Daily Archives: November 30, 2011

Thanksgiving dinner in New Zealand! (My first Thanksgiving away from home)

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Nov 24th

I am missing Thanksgiving. I knew this simple fact as soon as I left home for South America, but it never truly hit me until this week when I heard about the family plans and realized that I wouldn’t be a part of them. That I would be in a strange country that doesn’t celebrate any form of harvest festival this time of year… well that was just an extra hit. But this is me in my “adventuring mode”, so I wasn’t going to just lay down and take that feeling. No, I was going to introduce this country to thanksgiving.

I started the planning process when Mike picked me up from the airport, since it turns out that he had already been hoping to do a thanksgiving-like dinner anyways. We did a bit of basic planning on the days leading up to Friday (Writers Note: since New Zealand is +18 hours from the USA, we’d celebrate on the Friday following Thanksgiving to be celebrating at the same time as the USA) and I did some shopping that Thursday to pick up the last few things that we didn’t have. The plan was that Mike would cook up a big roast chicken, since Turkeys are ~$20 per lb, and I’d make the stuffing and apple pie crust. We got the recipes and invited the peoples, and then just waited for Friday to finally come.

When it did come we took the morning slow, relaxing and calling home to “E-Visit” with our families back in the United States. I called everyone and set up Skype to video chat with the family, having a really nice conversation with some of the Family I had left back in the States… unfortunately my Dad and Stepmom were hunting up in Northern Arizona at the time, so I couldn’t Skype with them too. After the chat I laid back and watched some of the “Adventure Time!” show that Mike had, and then headed out to the store to get the last few pieces of the feast that we needed.

With Ice Cream and hard apple cider in hand I biked back from the supermarket, and almost as soon as I got back to the flat we started cooking and prepping. The prep work took all of the afternoon and into the evening, but by the time people started showing up around seven thirty everything was ready and the apple pie was heating up in the oven. Mike got to play White Knight for one of our friends named Carla, since she didn’t have a ride over, and in the end it was Carla, Mike, his roommates Jen, Storm and Spanish, myself, and Mikes friends Giles and Kevin. A good group to help eat the rediculous amount of food that we had prepared.

We ate and chatted, joked and drank, and I got to know all of the people that I hadn’t met before by hearing random stories about their adventures. Such as how Storm and Spanish got their names and Carla’s adventures in Japan. Long but entertaining stories, and it was a great way for everyone to hang out and bond together nicely… that and I got to relate a few of my travel stories to date, and I’ll never complain about being called upon to play the storyteller, heh.

After the meal was over and it started getting a bit too late to continue hanging out with everyone at Mike’s flat we headed over to Prime’s house (Prime is the nickname for a second girl named Jen) to chill and smoke some hookah. Unfortunately we had a bit of a miss-communication and Prime was in the middle of sexy-time with her boyfriend when we arrived… but she was polite enough to throw on a towel and let us onto the upstairs deck before retreating back to her room. (Ed Note: I love New Zealand) We had grabbed drinks, set up and primed the hookah, and were all ready to go before we realized that we didn’t have the hose for the hookah, thus making smoking the shesha completely impossible. If only someone could have saved us!

Fortunately, my parents put me through five years of Mechanical Engineering school, so I accepted the challenge of the incomplete hookah with grace and humility, and within ten minutes we were smoking some very nice mint and strawberry flavored smoke. How, you may ask? Well. I had found an old paper towel roll, some aluminum foil, and used that to build a makeshift hose, using my hair elastics and some parachute chord that I keep on my keychain to secure the system and keep it air-tight. Yep… Mechanical Engineers do rule.

The rest of the night was laidback and chill, where we passed the jury-rigged hookah around and chatted about life in Christchurch – comparing it to other cities that we had all lived in. Giles, Mike and I talked about the random cities of the States, while Kevin enlightened us on the rest of New Zealand and Carla discussed living in various cities across Japan. I really need to visit Japan someday, it honestly sounds like a really amazing place to visit, though I don’t think that I’d actually want to live there. But we hung out for nearly two hours (Prime did come up to visit us pretty soon after we got settled in) before heading back into the car to drop people back at their flats and bikes, and Mike and I headed to sleep in preparation for the road trip that we’d be starting the next day.

 

Augmented reality with Giles

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Nov 22nd

 

One of Mike’s friends (haven’t know him long enough yet to call him a friend of mine… when does that transition happen, anyways?) that I met on Monday night was names Giles, and him and I had chatted for a bit about the research that he was doing at the Uni; one of the symptoms of being an Engineer is wanting to hear all about cool research, even if you can’t really understand what they heck it means. And from that conversation he invited me to meet up at the Human Interface Technology (HIT) lab at UC.

I met up with him around two or so in the afternoon, dropping in on him unannounced thanks to my lack of a working Kiwi cellphone… and my unwillingness to pay $2.00 a minute on my international phone. Heh. We chatted for a while about what the HITlab actually does, some of the cooler projects that they’ve worked on, and the specifics on what his project actually is. One of the coolest things that he showed me was a room that looked (seriously, this is real) like the Holodeck from Star Trek: The Next Generation. It had the grid and everything, and from what Giles told me it could be used as a 3D wrap-around theater, where the motion-sensors would detect the subjects movement and allow them to interact with the projections. Yeah, scary-cool stuff right there.

