Andy Carvin's Waste of Bandwidth

July 11, 2005

Arrival in Jersey

Filed under: USA — Andy Carvin @ 10:07 pm

I managed to get into New Jersey a little sooner than expected; when I got to the airport this afternoon, they were just getting ready to board the 3:30pm flight to Philadelphia. Rather than wait around for my flight an hour later, I asked if I could fly standby; a few minutes later I was on board, with the last aisle seat available.
I got to Philly just before 5pm; by the time I was on the road with my rental car, it was the height of rush hour, so things were pretty slow going. But since I was early, I was in no hurry to get to the Jersey shore; the sun was shining, Nine Inch Nails were on the radio, it was a breeze. I even almost managed to get all the way without getting lost, but just before my last turn I found myself chatting on the phone with my brother about his new job at the Associated Press and somehow drove on past the turn. A quick call to Art Wolinsky, my host for the workshop, got me back on track, and soon enough I was pulling into his drive. He got a kick out of me locking all the car doors. “Yeah, you’re from Boston all right,” he quipped.

June 16, 2005

Arrival in Cleveland, Surrounded by Medicos

Filed under: USA — Andy Carvin @ 2:22 pm

It’s just after 2pm and I’ve been in Cleveland for a couple of hours. I tried checking into my hotel just after noon but they said rooms wouldn’t be ready until 3pm. So I left my bags and walked a few blocks to the main conference hotel. It turns out that this year’s CTCNet conference is taking place in the heart of Cleveland’s medical establishment; we’re surrounded by large industrial buildings spread out over entire city blocks touting a range of medical services, from open heart surgery to oncology. I suppose it’s not a bad idea to have a big conference with some doctors nearby; at my last conference in Dubai, one of the attendees rolled out of his chair and dropped dead of a heart attack. It took at least 30 minutes for paramedics to show up; here, at least, if I get a thrombo or at least a really bad splinter they just have to drag me across the street. I feel safer already. :-)
It’s pretty quiet here at the moment; I’m in a computer lab with Tony Streit of YouthLearn next to me, checking email and enjoying the solitude. Some attendees are in pre-conference workshops, but most people are still en route to the conference. Hopefully I’ll be able to check in within the hour or so, then head back over here to participate in a couple of site visits of local community techonology centers before hosting an informal happy hour for DDN members at the hotel bar…. -andy

December 3, 2004

A Very Vanderbilt Christmas

Filed under: Travel,USA,Video — Andy Carvin @ 8:42 am

Yesterday, Susanne and I took our new car for its first weekend road trip, heading down to Newport, Rhode Island to visit some of its famous 19th century mansions. While Newport may be most popular in the summer, December is a great time to visit, because several of the mansions are decked out in full Christmas regalia.

It’s only a 90-minute drive from Boston to Newport, so we arrived there just before lunch. We bought a multi-mansion pass that would allow us to visit the three mansions decorated for the holidays: The Elms, The Breakers and Marble House.

The ElmsOur first stop was The Elms. Built at the turn of the 20th century for coal magnate E.J. Berwind, The Elms is a replica of Chateau D’Agnes in Asnieres, France. Entering the mansion, we were giving an audio guide, a small digital recorder with a room-by-room guide to the mansion. The audio tour took just over 30 minutes, leading us through the mansion’s grand bedrooms, drawing room, kitchens and dining room, which was decorated with an enormous painting of Alexander the Great. I particularly enjoyed the part of the tour that led us through the kitchen and pantry: magnificent, spacious rooms that could cook a feast for hundreds of guests at a time.

After The Elms, our next stop was The Breakers. Perhaps the most famous mansion in America and the most visited tourist attraction in Rhode Island, The Breakers is the grand dame of Newport mansions. Constructed for Cornelius Vanderbilt in the 1890s, the mansion drips with opulance, extravagance, grandeur, excess. The Breakers is built around a two-story Great Hall, a magnificent space that could entertain hundreds of guests. At the far end of the Great Hall was a Christmas tree constructed entirely of poinsettia plants. To the left of the tree, a regal red staircase led to the second floor; from the base of the stairs you could see a huge painting of Mrs. Vanderbilt, just below a magical green skylight that had originally resided in the Vanderbilt’s New York estate.

