Category Archives: Travel

hug your cyclists

A busy weekend. 

Kris completed the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic.  This is a 200 mile ride (not a race, not timed) that’s happened for over thirty years (other than in 1980 when it was cancelled due to the ash from Mount St. Helens).

Kris did about 140 miles the first day, leaving just 60 for the second day.  I’d tried to goad her into doing it all in a single day, but she pointed out that we’re both registered to run a marathon in a couple of weeks, so technically she’s in her taper for that.

Kayla was down at a theater camp in Portland this past week, so with Kris riding I needed to get down there on Saturday morning to catch her show and pick her up.  Side note – great camp – the Columbia River Gorge School of Theater does a great job at keeping things fun, safe, and challenging the kids to improve there performance skills.  Definitely recommended for interested kids!

Logistically, this posed a bi of a challenge.  The younger child would spend Friday evening and Saturday with my parents while Kris was riding, and I was between here and Portland.  I got a chance to visit with some family in Portland on Friday evening.  Saturday, it’d be showtime and then back up to Seattle.

Aside from a hellish ride south on Friday, things went well.  Great visit, and the performance was great.  Kayla had a great time at the camp – and was already lobbying for more time there.

We hit the road shortly before noon.  I figured we’d stop[ to get something to eat early afternoon, hopefully getting home around 4 or so.  As luck would have it, we ended up stopping for lunch in Castle Rock, which is where Kris would stop for the night.  She’d texted me about her progress, and I figured we were about 60-90 minutes ahead of her.  It seemed silly not to try to say hello.

So Kayla and I finished lunch and headed over to the high school where Kris would arrive.  When we got there, I looked around for a place to leave her a message if we didn’t catch her.  Kayla hung out outside, waiting for Kris to roll in.  Suddenly, I heard a horrible crashing sound, and then some people saying “cyclist down – call an ambulance!”.

I turned and looked – there was a small crowd of people gathered over by the entrance to the parking lot.  Incoming cyclists need to make a left turn across traffic here.  We’re still not sure what happened, but the driver of a Honda Civic had run into a cyclist on his way into the lot.  The rider had been been knocked about 12 feet or so, but appeared to be conscious.

I checked on Kayla.  She’d apparently seen the accident – not well enough to see precisely who was where, and when.  I asked her if she was okay – and then we walked over.  The cyclist was indeed awake and moving around.  He was banged up, and definitely shaken up – but was responsive to questions like “what year is it”, “what’s your name”, etc.

I’ve tried to find out how the cyclist is doing – but have not yet heard.  I can only hope he’s okay.  I honestly didn’t know whether it would have been better for us to move away from the scene, because of the feelings a cyclist getting hit stirs in both of us. Both Kayla and I are definitely still processing what happened to us.

Today I heard that another friend riding with his son, had a very close call. Around mile 167 or so, he was hit by a pink tricycle that had been unsecured in the back of a pickup truck coming the other way. It hit Greg’s tire, wiping out his front fork, and causing him to fly over his handlebars. Very fortunately, he’s just bruised and scraped. Wow.

Well – after that, there was really no question that we’d stay and see Kris ride in.  And she did, still smiling after riding farther than she had in a single day.  She had a decent ride the next day, and was in Portland in time to catch the first bus back up to Seattle.  We’re very proud of her, and are really happy that she had a safe ride.

If you’ve got a cyclist friend or family – give ‘em a hug.


greeting Kris in Castle Rock after she’d completed her first day’s ride for the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic.

travel buddy

Ran across an interesting time sink this evening – travbuddy.  Amongst lots of things I’m not (or not yet) interested in, you can map where you’ve been in the world.

Where I’ve been :

new york, NY

So last week, I was in New York for work.  I flew in for the weekend, did some sightseeing and visited with family in the area.

It’s funny – although I’ve not lived in New York since I was nine, I feel a sense of ‘home’ going back there.  That usually lasts until I’m trying to hail a cab in freezing weather though.

This time, I stayed down in lower Manhattan for the first time.  On Saturday I walked around a lot and took pictures.  I visited St. Paul’s Chapel and Trinity Church, both near the World Trade Center site.  This is the churchyard at St Paul’s, looking out towards the WTC site :

I’d not been to "ground zero" since October of 2001, when the WTC ruins were still smoldering.  Now it looks like any other huge construction site.

