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Yesterday morning we walked over to the Chincoteague Community Center for breakfast and the arts & crafts at the 23rd Annual Blueberry Festival. Breakfast included big blueberry muffins and pancakes – all was good. “The Piped Piper” played horns for our entertainment, and I felt compelled to tip him the instance he played two harmonized trumpets at once and sounded AWESOME doing it! The selection of vendors was good. Ryan took a ride on a horse. I picked up some mountain blackberry and blueberry preserves from West Virginia Fruit & Berry, and Melissa and Ryan returned later during Zachary’s nap to get a nice wooden duck carving. Also playing at the festival was a bluegrass band called Mountain Faith who were pleasant to listen to.

Lunch was back at the house – I grilled some hot dogs. We’ve definitely been eating out more than I think we expected when we started the week. After lunch Melissa and Ryan went out on their bikes on the aforementioned run back to the Blueberry festival, as well as to some gift shops. I got to stay behind and read while Zachary napped. I’m finally starting Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash”.

After Zachary woke up, we visited a basket shop and Melissa bought one – she loves baskets. Then we visited the Sea Shell Cafe and had our best dining experience on the island so far. Some of the TripAdvisor reviews were rough earlier this season, but our server and the staff (including a friendly woman who appeared to be the owner and/or manager) were great. The food was excellent and plentiful. 5 shells!

After that (yes, we got around yesterday) we went over to the Fireman’s Carnival, which to my surprise is held on permanent fairgrounds with a fair (pun intended) number of fixed adult and kiddle rides. There were also raffles and vendors there. Ryan and I picked up some new bandanas and Melissa got a pair of earrings. We bought Ryan a ride pass and he ran around and rode as many rides as he could. We stayed with Zachary, who rode on his own more than he has in the past at Hersheypark and seemed to like it. It’s hard to tell how much he likes the rides; he’s usually more stone-faced than smiling. But he didn’t frown or cry, so they must have been good!

Today we plan to go back to the beach. The rest of the day is undecided. We’ve visited all the sites we had planned to, so for the weekend we’re open to re-try stuff or just hang out. We leave Monday morning.

Today we visited both the Visitor Center at the NASA Wallops Island facility and the Delmarva Discovery Center in Pokomoke, MD. They were both fun. Wallops Island was the primary NASA launch facility until that was moved to Cape Canaveral, FL, but it is still the primary location for sub-orbital launches and there’s a lot of communications and tracking done from there. The Visitor Center had a lot more than I expected and we really enjoyed it. Before we left we discovered a theater off the entrance and got to see a nice CGI movie about the new journeys to the moon.

After a quick Arby’s lunch on the way, we went to the Delmarva Discovery Center. It was well-set-up and had exhibits about the region and about the Pokomoke River as well. There was a large steamboat-style exhibit that the boys liked, as well as a sailboat with a working sail that could be adjusted. The entrance fees were a little steep for the content, but averaged with the NASA trip (which was free) it worked out well!

After we got back, Ryan and I biked over to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge visitor center to check out the schedule for next week’s activities. We wanted to do a guided kayak trip, but it wasn’t being offered late this week or early next week due to the schedule of the tides. Oh well… maybe next time! We took the opportunity to visit the Toms Park Visitor Center again as well before heading back home, putting a bit more mileage (and road experience for Ryan) on the bikes.

We ate dinner in this evening; I fixed a chicken/rice/green beans meal that was well-received. After dinner we all biked over for a second visit to Memorial Park. We headed back at dusk – the latest in the day I’ve ridden in a while. We all made it back safe.

[Originally written on Wednesday, July 21, 2010]

This morning we biked in the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. There’s a Wildlife Trail closed to cars until the evening, so it was just us bikes riding on it. We got to see some of the wild horses up close and personal. A little pony was coming up to me at one point, but since I didn’t know what to expect (and there was food in my bike’s front bag), I casually moved on. The horses are apparently used to people – they were calm as we passed. We visited the Refuge’s Visitor Center; the exhibits focused on endangered/threatened species that are being sheltered by the various National Wildlife Refuges. Great stuff.

