Monthly Archives: July 2017

Amsterdam and Beyond

Having been to Amsterdam 29 times over more than a 20 year period, it seemed appropriate to explore beyond the quaint and serene canals of Amsterdam. Typically before I teach my course, I only have the weekend to take in sights while I acclimate to the seven-hour time change. After nearly thirty trips, it is getting more difficult to discover new activities that I have not experienced. On my most recent trip, I decided to split my weekend between Amsterdam and The Hague (Den Haag in Dutch).

On Saturday, I was able to find an Amsterdam museum exhibit that I had not seen before, one of Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci was one of those unique individuals who was not only an accomplished artist producing well-known masterworks, but also a talented inventor as well. This exhibit, while it explored both talents, prominently featured his inventions.

Included were hands-on, accurate replicas of many of his inventions that allowed one to explore the insightful creations of the inventor. It was truly amazing to see some of the ideas he came up with that pre-dated actual inventions by hundreds of years (think flying machines, gliders, and mechanized rolling wagons). One exhibit was of an unique 8-sided mirrored booth that allowed viewers a 360-degree view of themselves, reminding me of a house of mirrors at a fair.

It was quite an enjoyable display, particularly for someone like myself most interested in science and inventions.

My next new activity on Saturday was a visit to the Amsterdam Royal Zoo, the Natura Artis Magistra, oldest zoo in the Netherlands. When I looked up all of the top Amsterdam sights on Trip Advisor, I ran across many of the familiar ones that I had been to multiple times over the years. But the Artis zoo was one very high on their list that I had never visited.

It was a beautiful day and so was able to see many interesting animals. Knowing that my grandson particularly liked giraffes, I snapped this photo especially for him.

The Zoo also had an excellent aquarium and when I heard numerous people clamoring “look, its Dory”, I knew I had to get a shot of the colorful Blue Tangs.

Between these two enjoyable outings and walking to dinner, I was also able to log a new personal record for the week on my Fitbit although I missed achieving my second 25,000-step day by about 1,500 steps.

On Sunday morning, I set off on my “beyond Amsterdam” adventure. As is often the case when I travel by train on a Sunday, track maintenance precluded me from taking the most direct route to Den Haag and so had to make a connection through Utrecht adding about 30 minutes to my commute. But I had the whole day so it didn’t matter that much.

Although I have been to Den Haag multiple times, most recently to tour Madurodam, I still knew I could find some new activities. First on my list was the Mauritshuis museum, the Royal Picture Gallery. It was listed as number #1 on Trip Advisor so I knew I couldn’t go wrong. I also selected it, as it was less than a half-mile from Central Station in Den Haag. I was pleased to discover several well-known paintings of extreme interest to me.

First was this one by Rembrandt which was of particular interest to my siblings and I when we had been to Amsterdam a couple of years ago. I had seen a print of it before but seeing the real work was amazing.

I knew this painting by Vermeer, probably his most famous, was a part of the collection and so anticipated discovering it for some time as I strolled through the galleries. When I found it, I examined it from several different perspectives and wherever I was, it appeared as if the girl had her eyes directly on me. Even when I glanced back from the door leading to the next room, she hauntingly seemed to follow me.

But my most exciting discovery of the exhibits was this small painting by Carel Fabritius, entitled the Goldfinch.

This was a Pulitzer Prize book I had thoroughly enjoyed reading several years ago about a fictional, multi-year secretive journey this painting took outside its rightful home in a museum. It was as if I had found a long lost friend in finding this painting. For anyone who has not read the book, it is probably hard to grasp the significance of this small painting but just like the Girl with a Pearl Earring, it was a book that had made the painting so well known.

Over lunch, I explored what to do next. I had considered seeing an M. C. Escher exhibit but when I discovered that the Louwman Automobile museum was within reasonable walking distance, it was an easy decision.

My walk from the Mauritshuis took me through a heavily wooded park, Haagse Bos, an urban park on scale in size with Central Park in New York. It was nice that it was mostly shaded as this was the warmest day for me in the Netherlands.

At one point, I came upon a clearing with a large historical marker. When I approached it, I discovered from the photos that this was a secluded launch site for the German V-2 rockets that rained down on England in World War II. Given how poorly many of the Dutch were treated during the war, it surprised me that such a marker had even been erected.

Once I reached the Louwman, my first car to see was a classic “split-window” Corvette, a quite rare car. Ascending the elevator to the third floor where the exhibit started, I was presented with many firsts.

