Tag Archives: Travel

To Vancouver!

Vancouver is a city in the province of Canada known as British Columbia. It’s on the west coast, making it geographically speaking Canada’s San Francisco, with Toronto, Ontario serving as New York, New York. That is, if you have to make clumsy comparisons between the two countries, which I do. Vancouver is also the location of the 2017 Conference of the Association for Computational Linguistics, which is why I started my journey here.

My flight started with the TSA shouting at us “Don’t take off your shoes!” and “Leave your liquids and laptops in your carry-on bags!” Then they got frustrated when people removed their shoes and took out their liquids and laptops from their carry-on bags anyway. “You’re not listening to us!” whined a TSA guard with her hair in a tight bun as I fought a fog of befuddlement and more than a decade and a half of TSA training and shoved my laptop back into its carrying case.

All of the seats on the plane were apparently first-come-first serve. I received a very tangible benefit for coming the airport so early when I was awarded comfort class seating on my flight to LA. On my six hour flight I watched the first episode of 11-22-63, the breakneck-speed television adaptation of the thirty-hour audiobook of the same name. What had been a detailed few hours of suspense, character building, and exposition in the book took twenty minutes and mostly consisted of Chris Cooper berating James Franco for being too much of a selfish jerk to go back in time to stop the JFK assassination. Then I watched Lego Batman, which, true to the standard set by the new “Lego Movie” franchise, served fast-paced Lego action along with tongue-in-cheek self-aware commentary on Batman’s nearly century-long tenure as American cultural icon. In the words of Lego Bruce Wayne, “I have aged so well.” In that same vein, despite my every attempt to tell it not to, Google’s “smart” notifications continue to insist that I watch the Emoji movie, but it doesn’t take much digging to see that it’s no Lego Movie. Vox puts it succinctly – “Do not see the Emoji movie

Then I was in seat 2A on my connecting flight. Right at the front of the plane. This was not first class, though, only “Plus” class, whatever that means. It wasn’t until the hostess brought me a wet towel to wash my face that I understood. Plus class is first class. What’s more, where I was sitting, everything on the menu, including alcohol, is free. I got a can of pringles, a ham and swiss croissant, a “tapas box” with eight items, including red pepper bruschetta and a snack pack of manzanilla olives, and a screwdriver. At first I thought the hostess was just going to give me a can of orange juice, but then she came back with a little airline vodka container to go with it. Then I asked for a bag of beef jerky in case I got hungry in the night in Vancouver. The Dutch bodyguard sitting next to me (there was a tray with drinks in the center seat so we got to have personal space) ordered a sandwich and tried to pay, even after I had mentioned to him we were exempt in Plus class, which earned him a tongue-clucking “I told you so,” which I was more than happy to provide. Like me, it was more than clear that he had also ended up in the lap of luxury entirely due to chance. My first sight of British Columbia was scattered islands cropping up, rising from the ocean like the backs of enormous sea creatures with lush coats of coniferous fur.


Now I’ve completed my travel. I’m enjoying a private room on the twelfth story of a Vancouver high-rise, thanks to Airbnb. There’s a nest of seagulls on a nearby rooftop. I pointed it out to my hosts, who said they had been there for four months. They had watched the parents court, build a nest, conceive and then lay the eggs, and raise the children. “It takes forever” they complained. I’m loving it here already.



Friendly Chipmunks and Ghost Ships

This week was a week of hiking. Our excursions took us to the tops of mountains, to abandoned islands, and across disappearing land bridges. Much to my fiancée’s joy, we climbed to the top of three different mountains over the course of the trip. Penobscot, Dorr, and Cadillac. Alice also climbed to the top of Sargent mountain, from which my father and I turned back after our trip ended up going overtime and we had to get back for another event.


IMG_20170712_123835529.jpgOur abandoned island was Bar Island. After getting lost following a hurried flight from a swarm of bees, we stumbled upon an old fort that may have been from the civil war. This is just one of the chimneys that remain from that old fort.IMG_20170710_180227073.jpg

The bridge to Bar Island is below sea level at high tide, so it is only open for part of the day. A warning sign says that if you end up on the island at high tide you can wait for nine hours or call a water taxi for $150. I suspect you could also take your shoes off and wade back to shore, but I never got to try it.


It was here at Bar Island that I first saw the ghost ship.


The reason I know that this ship is of supernatural origin is due to its unusual size and anachronistic appearance. It also moved slowly and in a straight line, as if it were floating just above the surface of the water.

