A lightning update – trips to MI and NC; continuing this most recent degree

So: the year has certainly been a whirlwind, as I tend to do to myself with my own choices about scheduling. But I have done better with trying to do less in total; and, failing that, I am giving a much higher time share to having fun and enjoying myself.

And this set of changes has been awesome, for reasons including…

The First of Four Visits to Hahvahd.

The second week of September, I did officially get into Harvard’s Master of Management program (anyone can take any course through the Extension School; but you have to pass certain courses at a high level and then get through the application process). Which was exciting in its own way… but especially edifying because the weekend immediately afterwards I went to Cambridge in person for course. This semester has actually been one of the best courses I have ever taken – Sustainable Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management. The course material is right up my alley; the professor is a practitioner who came to the academy unexpectedly as an expert; and the course is filled with people who come from a variety of skillsets and backgrounds who want to learn real skills about helping the world waste less (money, water, power, resources, time). Very little pontificating by people who have no idea what they’re talking about; very little time wasted at all because everyone loves learning from the lived experience of the professor. What a treat – and I got the chance to go in person and experience 2 full days of this, in a new and interesting place!

In short: if you’re interested in this sort of thing, go read about the Toyota Manufacturing miracle and how they have been able to build such low cost cars at such high levels of quality for years now. They had no sustainability for the environment as their core focus; but instead their unceasing insistence on helping the company grow and also the communities in which Toyota is located, they have zeroed in on waste in amazing ways over decades. So good.

Another Lovely Visit to Ann Arbor (And Detroit. And Frankenmuth)

Thankful to my friends Chris and Liz for their continuing Ann Arbor-based hospitality. Especially exciting – my old friends JJ, Greg, Steve, and Milla also all ended up being in MI for the weekend! We had a whole bunch of laughs; checked out a surprisingly vibrant outdoor/indoor market in downtown Detroit, including a pretty slick little hydroponics shop:

The primary hydroponics store supplying the growing number of urban farmers in Detroit

The primary hydroponics store supplying the growing number of urban farmers in Detroit

We also had to hit the unreasonably delicious Green Dot Stables (as we have, every time I’ve visited there), and we managed to do the usual – go there hungry, end up waiting a REALLY long time for one of the few tables in the place, and then being stupidly hungry by the time the delicious, delicious sliders and drinks started hitting our table… and disappearing into our hungry faces:

One of my favorite restaurants ever, in a bad part of Detroit

One of my favorite restaurants ever, in a bad part of Detroit

Sunday saw a trip to Frankenmuth, a surprisingly strongly Bavarian outpost in the middle of Michigan. After a few hours trip with great conversation (and for me, great knee pain from being too tall for my slick little Cruze – more on this in a subsequent post), we arrived and had a delicious feast of a lunch. We then walked around the town a bit, eventually hitting the famous clock shop in the town:

The coolest clock in the famous clock shop of Frankenmuth, MI

The coolest clock in the famous clock shop of Frankenmuth, MI

On our way out of the area and back to Ann Arbor, we hit a place with billboards as far as away as east of Toledo Ohio – Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland. The title ought to imply a certain religious intention behind this store/mega-warehouse of Christmas cheer. And that is genuinely good, that the folks behind the business have convictions and try to support them in the running of their enterprise.

That said: this place was unsettlingly overpowering in its ~~CHRISTMAS OVERLOAD~~ and breathtaking consumerism of EVERY imaginable sort of Christmas ornament on shelves by type and size and color and sub-type, waiting for you to buy it. Celebrating something important to you – an important thing as well. I just am not sure how the materialistic focus of this cavernous warehouse of iniquity – which is sort of what it felt like to me, at least – is really able to square up against the theology of the Christmas story.

JJ in front of the idolatry hive/Bronner's Christmas Wonderland

JJ in front of the idolatry hive/Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland

But nevertheless – a great fun weekend with old friends from DC, a lot of laughing until crying, and delicious food to an uncomfortable degree. Perfect!

______________________________________
Switching gears, to the four day weekend after MI, I then had the distinct pleasure of…

An Amazing Weekend in the Appalachians, in western North Carolina

I had a four day weekend due to using some of my scant remaining vacation time for 2016; a plane ticket to and from Charlotte NC via Southwest; and a small carry-on. I was ready for a visit to my friend Amber (met during my time at Yale).

And what a weekend it was – easily the peak weekend for the leaves changing up in the mountains of western North Carolina, we were consistently finding our breath taken away by the natural beauty issuing forth around us.