Back to the churches though – these are real treasures.  They’re great for taking pictures, because there’s so much to them, and because the light’s so great.  Here are some handheld, natural light photos taken inside of them :

Dating from the mid 19th century, they’re a look back to a day when there were no skyscrapers.  Here’s a look down Wall Street at Trinity :

After that, I continued on towards the Woolworth Building :

Along the way, I snapped some street scenes, and some pictures that emphasize the great architecture and geometry of the buildings :

I walked up past Mulberry Row, and through Chinatown to the Lower East Side and the Tenement Museum.  Some of these "tenements", or apartment buildings date from just after the Civil War.  Finally, I ducked into a small restaurant to grab some lunch.  The interior of this place was great for trying out my new-ish 12-24 mm lens !

I brought the 12-24 and my 18-200 mm lens on this trip, leaving my nicer 70-200 VR f2.8 and 50 mm f1.4 at home.  This was kind of a tough decision, but I wanted to try taking Ken Rockwell‘s advice to schlep along less.  It worked out great.

On Sunday, my cousin Sandy picked me up and we drove to visit her brother and his family up in Connecticut.  Mostly we hung out, and visited, and then went to watch their son play basketball.  This was a very nice, low-key day.

I took in two shows while in the city too.  November is a political farce starring Nathan Lane and Laurie Metcalf.  This was light, pretty funny, not a classic, but definitely worth the half-price ticket I bought (front row!).  the other show I saw was the revival of Pinter’s The Homecoming.  This was not light, but excellent, and definitely a classic.

An interesting footnote to sightseeing was running into Curly Neal and "Sweet Lou" Dunbar of the Harlem Globetrotters in a deli near Times Square.  Despite approaching 174 years old, Curly still looks the same.

can’t eat anything on the menu

While in NYC this week, I went to one of my favorite vegetarian restaurants, Hangawi.  I always enjoy going there.  The food is all vegan, all pretty unusual, and all very delicious.
This time I ordered the Chef Emperor’s Meal, a prix-fixe meal including appetizers, salad, soup, and a main course.  I do not remember exactly what I ate, other than it including lots of mushrooms and roots.  But it was very very good.  I enjoyed some traditional Korean rice wine (nongju) with it too.
I’d had a long day interviewing, so I was pretty content to bring a crossword puzzle and magazine with me, for some sedate entertainment.
The way the tables are set up a person dining alone (that’s me!) will sit nearby to 2-4 others.  Two young women sat at the table next to me.  It sounded like both were professional actresses, both in the perpetual audition, disappointment, audition cycle.  Then is came time for them to order.
One of the women said – "you decide, you’re the one who can’t eat anything".  And indeed that was the case … she ran through a list with the waiter of all of the things she couldn’t eat.  It included wheat, soy, and a number of other ingredients often found in a vegetarian Asian restaurant.  Then she informed the waiter that if any of the verboten ingredients were in her food, he would need to call an ambulance, and that it was quite possible that her death would be on his conscience.  Wow – no pressure.
On the other hand, I can’t imagine living with dietary restrictions like that.  You have the constant choice of being a pain in the side whereever you go out to eat, or ending up in the hospital or dead.  I wondered whether there are restaurants for people with dietary restrictions like this.  What’s the menu like : lettuce soup, with a tossed lettuce salad, a lettuce casserole, topped off with lettuce pudding for dessert?
I enjoyed my dinner, and left before any ambulance was called.
And unless you have severe dietary restrictions about soy and wheat, I’d highly recommend a visit to Hangawi.  You might combine it with a nighttime trip to the top of the Empire State Building, which is right around the corner.

global warming? not in the northeastern US!

