Wednesday, August 20, 2014

last minute blog post-- maggie

Since my summer has been pretty boring, I didn't really feel the need to post here but I guess I'll so a quick recap anyways.

So I was in Oxford until mid-June and then I came back to California on a Sunday evening. Monday I waited for like 2.5 hours to order a new drivers license at the DMV (my wallet got stolen while I was abroad) and then I started work at HP on Tuesday. My job consists of reading lots of journal articles and talking to lots of vendors about potential replacements for ITO (indium tin oxide-- the transparent conductor that makes your touch screen work). My boss is an MIT alum and she is fearless. I finish this Friday and then I fly to MIT on saturday at midnight

I'm living at home which is fun but also majorly weird because I've pretty much regressed to being high school Maggie again. The weather here has been amazing except it rained twice (?! never happens in norcal in the summer, I promise you), both times when I was carrying my laptop from the car into the office without a case. Definitely miss Boston though-- so see most of you very very soon (I get back the 24th).

In case you were wondering, the gender imbalance is alive and well in the computer hardware industry-- I am rarely in a meeting with any other woman (besides my boss).

Not sure what else to tell you? maybe I'll edit this later but hopefully nothing that exciting happens.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Head of Oliver Cromwell

So I actually accidentally already posted something entirely in Estonian here a week or so ago, because I got this blog mixed up with my personal one. I did at first think "why so few posts?", and then it took me a while to ponder over when did I write the draft for "San Francisco/Flashbacks to Childhood", until the name "Adam Hood" finally convinced me that this is not my blog.

Anyway, I can't really blame LMF for so few posts, as I haven't been writing any updates myself either. Partly because I've been busy and partly because I was ashamed I wasn't leading a life as excited as I had planned.

My summer in England is drawing to a close, and judging by the weather here, the summer is already over. The smell of autumn is in the air... I am very excited, since the days of Spanish weather here were dreadfully hot, and England is finally what I had promised myself it would be: grey and rainy! 

I have four days of school and exams left next week. On Thursday, we will have the final formal hall dinner, and on Friday, I'll pack and panic, and fly home (with a 2-day stop in Latvia). "Film and Theatre Journalism" had the final exam today, where we basically wrote a news article about the "new" season at the National Theatre in London. Afterwards, there was a "tea party" to celebrate the end of the course. Despite the name, there was less tea than at the Boston Tea Party (and I doubt anyone wanted to drink that salty tea either), but plenty of cake, biscuits and some fruit.

So "Behavioural Ecology" is the only course I have left next week, apart from some leftover deadlines. I'm already starting to miss Cambridge. The number of tourists has decreased significantly in August, and the town is really breathtakingly beautiful. I will miss the ducks and the cows a lot, too. 

We saw "The Crucible" with Zizz on Saturday, and it was quite spectacular. Richard Armitage (the lead dwarf in "The Hobbit") was great, although so were the rest of the cast. I assure you my assigned reviews were far more thorough. 

Plans for this weekend include mostly Ely, £3 there and back by train, that has a wonderful cathedral, an old town centre and the Oliver Cromwell museum! For context, Oliver Cromwell was the most exciting part of 8th grade History. He was the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, but in my opinion should be mostly known for his posthumous execution. 

His disinterred body was hanged in chains at Tyburn, and then thrown into a pit. Cromwell's severed head was displayed on a pole outside Westminster Hall until 1685. Afterwards it allegedly was owned by various people and was publicly exhibited several times. In 1960 what the owners had claimed to be his head was buried beneath the floor of the antechapel of his old school in Cambridge. The exact position was not publicly disclosed, but as noted below a plaque marks the approximate location.


An oval plaque at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge says:

Near to this place was buried on 25 March 1960 the head of OLIVER CROMWELL Lord Protector of the Common-wealth of England, Scotland &Ireland, Fellow Commoner of this College 1616-7.

The whereabouts of his head are also news to me, so you can imagine that Sidney Sussex is now also among the places I plan to visit before I leave. (It's right next to Sainsbury's, the local supermarket that is renting its space from Trinity College).