In Harrisburg we have almost no mosquitos, so I get though many summers without a bite. Unfortunately, the forests of Assateague Island are filled with them, and I didn’t put enough repellent on before the ride. I probably have about a dozen bites now! Luckily, I seemed to make a big, sweaty target – Melissa and the kids don’t seem to be having this trouble. Chincoteague Island itself (i.e. the tourist town) is sprayed, so they’re not too bad here, although if you’re out for a while, you’ll want repellent on.

For lunch we went to Woody’s BBQ, and I had their “Memphis” sandwich (BBQ, sauce, and cole slaw). It was excellent.

Riding our bikes around here is really easy. Many of the streets accommodate bikes on wide shoulders and there are paved trails in the Refuge. It’s all flat and close together, so we rode less than 10 miles total today.

Later this afternoon we went down to Main Street and checked out some art dealers and souvenir shops. Ryan got a most excellent souvenir – his own hermit crab in a cage. Zachary got a t-shirt, and I got a zippered hoodie. Melissa got a small bottle with tiny seashells in it. We went to Chincoteague Inn Restaurant for dinner and had a better experience than yesterday, but it seems like it all could be BETTER. Tomorrow I think we’ll stay in.

We were thinking about going to Ocean City one day this week, but with the Fireman’s Carnival (with rides) and the Blueberry Festival coming up this weekend we’ve decided to just stay here. Tomorrow we are planning on visiting the NASA Visitor Center and another museum whose name escapes me right now. There’s rain forecasted for tonight, so I’m thinking it’ll be a little rainy tomorrow morning, but we’ll see. We had overcast skies this morning and a sunny afternoon and early evening.

[Originally written on Tuesday, July 20th, 2010]

It was very sunny & hot today so we went to the Assateague National Seashore in the morning and came back to the house for lunch & naps. Then we drove around the island and had dinner at what turned out to be a disappointing restaurant for the price (Etta’s). The house has a well-furnished kitchen, so we’ll probably make most of our dinners here for the rest of the trip. We’ll save money, will get our food more timely and Zachary may actually eat it.

After dinner we went to Chincoteague Memorial Park and then Mr. Whippy’s Ice Cream.

[Originally written on Monday, July 19, 2010]

We’re vacationing this year in Chincoteague Island, VA (Melissa’s idea). Even though we didn’t come the week of the ponies’ swim, it is hopping around here. A real tourist town. Our rental house is large, comfortable, and well-furnished; we’re settled in after a pizza dinner and a trip to the grocery store.

Tomorrow we will drive around and get more familiar with the place before we head out on our bikes. There’s also a NASA/Navy base here (Wallop’s Island) that has a visitor’s center we’ll check out on a rainy day. Also, the island is having a blueberry festival this coming weekend.

Reading this NYT article in the Sunday Patriot-News, I couldn’t help but think that the officials that are up in arms about Google’s “inadvertent” Wi-Fi data collection are ignorant about the security available when web browsing:

“Google is in the process of frittering away its last shred of credibility,” Mr. [Till] Steffen [the justice senator for the city-state of Hamburg] said. “The company must immediately disclose to what degree it has secretly eavesdropped as we’ve sent e-mails to friends in Germany and the rest of Europe or as we’ve done our banking in the Internet.”

This prompts a question: are there still banks that don’t use HTTPS when dealing with customers’ sensitive data over the internet?  Even if someone is using open, unencrypted Wi-Fi, their HTTPS session data is protected with encryption.  That would also be the case for any other protocols that encrypt their payload end-to-end (POP3S, SFTP, SSH, etc.).  For example, I use HTTPS sessions by default with Gmail and Google Reader.

The cited German privacy laws as they apply to electronic communications seem to be a way to compensate for the ignorance of those who implement and use this technology in unsecure ways.  I’m not a fan of Google’s collection of that data, but I don’t think that they are on the wrong side of this issue.  Wi-Fi is a broadcast-based technology using public airwaves, and if you’re not securing your broadcast you’re open to being spied upon.