The BreakersWe didn’t have an audio guide for our visit to The Breakers, which was a shame; the pamphlet given to us simply didn’t convey the stories contained in the digital player we used at The Elms. Nonetheless, the mansion was magnificent, particularly the dining room. Inspired by Versailles and reminiscent of The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the dining room is perhaps the grandest eating hall in all of North America.

The third mansion on our tour was Marble House, another Vanderbilt estate. Constructed entirely of marble at a cost of more than $10 million, Marble House is a stunning site. The styles of the rooms varied greatly; in one corner of the house we found a monastery-like Gothic Room, complete with stained glass, while Mrs. Vanderbilt’s bedroom looked like a suite suited for Marie Antoinette herself. While not as over-the-top magnificent as The Breakers, Marble House was actually more interesting because it came with an excellent audio guide. The guide conveyed the personality of Mrs. Vanderbilt and her daughter quite dramatically, particularly since it made it apparent that the daughter resented the mother’s controlling nature.

After a brief stop at a local pub, we paid a return visit to The Breakers for a special treat. The mansion was open that evening as part of a holiday tour program that only occurs on Saturday nights each December. It’s one of the few chances visitors get to experience the mansion at night. Top it off with live music and festive snacks, it was an opportunity we didn’t want to miss.

The Great Hall at The Breakers
The Great Hall of The Breakers. Click the photo to see a video of the “12 Days of Christmas” singalong.

Having just visited the mansion a few hours earlier, we didn’t need the paper guides that were handed out at the entrance. Instead we strolled the house with confidence, quickly learning the location of all the main rooms. Several hundred other visitors strolled the mansion, some dressed in tuxes and furs, others in jeans and sweatshirts. In the Great Hall, an a capella group sang Christmas songs, while the Lower Loggia played host to a selection of pastries, as well as apple cider and egg nog. Unfortunately, you weren’t allowed to take your snacks out of the room, and you couldn’t hear the music from there, so I felt like we were always in a rush to nosh and get out of there.

Meanwhile, the singers led all of us in a series of Christmas Carols, the highlight of which was a tag-team rendition of The 12 Days of Christmas. The singers had the crowd break into different groups, each having a singing assignment. Susanne and I found ourselves in a the group singing “10 lords a-leaping” and “11 pipers piping.” Some groups were better than others, several of them clearly taking their job quite seriously. The best group was the team singing “five golden rings”; the only group on the second floor of the Great Hall, the singers were loud, out of tune, and thoroughly entertaining. It was a wonderful way to kick off the holiday season…. -andy

November 26, 2004

Thrill Ride

Filed under: USA — Andy Carvin @ 8:51 am

Riding the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad today at Disney World.

Thrill Ride

posted from Andy’s mobile phone

November 25, 2004

A Very Floridian Turkey Day

Filed under: Travel,USA — Andy Carvin @ 8:52 am

It’s Thanksgiving here in the U.S., and Susanne and I have just arrived in Florida for a long weekend with my family. Later this morning, Susanne and I are going to EPCOT for the day before rendezvousing with my parents and grandmother for Thanksgiving dinner at one of the local resort hotels. Tomorrow, we may take a day trip to St. Augustine, the oldest city in the United States, while on Saturday, we’re hoping to go sailing with friends. All in all, it’s looking like it’s going to be a very relaxing weekend — let’s just hope the weather holds up…. -andy

November 2, 2004

East Coast Road Trip

Filed under: Personal News,USA — Andy Carvin @ 9:05 am
Susanne and Boris the Bullet Dodger
Susanne poses with our new Camry, aka Boris the Bullet Dodger

Susanne and I have just returned from a 1,300 mile motor adventure, having driven from Florida to Boston in the Toyota Camry I’ve just inherited pre-emptively from my grandmother. (Pre-emptive, as in, she gave it to us when she decided to give up driving after her 89th birthday.) It was a long, but beautiful drive — we couldn’t have asked for better weather.

We flew down to Orlando on Friday and were met at the airport by my parents. From there, we drove back to their condo in Indian Harbour Beach, where I got my first first-hand look at the damage caused by three successive hurricanes this autumn. It was very surreal, to say the least. On the surface, everything looked basically normal, but in a rather disheveled state. Most businesses were operating, but few had signs or marquees any more. Most homes had large piles of trash waiting to be picked up — tree trunks, twisted gutters, shredded aluminum siding, etc. Enormous piles of sand sat along A1A, the remnance of sand floods that covered the road during the storms. Houses had large blue patches where tiled roofs once rested. And every big hotel on the beach was closed indefinitely, some with significant damage to them.