The flora and fauna were a particular highlight of the trip. Chipmunks abounded, and once I fell asleep and found a seagull nearly on top of me.


See below a squirrel fight I recorded.

All in all, I’d say it was definitely worth the legwork.


Okay so an emergency medical technician, a computer science Ph.D, an adjunct professor, and an olympic gold medalist baton twirler get on an airplane. “What is this?” Asks the snarky flight attendant, “some kind of joke?”

The EMT was a San Diego native getting an associate’s degree and on his second-ever plane flight. He was impressed when he learned that I had a PhD, but he just could not get over the professor who was sitting across the aisle from us. He just kept saying “wow, a professor.”

The reason we were all sharing so much about ourselves actually had to do with this EMT in training as well. Somehow within the first 5 minutes of the flight he had revealed that he was on a flight back from Baltimore where the long-distance girlfriend he was visiting avoided him for 7 days straight. This led to the medalist and the professor demanding more details, and soon we were all working together to advise this man on his relationship.

Meanwhile, and this is true, the snarky flight attendant would ask us to speak up when we spoke to him and then accuse us of yelling. The captain turned out to be snarky, too, and he told us to look out the window- no wait we missed it – wow you don’t see something like that every day. Then the flight attendant tried to offer me food off of the floor. When he came around with clean food, I politely declined, and the EMT was dumbfounded. This led to a lengthy discussion in which I tried to explain that I was not on a special diet beyond “free junk food is not a good enough reason to eat junk food.” The conversation was interrupted when the flight attendant threw the extra cookie the EMT had requested and succeeded at hitting him in the face.

The plane was noisy enough  that we could never understand each other when we tried to introduce ourselves. The professor wanted to keep calling me “Stan” but I wouldn’t let her. We compromised on “Stam.”

The flight attendant told us that he was from New York and his southern accent was from when he had an injury that impaired his speech and he learn to speak again from a Mississippi-based speech therapist.

The pilot was whispering unintelligibly into his intercom by the time we got off the plane. We all wished the EMT luck in love, and “Stam” bid farewell to his brief friends in the air between Baltimore and San Diego.

Besides the flight attendant asking if it was some kind of joke, the above is all true. The cover image is not related.

¡Fotografías estupendas de Madrid! : Comidas

Help yourself to a second serving of Spanish photographs! This time I’ll document some of the food of my trip! Click any photo to start a slideshow, and look at the captions for descriptions and interesting stories of my experiences!

¡Fotografías estupendas de Madrid!


As a small child it always confused me that Spanish was the language of Mexico. Despite being raised speaking English in the United States of America, it seemed disappointing that I would always see and hear the Spanish language, but never any Spanish people. Well, that all ended this week. Persona de España, árbol de España, restaurante chino de España, gato blanco de España, y más! I got to see them all! With all the experiencing I’m doing, I have very little time to document besides taking pictures, so this entry will be a collection of picture galleries. I’ll start with a few easy ones while I’m in Spain, and finish up with some more detailed storytelling after I’ve gotten back.

 ¡Graffiti de España!

The first thing you notice in Madrid, at least if you’re near the university instead of in the tourist area, is graffiti. There’s graffiti everywhere. Lots of colorful, artful graffiti, but also, especially on campus, simple messages in black paint. Most of these appear to be pro-communist or anti-fascist messages, but I also saw some that praised the prevalence of Catholicism in Spain. One graffiti was an elaborate full-color portrait of a woman surrounded by a bicycle chain. There were a few messages written around the edges as well, maybe some Spanish scholars reading my blog can translate them. One picture includes the proud artist, who told me in proficient English precisely what he was aiming for when he tore off the metro poster to reveal the poster beneath. “There is another face. Half man, half woman!” he beamed.

¡Flora y Fauna de España!

The Spanish foliage was generally beautiful. The birds were exciting, but difficult to capture on camera. The bright green birds were monk parakeets, I believe. There were also large black birds like ravens but with white spots that I dubbed “orca birds,” and small birds that always seemed to be flying around in swarms. They seldom stopped for long enough to clearly make out, let alone record, any features. One got trapped in a huge cathedral I visited and just flew around and around in wide circles the whole time I was there. The pigeons were docile, though. They seemed to be asleep on their roosts on top of the statues near the royal palace. The area that looks like an arboretum was on the way between our hotel, AC Hotel Los Vascos, and the university.