The museum was arranged in chronological order and housed some of the oldest and most unique automobiles any where in the world. Having over 250 cars on exhibit, in a word, it was HUGE.

My main interest was more modern cars but even here I found unique examples I had not seen.

As I rounded one corner, I began to hear Elvis music, very familiar sounds for someone from Memphis. Of course they had to have one of his customized cars.

Another car of interest to any Bond fan was the original James Bond Aston Martin featured in the early Bond films.

To say the museum was overwhelming is an understatement. Towards the end, I could only glance at some of the displays as I traversed the three separate floors.

But upon finding this unique car, I had to pause to take in its unusual design.

On my return trip to Amsterdam, while awaiting my connection in Utrecht, I realized this was the interesting train station that I had seen in miniature at Madurodam many years ago.

As I relaxed on the last leg of my train ride back to Amsterdam, I reflected on what an enjoyable day I had had. Over all the trips I have taken to the Netherlands, it always seems that I could find something new and interesting to do. With the photos that I captured over the weekend, I felt that I had permanent reminders of yet another successful adventure.

While there are always things I enjoy doing multiple times on my visits, on my next trip, I will definitely explore even further beyond Amsterdam for new adventures.

Amsterdam – Not a Visitor or a Resident

There must be a word to describe someone who has traveled to a city so many times, that they know it almost as well as the town in which they live. They’re not merely a visitor but at the same time they’re not a permanent resident in spite of having an intimate familiarity with that destination. This was a thought that ran through my mind as I landed at Schiphol airport to teach my course in Amsterdam for the 29th time. If I add up all the days I have spent in Amsterdam over the 20+ years I have travelled there, typically staying for at least a week, I come up with almost seven months. Even though it was not consecutive weeks making up those months, which I guess would make me a short-term Ex-Pat, surely I am still something other than just a visitor.

As with my trip to Amsterdam in 2016, this year found me travelling without my wife or other family members. And so being the sole guinea pig, I decided to try an experiment in my travel plans.

Normally I would be landing at Schiphol about 10:30 or 11:00 in the morning and then arriving at my hotel before noon which often meant I could not check into my room. This frequently after a fitful night of less than successful sleeping in coach for an eight or nine hour flight when the hardest thing to do upon arrival is to stay awake the rest of the day so you don’t fall asleep at 7:00 PM and then wake up in the middle of the night (which is really sometime in the afternoon to your body).

For this trip, I booked a connection through Atlanta that didn’t leave until 10:30 at night. Normally, I would be leaving on my direct flight to Amsterdam around 7:00 or 7:30 PM, which by the time you get wined and dined, you’ve lost, 2.5 to 3 hours of your potential sleep time during your flight. This late flight was advertised as only serving breakfast so I figured I would be able to get a reasonable five or six hours of sleep.

And the bonus was this connection was operated by KLM, an airline I used to enjoy flying with but have not been able to ever since Delta bought out Northwest. In the “good ole days”, I could even get a direct out of Memphis on KLM and earn Northwest frequent flier miles. And an even greater bonus for me this time was that it would be my first chance to fly on a Boeing 777, something I have wanted to do ever since watching the PBS special of how Alan Mulally brought this modern airplane into existence.

With a 2-hour layover in Atlanta, I managed to get in a number of steps walking between terminals, eat a quick sandwich for dinner, and begin to tire myself out reading before boarding. Once on the plane, I must say I was impressed with the modern interior. The technology was also up-to-date with what appeared to be an iPad in the back of the headrest of every seat. This allowed superior graphics and entertainment.

The ergonomic seats and generous legroom allowed me to easily stretch out my six-foot frame without encountering a hard surface; all the better for me to get some sleep.

Assuming they would keep the cabin lights off after take off, I read a little more to make sure I could easily fall asleep. But no sooner had we leveled off than the flight attendants began coming around with their noisy drink carts. Armed with my sleep mask, I whipped it on to get a head start on my sleep and so not be disturbed since I had already satiated my appetite for food and drink on the ground. Not long after, having squirmed around to find the least uncomfortable, partially reclined sleeping position, my olfactory glands began to sense Indian spices. Pulling my sleep mask up, I was amazed to see the passenger in the aisle seat chowing down with delight. Argh! That was not supposed to happen on this flight.

Needless to say, irritating serving and clean up noises disturbed my sleep multiple times (I unfortunately forgot to bring ear plugs).