Somehow, our new car managed to survive the three hurricanes without a scratch. First, it outlasted hurricanes Ivan and Frances in Orlando at my grandmother’s condo. Then, after my parents moved the car to their condo in Indian Harbor Beach, it survived a direct hit from Hurricane Frances — on the last day it was insured under my grandmother’s old insurance, no less. So much for three strikes you’re out. But at least it’s allowing us to boast that our car survived the 2004 Florida hurricane season. And we’ve even started calling the car Boris the Bullet Dodger (see Guy Ritchie’s movie Snatch for the reference) in honor of its Darwinistic integrity.

On Saturday morning, less than 24 hours after arriving in Florida, Susanne and I piled into our new car and started the drive up north. Ideally, we wanted to do the drive in two days, but knew this would be pushing it. If we could just get past New York City by the end of the second day, that would allow us to get home Monday morning in time for me to put in a day’s work.

South of the Border
The one and only South of the Border

Saturday’s drive was very productive. We crossed Florida and eastern Georgia in no time, having lunch at a greasy Shoneys in South Carolina. Despite the number the experience did on our stomachs, we pressed forward and managed to make a pilgrimage to South of the Border, the tackiest roadside attraction on the East Coast. A Mexican-themed motor lodge, fireworks shopping pavilion and amusement park all rolled into one,
South of the Border is breathtaking in its delicious sleaziness. I couldn’t think of a better place to stop, stretch our legs and look at some plastic flamingoes.

Somehow we were able to push ourselves to drive to southern Virginia that first night, where we crashed at a motel and ate really good Mexican at a little hole-in-the-wall. Technically, we were more than half-way home, having driven over 700 miles in one day, but the second day would be full of traffic delays and construction hazards, not to mention one less hour of daylight due to the end of daylight savings time. As predicted, we were delayed by terrible traffic south of DC and construction nightmares every 100 miles or so. I was amazed that we were able to get to New York before sunset.

We spent the night in Waterbury, Connecticut, before hitting the road again early Monday morning. Traffic on the Massachusetts Turnpike was hellish, but par for the course, so we were home with our new car just after 9am. Now I just need to get it inspected for emissions and insurance purposes.

Lastly, I took a small number of pics with my camera phone during the drive north. You can find them on my camera phone blog if you’re interested… -andy

July 18, 2004

Feast of St. Rocco

Filed under: USA — Andy Carvin @ 12:07 pm

A procession through Boston’s North End for the Feast of St. Rocco.

Feast of St. Rocco

posted from Andy’s mobile phone

April 16, 2004

The Opening of Fiesta San Antonio

Filed under: USA — Andy Carvin @ 10:55 am

As luck would have it, today is the opening of Fiesta San Antonio, a 10-day celebration of the battles for the Alamo and San Jacinto, both of which led to Texas independence from Mexico. Right now I’m standing in front of the Alamo with a crowd of around 500 people listening to a military band playing John Philip Sousa tunes. Lots of people are wearing silly hats and exchanging medals with each other. Fortunately I finished preparing my talk for later today, so for a little while I can enjoy the sunshine and watch the festivities…-ac

March 14, 2004

The Move to Boston, Part 2: Jersey to Brookline

Filed under: USA — Andy Carvin @ 4:24 pm

Around noon we managed to get our flat tire situation behind us, so we continued our drive northeast. As expected, I-95 was a particular nightmare, an obstacle course of roadside construction and 18-wheelers. Fortunately, Mapquest had shown mercy on us and generated directions that had us divert from the highway towards Hartford, allow us to take an alternate route. The drive improved dramatically as we veered north, then east, entering Massachusetts southwest of Worcester.
The rest of the drive went by quickly, even though we needed to stop for gas near Framingham. By the time we reached Brookline’s town hall, it was just past 4pm, giving us plenty of time to pick up the necessary permits for the movers to park while delivering our belongings.
We spent the night at the Holiday Inn in Brookline, just a 10 minute walk from the apartment. Our cats seemed to like this hotel better than the one in New Jersey, probably because the room had a view of the car port in front of the hotel. After inspecting the room and spending a brief foray under the bed, Dizzy and Winnie set up shop by the window, observing the taxi cabs and tourists coming and going from the hotel. The two of them would spend the better part of the next two days standing guard over the car port.