I think the bigger issue here is whether the benefits of technologies like Street View and Wi-Fi-based geolocation outweigh the personal liberty of people whose image or data might be caught by a machine.  Would it make a difference if the Street View vehicles had a bunch of photographers in the back as opposed to automated cameras?  If they had nerds wardriving with laptops as opposed to automated Wi-Fi sniffers/collectors?  I can only recommend that you protect your communcations and wear a mask in public if you’re worried about this kind of stuff.  Or, for now, move to Germany. 🙂

Yes, I’m a fan of Google in general and Street View in particular.  It’s nice to be able to view pictures of an unfamiliar location before having to navigate it for the first time.

(This is a run-down of updates since Thursday since I neglected to post them earlier. I’m back home now.)

Friday morning, 3/19:

Yesterday we had our first training session and it went well; lots of good dialogue without much of a language barrier.

After work, we had the bus drop us off in Little India, where we strolled for a while before arriving at Muthu’s Curry, a large (you guessed it) Indian restaurant. I rarely eat Indian in Harrisburg, but my teammate says that a restaurant downtown makes this food pretty authentically. I enjoyed the rice, the mutton curry, and the tandoori chicken most of all. A mango lassi drink was a great dessert.

After stuffing ourselves at Muthu’s we found a subway stop and our host took us over to Raffles City Tower, a 70-story beast with an awesome view of the skyline. I could have stayed up there all night looking at the city. Finding the New Asia bar there a bit loud and expensive, we headed down to the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel. Apparently famous for its “Singapore Sling” drink (I wouldn’t know), my companions enjoyed them as I enjoyed an Asahi beer.

Another night of walking around the city came to an end as we took the subway back to our hotel and found some of our workmates at the lobby bar. A little bit of conversation was a great end to the day.

I actually slept the best night I have here – slept in until 6. I’ve been getting up between 4-5am the days before this. Just in time as I head out tomorrow!

Sunday morning, 3/21:

I arrived back safely yesterday and I’m surprised that I slept from 11-5:30am local time my first night back. Perhaps I won’t see much jetlag at all! The flights back were OK, except that I was the unlucky one on my Tokyo->DC flight who didn’t have a working headphones jack. The two flight attendants made up for it by fawning over me and snagging me an iPod airline adaper cable so that I could watch the movies on the iPod Touch I was borrowing on the ~13″ LCD dedicated to my seat. United’s Business Class on the upper deck of the B747-400 (20 full-reclining seats and 2 dedicated flight attendants) was the best leg of the trip for me even without all the amenities.

Not much to talk about from Friday – the second day of our Singapore session went well and the whole group went down to Orchard Road (the main shopping district). We visited an open-air restaurant on the 7th level with a great overhead view of the bustling streets below. I had a Singapore Sling (not as good as Long Bar’s – no pineapple slice!) and plenty of beer and food. I even tried fried calamari, which looked like onion rings. Tasted OK. Unfortunately, our host couldn’t attend since he was feeling sick during our presentation and was flying to Harrisburg for global leadership meetings over the weekend. He wanted to rest up for that.

Headed out of the hotel at 5am early Saturday morning. No surprises on the bill and had a cab I requested waiting on us; my teammate had a flight to Guangzhou leaving a little after mine. Smooth ride to the airport and a smooth check-in as well.

While we’re talking about airports, let me compare my experiences since I detest the security theater at them. All the airports I visited had the 3-1-1 bag rule for liquids in carry-on luggage and requested that you remove laptops from their bags. They also requested that you remove jackets for screening. That was about as bad as it got. In the US, the extra thing that you had to do (“requested” to do to avoid additional screening) was to take off shoes and have them x-rayed. Also, the US was the only country where it was mandatory to go through re-screening after arrival from a foreign country to be allowed to take a connecting flight. We also had to claim and recheck our bags. I was a lucky passenger in DC that got his hands checked for explosives residue and had a bag pulled for extra inspection. Apparently there aren’t enough titanium USB memory sticks on keychains out there yet.

Personally, I think the liquids ban and the shoe rule should be dropped immediately without a second thought. Way too much trouble for too little security benefit. Enough preaching.