Probably my longest period of uninterrupted sleep was about 45 minutes and all told, I might have gotten a total of about three hours of non-contiguous sleep. But I did get a delicious hot breakfast (KLM is known for their superior food), a cheese omelet with sausage and cottage fries, fresh fruit, yogurt, and actually very decent coffee which left me fairly refreshed and awake when I deplaned. Which helped me with my next surprise.

Typically I teach the three-day course staring on a Monday and to help acclimate myself to the 7-hour time difference, I usually arrive on a Saturday morning. But since I would be arriving much later having a 10:30 PM departure out of Atlanta, I booked my flight to arrive on Friday rather than Saturday. When I went to exit the airport, I found a phenomenally long queue line to go through passport control. Whether it was due to arriving during the business week or heightened security due to recent terrorist activities, it took me over 45 minutes to get through, about 44 minutes longer than normal.

As a result, I didn’t actually arrive at my hotel until 3:00 PM, about normal check-in time, which assured me of getting into my room for a sorely needed shave and hot shower.

Refreshed and cleanly clothed, I took in one of my favorite activities, sitting by a canal and enjoying a Dutch treat, a cold “domestic beer”…

…before wandering along the canals that I know so well. At the end of my first day, I was having a delicious dinner…

…at a balcony restaurant overlooking Leidseplein square.

But even following a small after dinner nightcap…

…and having had the rest of the day to ponder my original question, I still had not come up with a term that I could use to describe myself instead of simply visitor. But even if the visitor term is the best I can come up with, I was still glad to be back in this city that I know and love so well; a city that in spite of my numerous trips, I always find something new and fun to do.

Doll Houses Revisited

Several years ago, I wrote about my love for all things small—specifically miniature models. In that 3-part series, I delved into all the different types of models I had built over the years both growing up and as an adult. One of the items I included was the two doll houses that I built for my daughter.

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The idea to build a doll house for my daughter was spawned from two thoughts.

First, I had run across some really cool doll houses at the local hobby store and thought that it would be fun to build one some day.

Second, while playing cars and blocks with my son came easy to me—something I had done growing up, it was more difficult for me to play dolls with my daughter since I had no experience.

But then I put the two thoughts together and suggested to my wife that we give our daughter a dollhouse kit for Christmas, one that my daughter and I could build together. Not wanting to repeat the same mistake I had made with my son by trying to build a train layout before he could even walk…

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…I waited until my daughter was at least old enough to participate before suggesting it to my wife.

It was a Christmas present for her one year.

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She picked the paint, wallpaper, and floor covering and we worked together to assemble it. I probably did more of the cutting and gluing since she was too young at the time but it was still a project we could share together.

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We even picked out some miniature furniture to fill the house and make it into a miniature home complete with a nursery.

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Completing this dollhouse only whet my appetite so a few years later again at my urging we gave our daughter an even larger dollhouse for Christmas.

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This dollhouse was a blast to assemble! I only wish I had taken some interim progress photos during the construction process.

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The brick foundation was made by painting the wood grey for the mortar and then spreading on a red sand paste using a brick pattern template.

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The windows were made from multiple pieces of wood and actually open and close.

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Even the floor was assembled almost like the full-scale version, gluing down individual wood planks, sanding them smooth, and then varnishing and sealing them.

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At this point, I sensed my daughter losing interest in the assembly part of the model so I put this one together mostly by myself. While working on it, I also realized that she was probably going to be too old to play with it by the time it was complete.   But surely it would be an heirloom she could pass down to her own daughter one day…

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…as you can see, it was never furnished so it is “move-in ready” for another day.

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After our daughter grew up and moved out, these houses stayed behind. But recently, one of our granddaughters who lives in-town has discovered them and has begun to explore them.

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She has even found an entertaining one at the Children’s Museum, a place that she and I frequent.

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Seeing her play with them has rekindled a desire for me to build again. The two houses I built will pass to my daughter whenever she is ready for them. But with each of our sons having a daughter, I now have two granddaughters to build for. They are both too young to really play with dollhouses like these that tend to be a bit too fragile. But if I get started now, hopefully I can have them finished for when they are just the right age to play.

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I have already begun to explore what is available now. Since it has been over 20 years since we bought the blue doll house for our daughter, there may even be some technological changes, maybe miniature Wi-Fi.