So after the show-and-tell portion of the visit was over Giles showed me into the “experimental survey room” where the test was to take place. He set everything up, explained all the rules, and I signed on all the dotted lines… and then we finally got everything started. The goal of his system was to assist a new and untrained user in assembling a basic motherboard from the upper-level components (board, processor, video card, RAM and S-Video). I wasn’t really an untrained user, but he needed all the data that he could get so I guess it works.

And seriously… this system was cool. He had programmed it all himself (using pre-built modules I believe, but not 100% sure) and how it worked was that the program told you to pick up a part, verified that you had the right part, and then told you to place it into the motherboard before checking that you placed it correctly. Simple… but for each step it would also show you. First which part was correct by overlaying a 3D arrow over the part, and second by overlaying a 3D demonstration of how the part was fitted into the system. The glasses would overlay these instructions as if they were actually there… and I definitely spent a little too much time playing around with changing the orientation and having the arrow change too, and placing the part incorrectly ans having the system show me the correct way to put it in again.

It was a bit scary, to be honest, seeing digitally-created images overlayed into my waking world. I don’t know what this means for humanity, either for good or ill, but I’ll really curious to see how it turns out once they technology is finished and expanded upon. Random people being able to create a computer from its base components… and people being driven insane by images of things that aren’t there, or even people being erased from other peoples vision by simply editing them out. Very cool, and very dangerous.

 

Climbing in Christchurch – Roxx and the Rec Center at UC

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Nov 23rd and 24th

New Zealand has some amazing outdoor climbing, but unfortunately sometimes you don’t have the time to drive out to it. Or it could be raining… and when New Zealand rains, it makes sure that you are aware of the rain; what people in Mass refer to as “rain” New Zealanders call “light drizzle”, and “New Zealand rain” is better known as “having a fire-hose turned on you”. Seriously, its nuts. But when it is raining or you’re feeling too lazy to drive a few hours, there are always climbing gyms.

This is starting to become a theme I’m noticing… reviews of rock climbing gyms. But honestly, a climbing gym can be a really great place or a really depressing place, and finding the right gym can be almost as relieving as coming home after a long business trip abroad. In a good gym the routes are challenging but fair, the people are friendly but not creepy, and the atmosphere is laid back yet energizing. I’ve been to gyms that feel more like the weight room of a frat house or a center for road rage. But I’ve also been to gyms where everyone chats and helps push each other to greater feats of awesome, yet never insults or demeans people. A good gym can be a climbers second home… and oftentimes it really is (after the real rock walls, or course).

So when Mike came up on my third day in New Zealand and asked if I wanted to hit the climbing gym with him that night, I jumped on it. We headed to a place called “The Roxx”, which Mike told me was his favorite gym, and when we got there… dang but I was blown away. They had your normal bouldering cave and “fake-rock” walls, but they also had fully textured rock faces with features and cracks galore. In case you’ve never been to a climbing gym; most gyms have flat angled walls with climbing holds screwed onto the walls. Some (very few) gyms have “features” on their walls which mimic real outdoor rock by giving you small cracks and divots to hold on to while you’re climbing. The downside to using features is that its much harder to set up initially, and they can’t be changed around to make new routes… But in my opinion their definitely key, since it gives a much more accurate representation of climbing outside.

Roxx had entire walls made up of these features, showing off deep cracks, wide splits, and beautiful ledges that were crafted out of plaster-covered plywood and sculpted from rock-paste. Seriously, this gym had the best walls and features out of any indoor climbing I’ve ever been to, and I loved every minute of climbing up them. The “features only” climbs were mostly hard (rated 19+ on the New Zealand scale, so mostly 5.10b+), so I had a good tough time on the few that I could actually finish; and I left with more than a few new projects.

 

Unique note: The University of Canterbury doesn’t have an “Outdoorsing club” like Northeastern does. Instead, they have many smaller clubs that cater to the specific activities that make up outdoors adventures, such as a Tramping (hiking) club, a climbing club, a Kayaking club, etc… Kinda a bad idea in my opinion, since it makes it harder to negotiate with the university and to organize huge fun trips, but it seems to work well enough for UC, so good deal.

The next evening Mike and I decided that being tired and sore from one night of climbing wasn’t nearly enough, and headed to the University of Canterbury Rec center to check out the rock wall there. I was able to get in for free since the climbing club was having its weekly meeting and so we headed in, strapped on the shoes, and started trying out problems with the few climbers from the club who had come out. The vibe that we all had going on was actually something I haven’t run into in a while, and it was really refreshing to have a whole group of boulderers climbing and helping each other out with the harder moves.

Instead of just working routes though, I had a really fun time setting as well. Since the wall was rather small there weren’t many truly set routes, and there were even fewer routes that were taped – most of the actual “routes” were found by word-of-mouth or made up on the spot. After working a particularly reachy problem with some of the burlier guys I decided that I wanted one of my personal favorite bouldering routes and started picking out holds to build up an over-hanging and dynamic jug-fest. Everyone started coming over a trying it once I set it up though, and soon enough we had all eight of us taking turns trying to make the final few moves up to the top. It was really fun, and a really nice little ego boost to have everyone loving the route that I put up.

We climbed strong for a while, but soon enough we hit the 10:00 mark when the rec center started closing down. We packed up our gear, grabbed some extra rope and draws from the climbing clubs gear locker (talk about a blast of memory…) and jumped in the car to head home. A good day of climbing, and I’m really looking forward to hunting down the UC Climbing Club again soon.