Sunday, March 12, 2006
Wet and Wild in Little Rock
Last Wednesday I went on a short trip to Little Rock. Nothing fancy. Fly there one night, come back the next afternoon. How exciting could it possibly be?
Well, as it turned out, slightly more so than I would have expected. The flight to Little Rock was uneventful but extremely rough. I flew on Continental Express with one of their city-hopper jets, and they get bounced around quite wild in serious turbulence. Not at all to my liking (even though I know that turbulence are just a nuisance). But we got there OK and it was just a short flight. I got to my hotel about an hour late. As soon as I got into my room and sat down, there was a car-accident right outside my window. Quite violent, but I think in the end, nobody got hurt. It looked like two cars got totaled. After that excitement, we had a surprisingly good sushi dinner.
The next morning, I got woken up early. Severe thunderstorms and heavy rain woke me up initially, but a tornado alarm finally got me out of bed! Tornadoes this early in the season? I had no idea. I always thought that was more of a summer thing, but as I learned, I was wrong. March through May apparently is prime tornado season. So there was some excitement there, but it all worked out OK. No tornadoes touched down right by the hotel.
A few hours later, I had a taxi drop my off at the University of Arkansas. The weather was still pretty crappy, but at least the tornado warnings were over. The driver claimed he knew his way around the university campus and promised to drop me off right by the building I was supposed to go to (I was there for a small software developer event that was otherwise unrelated to university happenings). Of course, he was wrong, and he dropped me off at the completely wrong end of the campus, so I ended up dragging all my luggage through the rain for 20 minutes. But it turned out I wasn't the only one who was late for the event. Luckily, my presentations started a bit later, but some other people who flew in that morning got delayed so badly due to tornado activity, that they completely missed their talks.
My presentations were over right after 1pm, and I got a ride back to the airport right away in the hopes of catching an earlier flight back to Houston. That did not work out quite that way though. Too many flights ended up being canceled that morning, so absolutely no open seats were available. This meant waiting until 5:30pm. Or so I thought. It actually turned out that all flights were delayed and my flight left even later. Oh well. The flight back to Houston was slightly bumpy, but not nearly as bad as the day before. When we touched down, we made up most of the time and were only slightly late. However, as we were taxiing back to the terminal, the pilot all of a sudden slammed the breaks and stopped. A few minutes later he came on the speaker and informed us that there was a security break at Houston airport and it would be at least 30-60 minutes before we could pull up to the gate. A security breach?!? Great! Luckily, it didn't take quite that long. My guess is that someone forgot their bag somewhere ("left it unattended").
So was this the most exciting trip ever? No, certainly not. But I am still surprised how much did happen on what I thought would be an uneventful trip not worthy of a mention on my travel blog...
Posted @ 2:26 PM by Egger, Markus (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Thursday, March 09, 2006
Austria Prints Circular Stamp with Meteor Dust
How is this for odd: The Austrian postal service is coming out with a new stamp. It is round (not "ball shaped" as reported by others... that would be really odd) and it is printed with meteor dust. The meteor used for this is 4.5 billion years old and came from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The Austrian postal service decided to do this stamp in celebration of the Austrian tradition of astronomical research. (I think there is some 200-year anniversary this year or something... but I am not overly knowledgable about the subject, mainly due to a lack of shows on the Discovery Channel about Austrian astronomical research...)
What has me puzzled is that the stamp is worth 3.75 Euros (about U$4.00). Seems like that is enough to send a rock from earth back to the asteroid belt (carried by an "Austronaut" perhaps?).
Boy, if I only had an interest in collecting stamps! Still, kinda nifty. Here it is:
Only the circular part is the actual stamp, everything else is only "packaging". It says "mail from a different world". Seems like "mail from another world" would have been better. Maybe that's just me.
Here's more info about all this.
Posted @ 8:29 PM by Egger, Markus (email@example.com)
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
The Year's First Day in the 90s?