After I retire later this year, I will also have a lot more time available for the construction phase. I’m getting excited just thinking about it. Not only will this be a gift of love to my kids, but hopefully it will be a fun toy for my granddaughters as well. And just maybe they will become an heirloom for them to pass down to their kids as well.

Being Humble

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I started to entitle this blog post “I’m a Humble Man.” But then it seemed that making that statement wouldn’t be consistent with being humble but rather boastful. So I settled on this less pretentious title.

When I put together my list of potential blog topics over four years ago, “Being Humble” was 14th on my list of about 35. Since then, my list of topics has grown significantly and now exceeds 150 titles. And yet, it is just now that I am writing about it.

I don’t know if I have been putting it off because I didn’t want to wrestle with this topic or if as I scanned down my list of topics to choose from for my next post, that a spark of creativity just never jumped at me when I read “Being Humble.” But whatever the reason, I am willing to tackle it now.

A couple of years ago when I wrote a post about What We Would be Known For, I included a list character traits that I aspired to emulate: dedicated, honest, loyal, trustworthy, dependable, loving, considerate, funny, happy, and spiritual—all traits that fit very nicely with my MBTI personality type, ISTJ. But, missing from that list, whether it was consciously or unconsciously, was humble.

I think part of the reason that I have delayed exploring this topic is that I have had difficulty tracing back to why I want to be humble. One of the thoughts that I had while reading through my dad’s sermons recently was maybe I would run across one of his sermons that had inspired me to be humble. I know being humble is a subject that comes up multiple times throughout the Bible so it is likely that I had heard my dad preach on that topic. But if it was one of my dad’s sermons that inspired me, it was not one of the 32 typed up in his book.

Merriam-Webster has a number of definitions for humble but I think the one that is most relevant for me is: not proud or arrogant; not thinking of yourself as better than other people. Or another way to think of it is not being a braggart, which I never have been. Anytime I notice myself venturing close to making a boastful statement, I get a funny feeling like this is not who I am and if I proceed to make the statement anyway; I feel very self-conscious about how it will be interpreted.

Even when I am recognized for something good I have accomplished, I often will deflect the comment or come back with a statement that it wasn’t that significant.

Individual Winner: Cited for work in chromatographic analyses

Individual Winner: Cited for work in chromatographic analyses

One of the hardest awards for me to accept was the year that I won the scientific achievement award at work. One aspect that made this a difficult recognition for me was the fact that I had to beat out other scientists who probably felt their submissions were more worthy than my winning one. But the engraved, wooden plaque that I received in recognition of my achievement has hung on my office wall for almost 25 years, not as a boastful badge of arrogance, but as a reminder of the joy I received in being recognized for my technical accomplishment.

In actuality, I very much appreciate positive feedback and will typically undertake a task in order to exceed other people’s expectations. This has probably contributed to my perfectionism, which isn’t necessarily a positive character trait (as my wife can attest). But it is one way to prevent anyone from finding fault in what I have done so that only positive feedback will be the outcome.

It seems to me quite a conundrum that I enjoy getting praise and yet have difficulty accepting that praise for fear of appearing arrogant.

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In my professional teaching, it always brings a smile to my face and a feeling of joy when I get positive feedback at the end of the course. This is certainly not my motivation for teaching, but it does validate that my efforts have been well received.

If you think about it, anyone can choose to be humble. It is something you can do completely on your own. But a question, why would someone want to be humble? And in particular, why I have chosen to be humble?

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Growing up a PK (preacher’s kid), I know I was exposed to the Bible verses about the first shall be last and the last shall be first as well as how someone who exalts himself before the Lord will be humbled and someone who humbles himself before the Lord will be exalted. Could it be as simple as I don’t want to be a hypocrite like the Pharisees or that when a record of my life is reviewed, I will receive positive feedback?

I honestly don’t know.

But what I do know is that for as long as I can remember, I have strived to be humble. Being humble is not necessarily something I do to receive positive feedback like the other character traits I listed earlier. I like for people to notice my dedication and my dependability. I’m certainly not looking for someone to compliment me on being humble.

No for now, I will just continue to be humble but further explore its engendering in me. And if my searching proves fruitful, then I will come to you with an update once I have that revelation.

Two Days in San Francisco

On my springtime trip to the West coast, not only did I get to visit with my daughter, son-in-law and grandson in Seattle, but I also flew down to San Francisco to see my oldest son, daughter-in-law, and youngest granddaughter.   I had a total of a week for this trip, a Tuesday to Tuesday but due to less than ideal airline schedules, I only had about two and a half days in San Francisco with my son’s family. So we had to make the most of the time we had together.