Just got back from a quick business trip to New York City.  I always enjoy going there, both to visit family, and to enjoy what the city has to offer. 
Sunday, I visited with my cousins in New Jersey and Connecticut.  Got to watch a couple of the kids’ basketball games.
I stayed on the Upper West Side in a place I’d been a handful of times before.  They gave me a nice room on a high floor.  The only problem was that the wireless net was flaky.  Eventually I pestered them about to the point that they upgraded me to a king suite with a wireless router in the room.  Flaky wireless aside, it’s so nice staying in this smaller hotel instead of the big corporate places they ordinarily book.  It’s lots closer to work, very close to the park and subway, and in a great neighborhood.
Monday and Tuesday I worked.  I interviewed 26 students at Columbia.  It was a pretty good trip, we’ll get a number of good candidates.  One of our competitor companies was also their.  I’m not exactly sure what they do, but I think it involves colorful shorts and lots of advertising revenue.
The last interview Monday was interrupted by a fire alarm.  We had to evacuate the building, so the candidate and I found a room in the faculty house across the way.  I’ve had several interviews interrupted before – once by military helicopters!  In this case, we managed to make the best of things though.
Tuesday night, I was still reeling from the effects of two things I’d done earlier.  The first was going for an early morning run in Central Park.  It was 11 degrees (-10 with the wind chill).  I think that’s the coldest weather I’ve run in.  Was not as bad as I’d feared.  I kept moving, and wore big woolen socks over my hands.  I stopped for breakfast on the way back to my room, but couldn’t get warm.  I downed two douple-espressos in hopes that this would help.  It didn’t.  I stayed cold for hours.
After showering up, I came back down and ordered one more douple-espresso to take up to Columbia with me.  They made two instead, and offered me both.  Against my better judgment, I took them and eventually drank them both.
By 11 am, I was flying.  Actually worried that I would rattle myself apart or perhaps have a cardiac event.  The rest of the day I drank lots of water as I tried (in vain) to dilute the caffeine in my bloodstream.  I don’t know when I’ve been that wired.  With the few few candidates I felt like I was jumped out of my seat at them.  Later in the day, I felt more like a rehab patient.  Fortunately, the candidates were pretty good the second day, so I didn’t get too cranky or impatient.
In the evening, I took in the Knicks game, got a late dinner, packed, and tried to settle in for some sleep.
Not happening.  I think I eventually got about two or three hours before I needed to drag my hollow self downstairs to take a cab to the airport.  Yesterday was kind of a blur.

some minor fame on the jobs blog

My post about the Egypt trip is up on the Microsoft Jobs Blog … comments are coming in, including from some of the folks we spoke to, and some who are going to join us in Redmond!  Got to share some of my pictures too.  Check it out :

ma’as salaama!

I’m camped out in the departure lounge, with one hour to go before boarding.  I have a five hour layover in Hamsterdam – depending on what the passport control lines look like, I may venture out again.  It’ll be early morning though, so I’m not sure what will be open.
I went back to Abu el-Sid for one last meal – babaganoug, ta’amiyya, and kosheri.  So I leave full of food and rich with experiences.

fishwari’s and khan al-khalili

Just spent my last last bit of cairene daylight.  I got out there sort of late (nearly 14:30), but passed a very pleasant few hours wandering the alleys of Khan al-Khalili.  It’s taken a bit, but I’m finally relaxing and enjoying the charm of the city and the people more.  My difficulty with it initially is that as a tourist, you spend so much time fending off the hustling that it’s too easy to just keep quiet and not chat back. 
The thing is, it’s quite safe here.  You’re unlikely to get mugged, or to fall victim to crime so long as you take the usual precautions.  But since everyone’s always asking for your money or attention, and because the notion of personal space is very different here, it’s very easy to presume the worst.
Took a cab over to Khan al-Khalili today, and the driver was a pleasant fellow and surprisingly mellow motorist.  He suggested the Sufi dance demonstration tonight over near the Citadel — instead I’m resting up a bit before heading out for one final meal at Abu el-Sid in Zamalek.  I’d planned to take the Lonely Planet-suggested walking tour of Islamic Cairo, but found it nearly impossible to navigate by their map – not necessarily their fault, I think trying to map the serpentine alleys is nearly impossible. 
After wandering for about 30 minutes I found Naguib Mahfouz’s old ahwa haunt Fishwari’s.  I passed a very nice hour or so there, talking with a couple from France & Canada, and then with two gentlemen from Cairo.  One of them had been married to an american woman, and had spent some time living in the states (the flatlands of Missouri!), so he had a pretty good frame of reference.  His friend enjoyed his sheesha, while I consumed some mint shai, and then some ahwa.  We talked about how men and women relate differently to one another in each of the cultures, and how people are much more prone to touch one another (platonically) than in America.  Men will walk together arms locked, and kiss each other upon greeting.
After draining my drink, I wandered around Khan al-Khalili for another couple of hours, before stopping into the Naguib Mahfouz Cafe for tamiyya, taboula, and some delicious fresh mango juice.  I’m pretty sure I’ve gained more than five pounds while here – between not working out and eating/drinking all of this good stuff.  I’ll need to get back into form when I get home …
As I was walking this afternoon, I realized how much I’ll miss the vibrant market and rich smells you find there.  I hope I can remember them – it’s something that’s definitely unique to this part of world (at least in my experience).
Riding back to the hotel was another lunatic fringe experience … the driver accelerated into the narrowest spaces yet … traffic in front would stop, and he’d speed up to make sure he ended up with the advantage.  It approached the high-speed truck slalom for thrills.