One of the famous shots from "Last of the Mohicans" was filmed here

One of the famous shots from “Last of the Mohicans” was filmed here

We got to drive through the mountains and along several portions of the Blue Ridge Parkway – a place which very much reminded me of the amazing experience of the Rocky Mountain’s scenic byway from my trip to Colorado back in August!

The gorgeous overlook of a small set of falls - at which the Cherokee used to push off captives to their death. Also, good photo op!

The gorgeous overlook of a small set of falls – at which the Cherokee used to push off captives to their death. Also, good photo op!

We also had the distinct pleasure of hiking many places with Amber’s dog Roxy, a black lab (mixed with something else, not sure what) and all the people fawning over the adorable small dog made us feel like mere adjutants to the dog’s celebrity. But somehow, even though I genuinely really don’t care for dogs, Roxy felt right as a portion of the hiking experience.

Amber and I with her dog Roxy

Amber and I with her dog Roxy

The absurd beauty of the Appalachians cannot be overstated.

The absurd beauty of the Appalachians cannot be overstated.

Amber’s parents and brother were both very gracious in opening their homes to me as I was a guest in their native mountains – and helped make a supremely relaxing weekend even better by their kind hospitality.

UGH almost too beautiful

UGH almost too beautiful

The photos I have taken and posted here were all done with my phone – they do not do the raw beauty of nature justice. As part of the “ACTUALLY relax on this trip” mindset I went in with, I decided to leave the camera & lenses behind in favor of simplified packing and just soaking in the views with my own two eyes. So forgive the lack of show-grade photos here – but rejoice with me for having tried to do something out of my character and just live in the moment(s)!

The glories of the mountains in the fall.

The glories of the mountains in the fall.

It was, as you might expect, very difficult to depart such a relaxing and gorgeous place, spending time with an old friend and her lovely family, enjoying good food and generally not worrying about anything. But I cherish the time spent away from it all, and I look forward to future trips like this going forward!

Advertisements

A weekend in Ann Arbor: museums, food, films

This past weekend, I headed up to visit Chris and Liz in Ann Arbor MI.  The plan for the weekend was to go visit urban ruins within Detroit (last time, we went to experience the INSANE standard of living differentials block to block).  I have long found urban ruins, but particularly industrial ruins, absolutely fascinating – so this was an exciting prospect!  Unfortunately, it was raining to Noahide levels all weekend, to the point that Detroit had river flood warnings Saturday evening into Sunday late morning… so that means we would likely be intruding on vagrants or homeless folks in those buildings if we went exploring.  Thusly, we decided to postpone the exploring for a different weekend later this summer.

SO.

The immediate first experience upon my Saturday morning arrival was meeting their new puppy Tyus (so named for a Duke basketball player, I was told).  Tyus was waggly and urinated by way of excited greeting – he is a YOUNG puppy!  Certainly cute though:

Tyus, the new puppy at the home of Chris and Liz

Tyus, the new puppy at the home of Chris and Liz

Pinch-hitting, I asked if we might explore a couple of the museums in town at the University of Michigan.  We headed over to their surprisingly well-stocked museum of archaeology.   From the ancient Near East to Imperial Rome, this little building had two sizeable floors of artifacts and displays of all sorts.  As I understand it, all of these were dug up (grave-stolen? Indiana Jones’d??) by U of M types over time, which itself is cool.  It was a bit weird to see a child mummy, although I was pleased that the curators had attempted to set up the mummy as the burial was intended to have been over eternity.  As a matter of fact, they had done CT scans of the mummy in the 1990’s and found that the child had 6 fingers on one hand, which made that spooky corner of the place a little spookier….

From prehistoric to ancient Roman, this little archaeological museum at U of M was loaded with gems

From prehistoric to ancient Roman, this little archaeological museum at U of M was loaded with gems

We subsequently walked over to the art museum at the University, dodging the near-constant rainfall as we went.  The art museum was the site of a wedding reception and some INCREDIBLY poorly-behaved people in said party.  That said, artwork for the past ~60 years is just annoying bullshit much of the time anyways… so they were like a really loud, building-spanning exhibit, in their own way!  The coolest part of the visit was the gallery of pro-coal World War I propaganda.  I don’t typically associate mining coal with victory over the Huns (or even the need for such a victory at this time), but the artwork had its intended effect on me.  I hope to do MY part in contributing to the steam locomotives of our federal government here on out!