When the last time we met at the Blue Chicken with Zizz (a sculpture in front of the National Gallery), then this time we had agreed upon Platform 9 3/4.  Most of the trains from Cambridge to London go to King's Cross. Trains are cool.

There's a bloke whose job it is to hold the scarf up
A lot less crowded at midnight
Enjoying the sun in Pembroke
King's College (this grass you cannot walk on)
And now it's time for dinner at Pembroke. With so many flights and bus rides to come next week, I will hopefully be able to write one more post before it's time for the new semester to start. I mean it would obviously be a pity if there were no more random Oliver Cromwell facts on the LMF blog to come. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

San Francisco/Flashbacks to Childhood

Recap of my summer before Tuesday 7/29: Work work work work work hang out with people work work work work work. On the bright side, all of the main figures for our paper are done; just a few supplementary figures left to generate and a few scripts to clean up. Now for the actual blog post:

As some of you know, I've been in San Francisco for the past week, visiting my brother/the city/the surrounding area/enjoying the weather/not enjoying the fog/etc.

In the interest of not rambling on for twenty thousand words about my experiences in this city, this blog post will be mostly pictures of my various adventures:

I arrived Tuesday ~11:30 pm (PDT); not much exciting happened besides me climbing and descending a hill larger than all the hills in Boston combined. And that was an average-sized hill for SF.

Some observations that I made pretty quickly:
1) IT'S NOT HUMID, and the temperature is also much more pleasant that the Boston summer. I've had to walk around the city with a sweatshirt the middle of August!

2) Hills!

This looks intimidating
I made it!
3) A year ago, when my brother moved to San Francisco, my parents foisted about half their furniture onto him, so now that I'm here, I feel like I'm home!
My favorite sofa growing up. 
4) Palm trees
All the way down my brother's street
Thursday I walked to Twin Peaks, a park in the southern part of the city. It was a pleasant walk, until I got there.
Picture of Twin Peaks (from the internet)
Unfortunately, I had not yet figured out the patterns of fog in this city. Because San Francisco sits right next to the Pacific Ocean, it has no shield against the fog, so especially in the morning, the visibility is awful, especially from high up. After a 3.5 mile walk/hike, I found that my view of the city was something like this:
I couldn't see any farther than the camera here. 
As opposed to this:
View from Twin Peaks when not foggy

Of course, within a couple hours of climbing back down, the fog had dissipated. I tried again twice; only the third time was it clear - the view was gorgeous from the top. Unfortunately, it was so windy that i was legitimately scared to take a picture from the top of the peak for fear of losing my phone; I ended up taking pictures from a slightly more sheltered location.
Sunset from Twin Peaks

The first weekend of my vacation, Xiaoyue came down from Seattle; I spent time with her and later Kojo as well; I felt like I was being followed by a pair of paparazzis:
My token visit to Stanford

Cameo moment on Pier 39
As a side note, Rainforest Cafe was a restaurant that closed many years ago in the local shopping mall. It was one of my favorite places as a child; they had live parrots and everything! I hadn't even realized it was a chain until I saw brought back some memories.
Another attraction I spent some time in was Golden Gate Park, not to be confused with the Golden Gate Bridge which is more than a mile away. Golden Gate Park is this 3 x .5 mile forested area on the west side of the city with lots and lots of gardens and a few lakes and even bison (sorry, I didn't get a picture of those)
One of many flowerbeds scattered throughout the park
Some ducks floating on Stow Lake
Stow Lake was probably the highlight; in the middle of the lake there is a hill you can climb and from the top you get a spectacular view of the city. In the interest of not encroaching on a picnicking couple, I decided to forgo the view.
On my bucket list for this trip was a visit to the Pacific Ocean - I wanted to dip my feet in just for the sake of being able to say that I did. So I did! My brother and I biked through Golden Gate Park to a beach (which apparently stretches on for miles). To our great relief, we chose a day on which it was sunny and gorgeous:

#selfiez. That's the ocean behind me!
The apex of my trip however, was somewhat more ambitious. I undertook a grueling 23.1 mile bike ride (round trip), full of climbing and getting lost and getting confused. The results were breathtaking:

#moreselfiez. The bridge was definitely worth the trip

It looks majestic, despite the fog. If anything, the fog adds mystery

I legitimately had no idea what to do after crossing the bridge; then I noticed that with a short climb I could reach an overlook. It turned out to be some earthworks; until the 1940s batteries were stationed there to guard the entrance to the San Francisco Bay. For tourists like me, it allows us a stunning view of the bridge, and the city beyond, without expending too much effort.
I'm writing this post from my brother's apartment a few hours before my flight back to Boston; I think I'm going to miss this city. Coming here was a great experience, and I hope to be back someday soon.