This has been a very mild winter in Houston. In fact, I think yesterday was the first day in the 90s. I am not entirely certain, but when I drove home around 6pm, it was 89, so I am guessing that a few hours earlier, it probably hit 90 degrees (Fahrenheit). That is 32 degrees Celsius. Pretty nice for early March. In fact, I was quite hot when I went jogging last night. Today it was a bit cooler...
Posted @ 8:18 PM by Egger, Markus (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Monday, March 06, 2006
The rodeo is in town! Every year in late February, early March, the world's largest rodeo takes place in Houston. This year it takes place from Feb. 28th to March 19th. To find out more about the 2006 live stock show and rodeo, click here.
Just a few days ago, we went there with some friends who were visiting from Austria. It was quite the experience (as it always is). We went on a Thursday night, so we only had time for the rodeo and the concert (Melissa Etheridge... it was good although the acoustics are bad in Reliant Stadium). We didn't get a chance to visit the live stock show or the fair, but this isn't what we were there for anyway.
The rodeo is always an experience, and I find it particularly appealing in the new stadium. I have now been there several times, yet I find it's size mind-boggling every time I am there. The stadium holds 70,000 people, which makes it rather large, and to make it just a tad more impressive, it has a retractable roof. Just plain amazing. One can really only appreciate its size when they fire the fireworks inside. (This is also the stadium where the Super Bowl XXXVIII was held, including the controversial Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction"...)
One of the problems with the rodeo is that it is always hard to get tickets. I guess the tickets they sell are good for everything, including the live stock show and the fair. As a result, people that only go to the fair block a seat in the stadium. This not only makes it unnecessarily hard to get tickets, but it also looks pretty silly when the stadium is mostly empty, yet the tickets you are able to get are so far up, you can not tell whether they are riding horses or bulls.
We got relatively lucky this year though, and with only a little bit of imagination, we could spot the horses without much difficulty. Here's a picture taken from our seats:
The show was spectacular. Thanks to the huge monitors, it is relatively easy to follow the action, even with bad seats. What I really like is that it never gets boring. They have lots of different events, and each event only has a few competitors, so just before you start getting tired of it, they move on to another event. And there are quite a number of different things they do, from the obligatory bronco riding, to barrel races, bull riding, wagon races, kids catching cattle by the tails, cattle roping,
The bull riders always amaze me. In more than one way that is. I mean, think about it: Not only is the only way off the thing being thrown off, but once you are on the ground, possibly with broken bones, this behemoth is coming after you! Here's a picture from the later stage:
He is pretty much going after everyone. Apparently however, bulls lose interest once people climb 2 feet up a fence, even though they still seem to be well within reach.
The bronco riding is also action heavy. We even saw a rider getting trampled pretty badly, but to everyone's surprise, he got up and walked away after 15 minutes of medical attention. I have no picture from the bronco riding part. We simply were too far away to get any good shots. However, I do have a picture of the wagon race, which is surprisingly intense and fast. Not a Formula One race by any means, but it probably almost takes more guts:
Check out that motion blur! I didn't even need PhotoShop for that...
After two hours of rodeo, we listened to Melissa Etheridge who took over from Sheryl Crow, who was apparently recently diagnosed with breast cancer. (Best if luck to her!). Melissa has recovered from breast cancer and stepped in on short notice. Pretty cool! Ellen is a fan of Melissa's, which is why we ended up at the rodeo that particular day. Unfortunately, the acoustics in Reliant Stadium are really bad, and I am not sure I'd go there for a concert. It was nevertheless impressive:
Check out the seating arrangement in the back to get a sense of the scale of this place! The dark little roundish thing below the monitors is the stage, which is not small by any means either.
This was a pretty cool event to attend overall. If you have never seen a rodeo (especially if you are from out of town), then check this out!
Posted @ 9:16 PM by Egger, Markus (email@example.com)
Saturday, March 04, 2006
A few days ago, we visited NASA. We have some friends visiting Houston, and of course, NASA is one of the main tourist attractions, so we went to the Johnson Space Center. A few years back, I used to go to the space center several times a year with various out-of-town and out-of-country visitors, but it has died down over the last few years, and I haven't been at NASA in a few years. So I was actually reasonably excited to go there, and even Ellen came along.