forgot about this one – egypt’s brain drain

Don’t know how I forgot to write about this, but last week, while interviewing at the Cairo Microsoft Innovation Center, we were honored by a visit from Dr. Tarek Kamel, Egypt’s Minister of Communication and Information Technology.  It speaks volumes about the significance of a major corporate presence in Egypt – that a cabinet minister would take the time to mark the occasion of its opening.
We were introduced to him, and the center’s director Tarek Elabbady explained to Dr. Kamel that we were there to recruit students to come to work in the US.  Always ready with an unhelpful comment, I volunteered that the candidates were so strong, we might well exceed our hiring expectations.  Naturally I intended this as a complement to Egypt’s educational system and people.  It’s clear that exporting talent to the US generates mixed feelings for many Egyptians.  Years of economic troubles have fed the brain drain.  The hope is that they will ultimately be able to grow enough opportunity to retain their talent here, and also perhaps to convince some of their ex-pats to move back home, bringing with them years of valuable experience.
I’ve seen sentiments to that effect from a number of folks from outside the US who have worked for me.  People from India and eastern Europe in particular still consider those places home, but see no worthwhile economic opportunity there.  People in the US fear jobs moving overseas to places like this, but if they could understand just how badly these opportunities are needed, they might feel differently.  Speaking from years of interviewing experience, I’d like to see US candidates step things up a bit too – there’s lots of international talent out there who can capably do quite a few of our jobs.  The competition could be very healthy for us.
Of course, I’d probably feel very differently if my job were directly threatened.
One thing Kris and I explored a bit last year was doing a 3 month stint at one of the development centers in China.  They have lots of raw talent, but lack depth of experience in front-line leaadership.  The idea would be that I’d go over and train someone to a job similar to mine.
Going back to the original topic of the post, I also have some mixed feelings about that.  But working internationally would be the experience of a lifetime, wouldn’t it?

december 20 : whack whack whack is your wake-up call

My plan for today was to sleep as late as possible, eat a big breakfast, then head over to Islamic Cairo.  Two down, one to go.
Problem is, nine was as late as I could sleep before the htoel guys started their hammering to repair/renovate/annoy.  I tried packing my stuff into the suitcase last night – quite a challenge.  I have a duffle that I can use too, but don’t want to carry it unless I need to.  The Eagle Creek cubes I bought at REI are great – just wish I’d gotten another one or two.
While in Luxor yesterday, I picked up a copy of the Naguib Mahfouz novel The Harafish.  It’s excellent … a very human story the rise and fall of a family over generations.  It focuses on a particular alley – no location or time is given, but I’m to surmise that it could have taken place pretty much anytime into the early part of this century.  The writing is excellent – very crisp but elegant.  Egypt’s only Nobel laureate, Mahfouz is a controversial figure.  Apparently some of the Islamists consider his writing blasphemous.  Apparently his writings are considered thinly-disguised allegory on religious leaders, including the prophet Mohammed.  What I like about the chapters I’ve read so far is that it is an innately human tale – people are complex, flawed creatures.  Even when we set out to "do the right  thing", it is often more complicated in practice than theory.  Above all, the characters are alive with feeling : love, longing, anger, jealousy.
Mahfouz loved his neighborhood, often holding court in an ahwa (coffeeshop) called Fishawi’s, near Khan al-Khalili.  Conveniently, there’s a recommended walking tour of the area … time to clean up and head out.  Only question is whether or not to tote my camera along.