March 9, 2004

The Move to Boston, Part 1: DC to Jersey

Filed under: USA — Andy Carvin @ 5:57 pm

Susanne and I hit the road on March 2 for our move from Washington DC to Boston. After two days of working with the movers to pack and load our possessions, we picked up a rental car, loaded our two cats, their litter box, and our minature bamboo tree into the backseat, and headed north.
We broke up the drive over a period of two days: four hours on Tuesday, four hours on Wednesday. This was the first time either of our cats had been in a car for longer than a 15 minute stretch (our cat Dizzy hadn’t even been in a car in nearly three years), so we were rather apprehensive of how they’d handle the roadtrip. Images of screaming, carsick little felines had been haunting us for several weeks, so we were quite relieved by how well they handled the drive. At first, both cats seemed pretty wired, unable to relax, but they stayed very quiet and resigned themselves to the fact that they’d have to hang out in their sherpa carriers longer than either of them would have liked.
The first half of the trip — DC to New Jersey — was very straightforward. We arrived at a Holiday Inn in South Plainfield at 6pm, just in time for the hotel’s bar to be packed with a group of burly, fortysomething fluid mechanics who’d assembled for some kind of conference. (It was a revelation to me that fluid mechanics went to conferences, but maybe this was a particularly precocious group of gearheads.) We had a quick, but thoroughly unsatisfying dinner at the local Red Lobster and went back up to the hotel to make sure the cats weren’t too freaked out by their temporary digs. Both boys were under the bed, eyes dialated, wildly alert; fortunately they came out and joined us to watch eight contenders duke it out on yet another episode of American Idol.
The next morning we left the hotel just after 9am, hoping to get to Boston for a late lunch. We needed to get to our new hometown, Brookline, in order to pick up parking permits for the moving van before the town hall closed at 5pm, so we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to spare just in case we needed to run other local errands.
About five minutes into our morning trek, amidst the morning traffic on 287 South, the road started to get bumpy. Then very bumpy. Then downright scary. We soon realized the road was just fine, and that we were burning rubber at an alarming rate — our back right tire had blown out. I kicked myself over and over in my head — just before leaving Boston I’d noticed the tire pressure was a little low, but soon forgot about it after giving it a quick blast of air at the local gas station. Big mistake. The tire was a total loss. We were just short of the closest highway exit by around 200 yards, but there was no way this car could go any further.
Thanking our lucky stars we finally got cell phones last year, we called Hertz and asked them what we should do about it. They said they’d call a tow truck to come and help us with the spare tire; then we could either go to a repair shop to get the tire fixed, or go to the closest Hertz dealership, wherever that might be, for a replacement vehicle.
Before the tow truck could arrive, a truck from the New Jersey Department of Transportation came by and said they’d put on the spare for us at no charge. I called back Hertz and told them to cancel the tow truck. Soon we were mobile again, but the spare wouldn’t get us to Boston, so we took the next exit to go to a repair shop that’d been suggested by the NJDOT driver. Unfortunately, when we got to the shop, they said they only had one guy working, and it would take all day for them to fix it. They told us to check out a small gas station down the street that had a repair crew on staff.
A few minutes later, we were at the gas station, and they said the tire was damaged beyond repair, so they’d have to put on a new tire. Hertz had told me I would need their approval first if I wanted to get reimbursed for the tire, so I called them back. This time I got another operator who must have worked for an HMO in a past life; she insisted that only a particular brand and model of tire be used for the car, rather than several other brand-name tires available at the gas station.
For the next hour I played phone tag with Hertz trying to get final authorization for the tire; meanwhile we waited for Hertz’s pet brand of tire to get delivered to the gas station from another repair shop 20 miles away. Susanne and the cats sat patiently in the car, with all of our luggage strewn on the pavement, since we needed access to the tire storage space in the back trunk. Eventually, the tire arrived and the mechanic managed to get it on the car in about 15 minutes. By the time the car was ready to roll again, it was noon. Depending on traffic we’d get to Boston some time between 4pm and 5pm, perhaps too late to get the parking permits for the moving van we so desperately needed…. -ac

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