Friday, March 17, 2006

Mayhem in Mexico

After Wednesday night's dinner, I did get to sleep - eventually. Somewhere after 3 AM, I think it was, after doing quite a lot of situps and some pushups. I was up again before 7 AM. By 8:30, the whole team had managed to eat breakfast, then we had to walk a few blocks to the National Auditorium to catch buses over to Centro Banamex.

Why catch buses? Well, there were riot police on every corner within a few kilometers of the Centro, and everything within about a half-kilometer was totally closed of. The buses took a circuitous route (I swear they got lost at least once) and wound up coming into the Centro from the back, after going past quite a lot of police and military.

After that, things went pretty well. Our office eventually got Internet access (notice how a lot of things happen eventually here?) and I was pretty much done the day's web page by around 11 PM. Then I hung around for another two hours editing and tweaking and doing more situps out of sheer boredom... got back to the hotel around 1:30 AM, got a pack of disposable shavers from the front desk (yes, they give 'em out if you don't have 'em. nice hotel.) fell asleep around 2:00 and woke up around 7:30. Breakfast was a hard-boiled egg white and a bowl of granola, yogurt, strawberries and pineapple chunks. Yummy.

Friday morning, after making a few more edits and tweaks here and there, made my initial rounds of the huge "Water Fair" that's going on upstairs from all the meeting rooms where the actual discussions are happening. Everything from water policy programs to regional tourism authorities to plumbing companies to distilleries is represented. I've been picking up the usual (and the unusual!) swag.

More later, as usual.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Another day, another 10.5 pesos


I did, eventually, wind up going over to the conference venue with my team leader and our director this afternoon. It's big. Really, really big. (Wait... have I said this already about something else?) Today, it was in a state of frenzied construction activity, since the conference starts tomorrow.

Well... except one room. The room our team office is supposed to be in. That one was in a state of frenzied relaxation, as various people sat doing nothing, waiting for various other people (who weren't there) to show up and do other things that had to be done first. But we're all optimistic that come tomorrow morning, we'll have things like network access. And furniture. And, um, walls.

Speaking of tomorrow morning, a fellow by the name of Vincente Fox is going to be speaking. Perhaps you've heard of him. This means that every street within about a half-kilometer or more of the venue is going to be blocked off. Police are everywhere. Paramilitary-looking guys are everywhere. No guns, but large numbers of muscled guys in all black. So getting there in the morning will be interesting.

One of my teammates had some difficulty getting her room at the hotel (because some other people didn't check out on time) so I gave her my key before I left, so she could shower and go on-line and stuff. By the time I returned at 7:00 PM, her roommate (another teammate whom I just love to little bitty pieces) had shown up as well, so we all chatted for a half-hour, then it was time to head to dinner.

11 people. 3 taxis. Rush-hour traffic in México City. But eventually, we made it to a certain local watering hole/eatery that was allegedly shot up by one Poncho Villa some years ago, where I had some very nice rueda de robato, al gusto, plancha (I hope I got that all right) and of course a lot of jugo toronja. Yummy! Afterward, our director inexplicably started chatting with a young couple a couple tables over, who turned out to both be actors from Canada. After he finished, we headed outside to wait for taxis, and the actress in the couple came out to chat with us all about what we're doing. So if you've ever wondered what I'd look like with an honest-to-goodness Hollywood starlet's arm around my shoulder, now you know.

By the time we got back at 11:30 PM, the hotel had managed to come up with the correct room for my teammates, so we said our goodnights and they "moved out" of my room. And now it's time for me to get a half-dozen or so hours of sleep.

More tomorrow, I hope.

Good night and good morning

I did, eventually, find the phone book. It's hidden in the closet. And why not?

After a long, hot, and much-needed shower, I lounged around for a while, then fell asleep. the beds here are nice - king-sized, with nice heavy down pillows and warm down comforters. There's a wool thing that I suppose I could put on top of the comforter if I felt cold, but I didn't. The alarm clock woke me up shortly after seven in the morning.

A bit of an aside about the alarm clock. It looks like a hand-wound kind, and has hand-turned things to adjust the time and the alarm time... but it's battery powered. It also has a couple thumbscrews on the back, which I tried to "wind" with little success before figuring this out. After that, I thought it must surely be decorative, until I realized the time was changing...

Anyway, I awoke feeling a little dried out (the relative humidity here is about 40-60 percent compared to probably 80-90 at home) but not so bad, since I'm somewhat accustomed to single-digit humidity on Mauna Kea. The air pollution is also noticeable, but not as smelly overall as New Delhi was, so I think I'll survive as long as I eat well and get enough sleep. The 2,200-meter elevation, though, doesn't bother me at all, since I spend so much time at 2,800 and 4,200 meters.