An impressive campus, and thankfully devoid of undergraduates for the summer

An impressive campus, and thankfully devoid of undergraduates for the summer

We later had dinner at the Jolly Pumpkin, which was 1) run by and for disgusting hipster pigdogs; but 2) entirely delicious and delectable.  Creamed zucchini soup spiced with cumin to start; and a lamb + fried egg burger and a picked squash as the main course = super tasty.  The smarminess of the waiter and his “well THIS beer is ONLY made locally by artisans” and accompanying sneer detracted a bit from the experience, but fit with the foul and unholy hipster decor, I suppose!

The balance of the weekend was spent on a cinematic adventure.  We went and saw Mad Max: Fury Road in the theater and were entertained.  I liked it overall, but the guy in the red pajamas with flamethrowing heavy metal guitar did and still does make me very mad.  On Sunday, we got to screen the 80’s-tastic Kung Fury (not for the faint of heart… or those with a pronounced aversion to some SERIOUS mullet action).  We also got to screen the 1/3 Norwegian landscape showcase // 2/3 sexy Land Rover Defender 110 advertisement, also called Trollhunter – and it was actually VERY good.  It is a found-footage (sort of like the Blair Witch Project) but is actually engaging and good (entirely UNLIKE said Blair Witch Project) movie, one on Netflix and well worth your time to at least read about, if not screen.

All told, a fairly relaxing and definitely enjoyable weekend in Ann Arbor with good friends!! I look forward to the urban exploring of Detroit to come, next time I go up there.

Finally, in terms of my vehicular portions of the trip, the car performed beautifully (like, unreasonably well given JUST how bad the rains were + how bald the tires on the ‘Ru are).  Not a single loss of traction or moment of hydroplaning in semi-swampy road conditions.  The fuel economy I experienced went down a bit from the last fill-up, likely due to going ~75 or 76 mph with the flow of traffic into stormy winds AND with the roof basket on the car.  While the fuel efficiency fiend in me dies a little each time I realize the loss of 1-2mpg from the roof basket… it will eventually have permanent lights and radio antennas installed onto it, so it isn’t really a removable fixture….

Subaru MPG chart - a little bit of variance going on, I am hoping this will stay steady as time goes on and with new wheels.

Subaru MPG chart – a little bit of variance going on, I am hoping this will stay steady as time goes on and with new wheels.

Birthday, Edition 27

This past weekend, I turned 27 finally – what a long wait!

The day before my birthday, my coworker Lindsay was nice enough to surprise me with a cake she baked for me, at work!

Lemon coffee cake!  Lindsay is a sweetheart

Lemon coffee cake! Lindsay is a sweetheart

I had long intended to go visit my friends Chris and Liz in Ann Arbor, MI, as Chris settles into his awesome managerial job at Ford – and it just so happened that my birthday weekend was free for him and I alike.  Off I went, after work on Friday, up to the chilly MI area.

VW for arrival; Michael Jordan Nissan to visit Ford... weird.

VW for arrival; Michael Jordan Nissan to visit Ford… weird.

The plan for the weekend was a combination of good food, Ford touring, and games – all leavened with merriment.  We opened with a large dinner of delicious New Mexican-style fajitas cooked to order (New Mexican-style meaning a bed of rice instead of inside a tortilla), and quickly passed out.  The morning saw a large array of birthday games of Lost Cities (a stupidly addictive 2 player game about deciding which of 5 archeological sites to start excavating… but with significant penalties for starting a site and not finding enough):

Lost Cities is such an addictive game.  We played a good 20 rounds over the weekend.

Lost Cities is such an addictive game. We played a good 20 rounds over the weekend.

Eventually we got spooled up for the drive over the Dearborn, MI – the place where Ford is king, noble, knight, subject, serf, and more.  That town has a LOT of Ford EVERYTHING, which certainly makes for interesting driving.  For instance, how does one make sense of a Ford employee parking lot with a Mercedes Benz or a Toyota parked in it?  I have no answer for you there – but I do have tales of how awesome the tour at the Rouge Plant was, as the very least!

We walked past the fascinating Henry Ford Village (where the houses and workshops of people like Edison and the Wright Brothers were purchased, disassembled, and reassembled at the whim of Henry Ford) on the way to buying Rouge Plant tickets…

The Henry Ford village, where he bought all manner of inventors' homes and workshops, had the disassembled brick by brick... and rebuilt here.  Seems reasonable, right?

The Henry Ford village, where he bought all manner of inventors’ homes and workshops, had the disassembled brick by brick… and rebuilt here. Seems reasonable, right?