Dinner and a show, with some questions on the side

Quick fact for you guys: What's the cost of living in Bangalore? All-around, about 1/4 the cost for the same living standard in the US. There's a reason that US companies outsource even skilled tech jobs - well, the cost of living, plus the presence of millions of people with engineering degrees competing for some thousands of spots in good companies. MIT students take note : we have it pretty easy.

By and large, this cost of living feels a little bit odd to me. You know that awkward feeling when you walk into a restaurant and realize it's waaay fancier than you expected from the outside? Eek.
Okay, now forget all the, awkward gulping-at-prices, because instead of being stuck between shuffling out the door or pretending that all I wanted was a cup of coffee, in Bangalore this mistake is usually about as costly as forgetting my sandwich and buying lunch from Chipotle's. Except that instead of a cardboard-wrapped burrito, you get open-air views, fashionable cutlery, and a lower risk of food poisoning. There may even be a clean bathroom. With soap.
A nice Italian restaurant - watermelon sangria turns out to be a rather wonderful invention.
Okay. I won't pretend this isn't fun, but I do mostly prefer simpler, Indian food. It surprises me. Lassi drinks, made of frothed milk and yogurt, come in many flavors - sweet; fruity; and masala, or spice. Think cumin-flavored yogurt sipped through a straw. Other regulars are salty lime soda, or spicy lentil sambar for breakfast. 

Street vendor roasting corn
I don't have much of a kitchen to try out any recipes here, but let's just say I hope to have a few tricks up my sleeve by the next time I cook ;-)


Even more awesome? I can go to dance and theatre performances whenever I like!
Well, OK. Whenever I can navigate poor online directions, unlisted bus schedules and an hour's commute into central Bangalore. Nonetheless, a professional performance here sets me back about $5. Most of what I've seen here has been very good, and culturally fantastic.

Today, I went to see a performance of Odissi Dance.
Sharmila Mukherjee's Odessi Dance Team (website photos - cameras not allowed in the theatre!)
A helpful English voiceover explained the basics to fill out my Wikipedia-based knowledge. Odissi is one of India's oldest dance forms - in fact, it was nearly eradicated a few centuries ago and was reconstructed from temple carvings and the work of a few surviving dancers.

After this, explanation was unnecessary. The dance was a spectacle. Odissi is in turns precise and sensuous. In my favorite piece, a tribute to the goddess Ganga who is the mouth of the Ganges, the dancers alternate snaking, flowing motions with their arms, and a rhythmic chant where they stamped their feet and clinked their anklets and hip bands to mimic rainfall or fish scales.
In a piece taken from a 12th century poem (a date which speaks to the depth of India's history), the lead dancer led her arms offstage. Beckoning. Smiled. Wiped her arms across her hips and shoulder. Was she putting on a sari? I wasn't sure, but enjoyed the cross-cultural guesswork.
There is a particular expression of Indian women which appears in every love song, and probably hides in every American fantasy of an Eastern mystique. It's flirtacious, audacious, and so rare to appear among the commuting and shopping multitudes who appear on the streets that I had almost dismissed it as the stuff of Bollywood. Then these dancers appear, and have mastered it - a slow, enigmatic smile at the floor, fanned by a bright beckoning glance from the corner of the eye. Practiced, calculated as it clearly was - the glance exists. When it hits you, it scorches.

Interestingly, the male in Odissi is barely distinguished from the female dancer. His costume is the same, except bare-breasted, and his jewelry is more sharp and masculine and defined by two silver bands which hug his biceps. Like his counterparts, he dances with his hips thrust outwards, beckons from heavily made-up eyes, and makes curving motions with his arms and upper body. I've never seen a man move like that before. I could barely take my eyes away.

