get to my head, so I rambled on about stuff that I'm sure didn't impress the guy. The annoying thing was that I sensed that this was the group to try to get into. Sure the group this morning was a perfect fit work wise, but it just felt like this group was on the edge of doing some cool things.. I took the wrong avenues for things to discuss, so I'm pretty sure I won't hear anything from this group.. So much for yesterday's work. I went back to the previous group with one last interview that went pretty well, but I didn't give it 100% like I did with the earlier interviews. I finished everything at about 12:30 and hit the road to catch my mid-afternoon flight.

There were plenty of good and bad things about LL. Good: Smart people, hard problems, well-funded, good benefits, and I saw a few people from GT that I knew from before. Bad: high cost of living (20% higher than Atlanta), bad commutes, lotsa snow, the lab is on the fringe of Boston, and all of the work has something to do with the military. Which reminds me, I heard a new military word: "kill chain". Used as in "While this system doesn't kill people directly, it is on the kill chain". The group that was the best match also was fairly weapons oriented. Stuff to tell missiles who to blow on up and what not. Sigh.. One does all sorts of things to change the words around to make it seem like you're not the one pulling the trigger, but it's all the same in the end. Dunno how I feel about all this.. I'll have to talk it over with Amy..

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:: Ice Skating

Being that it's Pam's birthday today, a few of us (Pam, Justin, Jane, Steven, John, Amy, and myself) got together and went ice skating in Gwinnett. While Pam and Jane are little skating queens, it's been..several years since Amy and I have been out on the ice. As such, we were expecting a day of spills, bruises, and wounded pride. And more so than from our usual weekends.

The place in Gwinnett that we went was a standard, indoor rink that's used for your typical winter-olympics-watching suburbanites. As expected, it was packed with people, swirling around the ice at a pace that made Amy and I a bit nervous. We staggered out on to the ice and did a lap or two at arm's distance from the rink's railing. After seeing our friends whiz by a few times, we slowly moved into the general flow of the rink. I thought, "Hey, this isn't so bad.. I must still have some hidden skating skills in my head from when I was a kid.." It's at about this point that I had my worst accident of the day. Somehow, I did a 180 on the ice and then did a pure face plant. I say "pure" because on the way down, my arms saw what was happening and decided they didn't want to have anything to do with stopping my chest from hitting the ice. It's the stuff funny home video TV shows are made of. Amy and I benched ourselves after this, to rethink this whole balance thing.


Trying out the old roller derby moves

Amy and I went back out on the ice a few more times (or else the terrorists win, you know). As it turns out, holding someone else's hand while you're skating really helps you keep your balance. Plus, if you do fall, you can always blame the other person. Another thing I learned about skating is that the most important thing you can do is leave your dignity at the door. I noticed that when I flailed my arms around like a cartoon character, I could sometimes avoid falling down. Arm flailing is also good because the technique makes it look like an accident when you clock a bratty kid who thinks it's funny to go the wrong way on the ice.


Benched..and loving it

Amy and I skated for a bit longer, managing to fall only a few times (although in one of Amy's falls, she managed to hit her chin on the rink railing on the way down to the ice.. ouch). Feeling that we could no longer play up to par, we benched ourselves. Fortunately, John and Steven joined us shortly afterwards. Jane, on the other hand, kept going until the zamboni® ran her out of the rink. Ouch.. I can't wait to see what kind of bruises I'm going to have tomorrow.

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:: Hungover Noodle

Oofff. So.. Yesterday was Amy's last day of work at Sevananda. Amy's been working there for three and a half years. Originally it was just supposed to be a short term kind of thing while I finished up grad school, but, well.. you know how grad school went. Anyways, at least from my perspective, it's been really cool that she's worked there for so long. While the work sucked (she worked in the herb dept., so she got to hear a lot of customers discuss their bodily problems), she met and worked with a lot of cool people in the L5P community. Being that engineers rarely get to meet anyone cool, I was always fascinated by the different folks she worked with..


Some of the Sevananda Crew

So anyway, being that it was her last day, some of the folks in the store decided to throw her a bit of a going away bash down at The Brew House Cafe. I tagged along in search of a beer or two, and a chance to eavesdrop on some non-engineering conversation. So after I had about 5 pints of beer, Sat Kirpal tells me that the two of us need to do some "secret shots". Sat explained that secret shots are where you sneak away from the table to have a shot, and try to come back to the table without letting people know how messed up you are. After the first secret shot of tequila, we decided that our little plan had gone so well, that we went back to the bar and had another. When I got back to the table, I needed something to get that God awful taste out of my mouth, so I of course ordered one last pint of hefeweizen.


Ron, Brandon, Erin, Bob, and Sat (aka Fidel Ca$hflow)

I'm a little vague on what happened after that. Amy says that Sat had another secret shot with someone else, and that I paid for it. She also says I insisted on paying part of the tab for someone else's drinks at our table. My wallet was missing about $40 when I woke up this morning, so I'm guessing that's probably true. I think we were at the bar for some time after that (minutes? hours? I'll let them worry about the bats). I do remember thinking that my vision was behaving like a bad VCR tape. I also remember standing out in the cold by the car, waiting for Sat to come out of the bar. Amy tells me that he was missing a mitten, and that he went back in and told the people that had moved into our table something like "Alright. I need my other glove." because he couldn't think of anything else to say. This worked, and the next thing I know we're dropping him off somewhere and I'm not feeling so good (even though Amy was taking the massive speed humps in our neighborhood very slowly for me..).

-- Warning: Nastiness Below --

Thankfully, I was able to keep it together until we made it home. Then, I puked. I puked a lot. It looked like cooked ground beef, which was odd to me, because I distinctly remembered that I had had a turkey Reuben at the restaurant. When I was into just puking liquids, I moved the puke factory from the toilet to the sink. When this ended, I went to the kitchen and started drinking water. Unfortunately, by this time, my stomach was on to all of my schemes. I remember noticing that the water was just about as cold coming up as it had been going down. Knowing that it was water that had been purified with our britta filter (and then my stomach I guess), for some reason made me feel a little better. At least its not that evil alcohol, I told myself.

As you might imagine, the next (i.e. this) morning was awful. It had been a hard night of drinking, and I hadn't managed to hold down any water. "Beer then liquor, never.." what was it again? Oh yeah, "..never getting up in the morning except to throw up a few more times." Anyways, today was awful. I couldn't keep anything down until about 4pm. Amy took care of me though..She should have just thrown me outside and dumped a bucket of water on me.

-- End of Nastiness --

For the record- I don't go out drinking all that much, and when I do I usually only have about two beers. It had been a long time since we'd whooped it up though. Like they say in the bad movies, I'm getting too old for this crap. I don't think I'll be doing much drinking for a bit. If only I could feel the same way about donuts, ho-hos, and the ever fatal Hostess snowball, I'd be a healthy man.

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