Whenever one engages on a trip to NASA, it is important to set expectations right. The first time I went there, I simply expected too much. Kind of like a step down from Star Trek, and that just does not happen. The whole NASA experience is very down to earth, actually. In fact, the little tram-tour doesn't even go into space at all! Oh, the disappointment! But seriously: What you should expect at NASA is more history than fancy space-age things, because most of it really just comes down to good old engineering, so the most exciting things are generally things NASA did in the past.
A tour of the space center starts at the visitor's center. It is like a small amusement park with all sorts of NASA-themed, semi-educational things. Quite nifty, really, but at the end of the day, it is an amusement park. From there, you can engage in a tram-tour of the actual NASA facilities. For me, this is the main attraction, but monkeying around in a space-shuttle mockup in the amusement park section is cool too.
The tram-tour is different every time, depending on what NASA is up to at the moment. For instance, in the past I have seen the Astronaut training areas, including the underwater area and the area where they train with the Canada-arm and such. I also saw the huge vacuum-chamber and similar things. On every tour I have been on so far, one also sees the control centers. This time, the control centers were all we saw. It started out with the historic control center they managed the moon landing from. That is always cool, and a friend of mine even got to sit in the same chair the queen of England sat before. He is still talking about that experience today! (I made that up). We also saw the two new mission control centers. One for the International Space Station, and the other for Shuttle flights. Since we went there on the weekend, not much was done in the space station one, and since no Shuttles are flying right now, nothing at all happened in the shuttle control center. However, the individual tour guides were good and very knowledgeable. I was impressed how much these kids knew about NASA. So it was exciting and interesting, although a bit disappointing that we didn't get to see more about the other facilities. Perhaps it would have been more interesting during the week when more people are at work there.
One of the more interesting things is Rocket Park. Here you can see actual rockets from the Gimini and Apollo programs, including a full-size Apollo rocket (like the one that took people to the moon). Unfortunately, they built a building over the Apollo rocket, which is not yet ready to be toured. As a result, Rocket Park is rather boring at this point, and nobody even got out of the tram. Bummer. I assume that part will re-open in a more interesting way though.
Back in the space center visitor's area, we had some awful food (a space dog, some star fries, and some ice cream of the future). Nasty stuff, which I still regret to have eaten. (Ellen refused to eat it, and in hindsight, I recognize her wisdom...)
The visitor's center area itself is also fairly interesting. You can watch movies about NASA. You can also get some demonstrations about various things. Play with simple little simulators that explain some of the unexpected details about space flight. There also is a museum that shows various things from space suit gloves to capsules Astronauts flew in, and even a bunch of stuff about Space Lab (America's first space station). This is def. worth your time.
One the way out, we stopped at the space store and bought some Astronaut food (ice cream in particular), which is always a fun experience (the eating part that is... the buying part is rather boring). I once again resisted buying a moon-globe (after all, what are the chances that I will ever really need a map of the moon?), and we had a chuckle about the infamous space-pen.
Overall, this was a rather enjoyable day, which we wrapped up at the Kemah Boardwalk, which is practically around the corner from NASA and worth the visit when you are nearby...
Posted @ 10:11 AM by Egger, Markus (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Friday, March 03, 2006
Time to fire up the AC!
It has been a rather warm winter this year in Houston (contrary to the winter in Austria). Especially the last few days were pretty warm again, with temperatures in the 80s (the highest we measured was 30 degrees Celsius). Last night in fact, it was so warm that for the first time this year, we had to fire up the AC (Air Condition) to cool the house.
We currently have a few friends staying with us right now. They already used the (unheated) pool over the last few days. I jumped in as well, but it was a bit chilly, I have to say...
Posted @ 10:37 AM by Egger, Markus (email@example.com)