… and got Chris’ Ford employee discount on our tickets (ah, the benefits of living and working in a company town).  Unfortunately, we couldn’t take photos inside of the manufactory directly, but HOLY SMOKES was that an awesome experience.  We did the two introductory videos (the history of Ford was a VERY Amurrrrrikan flavored soundbyte; the showcase of their manufacturing process was AWESOME), and then got up to the observation tower:

The rooftop of the portion of the Rouge where the new aluminum body Ford F150 trucks are manufactured

The rooftop of the portion of the Rouge where the new aluminum body Ford F150 trucks are manufactured

What appears to be grass above is indeed plant material – the F150 plant at the Rouge is the largest living rooftop in the world, helping them gather some 1.4 million gallons of rainwater per year and use it, rather than having to pump in city water.  The plant cover and its soil bed adds a significant amount of natural insulation, keeping it 10 degrees cooler in the summer, and 10 degrees warmer in the summer – and the raised skylight structures allow for a wide dispersion of natural light into the plant.

The final product is this…

Aluminum body F150, at the end of the tour of the Rouge

Aluminum body F150, at the end of the tour of the Rouge

… which is gorgeous and some 800 lbs lighter than the old F150 with a steel body.  Ford now meets all US requirements for fuel efficiency improvements, with this one change.  The production line was insanely efficient, where each human station had a task to complete in 1 minute or less, with a variable number of people – so 6 people had 1 minute to work together and install a headliner, whereas 1 person would have a minute to fasten down the floor carpet.  In between those sorts of stations, robot arms would suction onto glass, a second arm would apply adhesive, and then use lasers to aim and apply the windows perfectly, each and every time.  So.  Awesome.   And this makes me really proud and excited to work at McMaster-Carr, a place which keeps this sort of industrial miracle working in the face of mechanical problems!

We had dinner for my birthday at the Green Dot Stable slider joint, in the midst of Detroit’s wasteland, and holy hell was that food good.  20+ sliders on the menu, and a toasted caramel whiskey + apple cider + cinnamon to drink… merriment ensued.  We went back to Chris and Liz’s place, enjoyed a fantastic Chinese film entitled “Journey to the West,” and got to enjoy the cuteness that IS their cat Chewbacca:

This cat doesn't meow.  This cat *squeaks*

This cat doesn’t meow. This cat *squeaks*

A grand birthday Saturday, for me.

Separately, we did visit the urban wasteland of Detroit, which was actually rather sad.  It is a VERY unsettling thing, to see abandoned skyscrapers in real life, and not in a post-apocalyptic movie.  From the gorgeous stone train station, long-since abandoned…

… to the incongruity of abandoned skyscrapers…

Abandoned skyscraper in the middle of poverty and despair

Abandoned skyscraper in the middle of poverty and despair – EDIT: this is actually the GM building, I sort of uploaded the wrong image//had Ford on the brain still.  This mistake will stay in place.

… downtown Detroit was very depressing.

In downtown Detroit, the disparity in housing was typically one block apart:

Foreground: burned out hulk rated to be worth $15,000 including property.  Background: the mansions of Detroit, worth $400,000 or more (easily worth 1.5 million dollars in any other city)

Foreground: burned out hulk rated to be worth $15,000 including property. Background: the mansions of Detroit, worth $400,000 or more (easily worth 1.5 million dollars in any other city)

On the outskirts of Detroit, there is a suburb called Grosse Pointe which 1) showcases the disparity even more starkly and 2) in so doing, lives up to the “Grosse” moniker.  They have erected a VERY tall chain link fence on the Detroit line where poor folks live, and as such the property values go from ~$15,000 on the Detroit side to ~$60,000 for the first row of houses.  The value SKYROCKETS, the further one gets from the poor people of Detroit.  Just awful.

Foreground: rich Grosse Pointe house, safe from the poor people of Detroit due to the fence in the middle of the frame.  Background: the poverty of Detroit, less than 200 feet away, fenced off for "safety"

Foreground: rich Grosse Pointe house, safe from the poor people of Detroit due to the fence in the middle of the frame. Background: the poverty of Detroit, less than 200 feet away, fenced off for “safety”

And the quality of houses in bad parts of Detroit is BAD:

The house and garage are both just fine with a coat of paint, I suspect...

The house and garage are both just fine with a coat of paint, I suspect…

Enough of that for now.  It was cool to look across a frozen lake and see glimpses of Canada:

Iceeeeeee

Iceeeeeee all the way over to Canada

It was also neat to stop by the birthplace of Motown, which comprised a huge chunk of my music growing up (and which I still enjoy to this day!):

Motown's HQ

Motown’s HQ

______________________________________________________________________________

All told, then: what a FANTASTIC weekend I had.  My deepest appreciation to Chris and Liz (and Chewbacca) for their hospitality, and I look forward to visiting them again in the future!