Overall impressions of the trip: I had a lot more fun than I anticipated. In my limited explorations in China the language barrier was rarely experienced. I benefitted from the experience from the perspective of my job since I met a lot of other peers in person and got a view of how operations work outside the US. I felt that Singapore would be the easier of the two for me to stay an extended period because of the prevalence of English, the more normal traffic (even though it’s left-handed) and the excellent subway system. Both locations offered a lot of insight into their people and I recommend both as tourist destinations.

Last night we took a redeye from Shanghai to Singapore. I got about 4 hours of sleep and got a very early breakfast. After we hit the ground at about 5:45AM local time, we got a quick taxi to the hotel. Check-in was quick and painless.

I gave Melissa and the boys a Skype call and got to see them for a bit. Zachary was extremely cute. I need to get a better webcam for home — the image was lacking quite a bit of resolution.

After a trip to the laundry room to wash/dry a load and the weight room (with my teammate who was working out), we checked out the breakfast buffet, which was good.

At about 11:30 our host came by and took us down to the waterfront to see the new Sands hotel/casino that’s being built on the southern coast. It looks like three skyscrapers with a cruise ship propped on top of it. Very impressive, along with the rest of the downtown’s current infrastrure. We took quite a few picks, ate lunch at a place called “IndoChina”, and took in the sites at the Asian Civilizations Museum.  Our tour lasted about 1:15, then we stayed there a little while longer before heading over to Mount Faber and getting some better views of the skyline.  Then we took a shuttle down to the resort area of Sentosa, where we ended up hiking around a bit before eating dinner.

Lots of walking today; lots of talking planned for tomorrow.

Yesterday went well. We gave our first day of presentations and generated a lot of discussion, which is why we agreed to travel thousands of miles. 😉 Everyone there was very nice to me and I got to meet a few new people as well as meet some in person that I’ve dealt with in email or over the phone occasionally for years. There’s nothing like “pressing the flesh”.

I requested a Japanese restaurant last night and while my hosts said it wasn’t exactly authentic, it’s a lot closer to the real thing than we get in the US. I requested it expecting hibachi-style “cook-it-at-the-table” stuff like Benihana, but what we got was a lot more interesting. For about 150RMB (about US$25 each), we got all that we could eat and drink (including beer and saki) and we could choose from anything on the menu. Like the Chinese restaurant, all dishes are shared. I tried lots of new dishes, but I avoided eel and sardine. Everything else tasted wonderfully. Another great dining experience.

Late on Saturday, my teammate who had presented in Tokyo arrived and we caught up.  After breakfast Sunday morning, we borrowed some umbrellas and took off for a trek around the (big) block, visiting a shopping center to get some souvenirs.  That was interesting because it was a bunch of vendors crammed into a bunch of small shops and nothing had price tags – it was “all haggle”.  Luckily my teammate is Chinese-American and speaks Mandarin well enough to haggle on my behalf!

After that trek we dried off in the lobby and waited for our other colleague from Singapore to arrive.  Once he got settled in, we took a taxi downtown and explored the area known as “The Bund”; it’s a group of European-inspired buildings on the west shore of the Huangpu River.  The fourth member of our rag-tag team arrived, a colleague from Shanghai who is hosting this part of our trip.  We then drove over to the east shore of the river and visited the financial district, which houses the Pearl Tower and the largest building in Shanghai (and growing).  I was told that it had all been developed over the last decade from the ground up; very impressive.  It seemed like it had all been built recently, as the city is doing a lot of repaving, road-building, and sidewalk renovation to prepare for the World Expo which starts on May 1st.

We went to a restaurant called “South Beauty” in the Super Brand Mall (more like a Western Mall experience, with 10 floors of shops and restaurants) for what James and Gerald called an authentic Chinese restaurant experience.  A kitchen of about 30 chefs prepared from a huge menu (over 15 pages with several hundred items) and the food was served promptly on a rotating glass carousel so that we could all share.  There were only a few things in the ~10 dishes I didn’t like; I’m just not a fan of crab tofu yet.  After dinner we were all tired and ready to head back to get rest before today’s work — presenting to about 22 IT managers from various parts of the country.

@aharden

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