I pondered food for most of the morning, before finally heading downstairs and trying out the buffet. Granola - probably made on the premises, with pumpkin seeds and dried berries and lots of other good stuff in it - with yogurt, a hard-boiled egg, fresh pineapple, strawberries, and fresh grapefruit juice. Why is it that countries as diverse as France and Mexico can treat fresh grapefruit juice as a basic human right, but it's almost impossible to get in the States?

I wandered up to the 5th floor deck by the pool to see whether there were any good skyline photos to be had, and decided that there weren't really (here's the best I could find for now), but did stumble across my Dutch teammate, who had just arrived and was waiting there while her room was readied. I've since found out that numerous other teammates and our Director have also arrived. So... more later.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006



A bit of trivia: México City lies almost exactly east of the Big Island of Hawaii.

The trip got off to a slow start. At Hilo's airport, I discovered that Hawaiian Air's computers were down, and boarding passes were being written by hand. Not optimal. The agent nicely hand-wrote my frequent flyer number on mine, but I'm a little skeptical that I'll get those miles without a lot of red tape. As happens often - though not every time - security found my backpack full of cameras, laptop accessories and network gear irresistible, and had to wipe everything with those nice little round pads to make sure I hadn't used any of it around explosives. If it weren't for their efforts, my cameras would be more dusty.

The flight to Honolulu was routine enough, but with the computers down in Hilo, I'd opted to retrieve my tote bag of clothes in Honolulu and check it back in. This meant getting off the plane at the inter-island terminal, going down to baggage claim, getting my bag, lugging it to the far end of the main terminal (a nice walk, less so with a tote bag and a backpack, both large and heavy), checking it back in at Continental, and going through security again with my backpack. Of course, this all went quickly enough that a half-hour after I got off the plane from Hilo, I was getting a bite to eat... and my layover was almost 3 hours. Oh, the drudgery.

From Honolulu to Houston, I had a bulkhead seat. Not too bad. Could've had a little more leg room. The food was decent, and I slept a lot. In Houston, I stopped to do some shopping at a store in terminal E that sold souvenirs related to the Johnson Space Center, and still had no problem catching my connecting flight. This leg was on an older 737 (-300/-500 class) and I was a little worried about my backpack fitting, but it made it into the overhead compartment just fine. On the way back, I'll be aboard a smaller regional jet, and I fear I may have to gate-check it.

Flying into México City, one realizes two things:
  1. México City is big. Really big. Really, really big. If you think Los Angeles sprawls, you should see México City.
  2. México City is hazy enough that you can't easily figure out where it ends.
Things went pretty quickly at the airport. I explained to Customs that I had brought one camera too many, but they let me in without charging me any duty (gracias!). Then I changed a bit of money, bought a ticket for an authorized taxi, and got to the hotel rapidly.

The hotel, for its part, is wonderful. A glass-envelope exterior, broadband in every room (a network jack, but of course I have two wireless routers with me...) and generally chic. Frommer's calls it "the hot hotel in the city's most stylish neighborhood." It's the kind of hotel where there's no phone book in the room... but there are a dozen style magazines on the desk. It's got a pool, gym, jacuzzi and nightclub of sorts on the roof, and is apparently the place to be seen. So far, I'm hiding in my room. :)

Anyway, I'm settling in nicely, and have one more day before things get totally busy.

Friday, March 10, 2006

My daughter's notes on the solar system

Tonight, I attended an AstroTalk about asteroids and Pan-STARRS by UH-Hilo Instructor John Hamilton and Pan-STARRS Student Intern Heather Kaluna. My daughter insisted on going, and wrote throughout much of the talk, periodically whispering things like "what comes after the M in materials?"

At the end, she handed Prof. Hamilton a piece of paper, and asked him if what she had written was correct... and he said it was! She'd written (a few spelling errors corrected):

Asteroids are pieces of rock that may have broken off of large planets. Comets are small balls of gas, ice and dust with tails of the same materials of the comet. And planets are very big pieces of rock or balls of gases. Tera Gr 1 age 6 3\10\06"

As a minor technical note, possibly breaking off large planets is more characteristic of what we think of as meteoroids (some impacts on Mars have knocked pieces of rock into space which later fell to Earth), but as Hamilton pointed out in the talk, "comet" and "asteroid" and "meteor" are all different, largely historical names for what we now know are basically all the same thing, depending on whether the chunk of rock does or doesn't have volatile gases around it, and whether it is or isn't burning up in our atmosphere at the moment.

With this latest triumph, my daughter is now firmly convinced that she's ready for freshman astronomy.

Why I'm leaving Twitter.

I've stuck it out and continued participating on Twitter while Elon Musk has run it into the ground, made it progressively more inhospit...