This accessibility of culture is quite fantastic. I haven't decided yet whether what I've seen so far has all been very good; or whether the styles of performance here are so different that everything is fresh and captivating to me. I'm like a child watching her first magic show.


The exchange rate is great. However, before I go - let me add a disclaimer for you to think about.

"I can't eat that. They might have not have used bottled water to wash the vegetables."
"Oh, I don't mind if the silk merchants cheat me a little. It's still half the price it would be back home."

This sounds pretty obnoxious to my ears. The context does help - I am getting cheated pretty frequently, and careless eating has gotten me multiple rounds of food poisoning which I can tell you is not fun at all
However, telling you about a country like India - living in a country like India - by talking about fancy restaurants, while working in a Western company in a gated community, is awfully one-dimensional.

When I studied the Great Depression, I was told that somewhere in the stimulus package, Roosevelt's administration paid men to walk in the parks with balloons and scare pigeons away from the statues. This was held up to the class as near-absurd inefficiency.
Bangalore beats it everyday.

What does it take to maintain a happy one-dimensional picture for people like me?
- I pass eight guards on the four-minute walk from bedroom to office
- The toilets at work are cleaned approximately every other time they are used
- At large buildings, two women stand at the gate to make sure everyone goes through the security detector (it always beeps. No one is ever stopped).
- Every store has a guard to check bags on entering the stores
- and another guard to check receipts when you leave
- The 4-story mall nearest me has a guard at every elevator. He has a whistle and blows it if anyone breaks the elevator rules.
- Women, often elderly, sweep the streets by hand

I can write this list, but it's too brief. These are only the people it took weeks to notice and count.
Would I lose my comfort and safety if you took most of these people away? Certainly not - I listed here the most visible jobs, which are often the most useless.

How many people are at the edges of my nice little picture?
How many pictures am I missing entirely?

Cow grazing in front of the modern medical clinic next to my office.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Theatre festivals and hiking next to lakes!

Bonjour a tous! I will condense two trips into one post, because I am so behind! 

Avignon Saturday, July 12

Every year, the city of Avignon hosts a 3-week long theatre festival in July. During this day, troupes and theatre groups from all over the country come to the quaint town to promote their shows, musicals, and plays. Many advertise on the main street in their costumes, and it is a truly fantastic site! A lot of medieval characters, superheroes, cartoon characters, and others. 

The first thing we saw when we arrived in Avignon, however, was a giant purple moose. 


Here's an example of some of the street performances you might see: 

Streets are filled with actors and actresses, many of them playing music or singing:

At the end of the main road, the famous Papal Palace, the refuge of popes in the 14th century, stands in all its glory:

Inside, one can learn a lot about the papal way of life

Acrobatic shows took place right outside:

These sorts of advertising posters of theatre plays on every single street:

The view of the little palace from the Pont d'Avignon, a medieval bridge built in the 1100's, but destroyed soon afterwards when Louis VIII laid siege on Avignon. A pity, but made for a great tourist attraction nonetheless! 

Me and Ashlie, another intern from Oklahoma, on the Pont d'Avignon

Can you tell apart the fake from the real? :) 

Another acrobatic show in front of the papal palace:

Hiking at Lake Annecy, July 19th

Next week, we set out to conquer the pretty and quaint lakeside town of Annecy. However, before getting to the actual center of town, we "accidentally" climbed a peak called Col des Sautes, from which one gets a pretty good view of Lake Annecy:

This was just a ~1200 m elevation, so not too exciting, but considering we started off at ~560 something, it was a pretty good hike. 

Taking in the view at Lac Annecy! 

The cliffs were really awesome and at one point we actually had to climb up using a rope put in there for that purpose. 

The water was fantastic, I promise! It was really warm and I just really did not want to get out. I really recommend this to anyone in the Geneva / Hautes-Alpes region. :)  

Coming up next: Lyon and hiking in Bourg d'Oisans. I've been really behind on this blogging thing.