Sunday turned out to be a real treat of a day. As we were finishing up dinner on Saturday night, we began to talk about how we wanted to plan our day on Sunday. My son mentioned he was planning on running in the morning and I mentioned that I wanted to get up and run in the morning too since I had not been able to run in Seattle due to the cold and hilly topography. So I suggested we run together.

The last time I could recall us getting to run together was on a trip to visit my sister in 1996. So it was a real pleasure for the two of us to get run together for the first time in over 20 years. His pace, with him being much younger than me, was faster so he slowed down so we could stay together for the 30-minute run. I progressively picked up my pace as we went, so as we approached the end of our 30-minute run, our pace was fairly matched. It was interesting to think that 20 years ago, our roles were reversed and I was probably the one slowing down for my son as I was in my prime running days then.

After we got cleaned up, we headed to the Academy of Science Museum where we all had a great time. My granddaughter especially enjoyed all the aquariums there and this swinging pendulum caught her interest as well.

After we got back home and my granddaughter went down for her nap, my son and I got to go to a local bar for a beer and some lunch, one of my favorite activities to get to do with my kids.

Then after her nap, we headed off to a park where it was swing, swing, and swing, just like my other granddaughter.

On Monday, my son had to work and so I rode in with him to his office.

View from my son’s office

After a quick intro to the project he was working on, he settled down for his workday and I went in search of breakfast.

I found the perfect combination, a Peet’s coffee (a Bay area institution my daughter introduced us to many years ago while at UC Berkeley) and a New York style bagel, the other city my son lived in after he got married. After that, I took my son’s advice and went to the Ferry Building, a sight I had never visited in all my multitude of trips to San Francisco. The first floor of this old building had a lot of unique shops in which to browse.

After that, I thought I might visit a museum. But as I made my way along the Embarcadero, I quickly realized that being a Monday, many were closed. I kept walking along the piers and came across the ferries that toured Alcatraz, another sight I had not visited yet.

However when I saw the price and figured it would take more time than I had, I decided I would be satisfied just viewing the scale model of the island and facilities.

As I made my around the model reading the information…

…I spied what must have been placed as a joke, a period-dressed prisoner almost half the height of the water tower.

Zoom in to see the giant prisoner hiding

No one else seemed to notice it but maybe when they got home and started looking at their photos, they might see something strange.

Leaving there, I made my way on around the many harbor piers, completely bypassing the touristy Pier 39 to arrive at my ultimate destination, the Maritime Museum, which was open on Monday and even better, free. Three items in particular caught my attention.

First was this portion of a ship rudder of the Niantic, from the 1840s. It was uncovered near the Transamerica building when some renovation work was being done. Turns out in the Gold Rush years, many ships sailed through the Golden Gate in search of riches but many anxious prospectors left quickly simply abandoning the ships. This one had been turned into a hotel but then burned and was simply buried under the city’s land progression into the harbor.

Model of Niantic as a hotel

Second was what I at first thought was a Fresnel lens but turned out being a lens built by Henri LePaute and installed on Farallon Island in 1854.

I was automatically drawn to this having been fascinated by the first lighthouse I had seen at Point Reyes (north of San Francisco) a number of years ago and how the series of prisms could focus a single light source such that it could be seen over 25 miles away.

Point Reyes Lighthouse

This fascination was stoked further by reading a book on the Fresnel lens that my son had given me for Christmas.

The third exhibit that caught my eye was only a map but it showed a portion of the original San Francisco shoreline in 1848 (blue line), how wharves had been built out into the water, and then ultimately filled in to form new land, the very land I had been walking on all day. Included on the map were the locations of each of the ships buried under the present day ground. And at the top of the map was pictured where the Niantic was discovered, right next to the Transamerica Building. What was most fascinating was just the day before my son had explained to me how after the wharves were built out into the bay, that water lots were sold for future land sites, land that didn’t exist at the time but came some time later. It gave a whole new flavor to the shrewdness of “land” speculators in a rapidly growing major city.

With this interesting exploration over, it was time for lunch, a favorite of mine: a Boudin’s sour dough bread bowl, clam chowder and an Anchor Steam beer.

What an exciting visit it was to San Francisco! One I know my wife will accompany me on the next time we travel to the West coast to visit kids, in-laws, and grandkids.