Saturday, September 25, 2010

Geeky Art

Matthew made a bacterial cell out of model magic clay.

I am so proud.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Munich airport chapel

Originally uploaded by jbellis
It's Sunday, so I stopped at the airport chapel to read a chapter of the Book of Mormon. It was a bit out of the way and quiet, which it has in common with most airport chapels. What was unusual was that there was a sign on the door listing service times for different denominations.

Odd that the first time I've seen that is in Germany, which according to stereotype is much less religious than the USA. Too bad I missed them -- they were all earlier in the morning.

Then again, the service would have been in German.

The Audi party

Originally uploaded by jbellis
Audi had a party at the Munich airport tonight with a live band. I moved outside to where I could watch. It's a big platform -- i've captured half of one side here. The entrance is on the other side of the square; I reasoned from the "Next Big Thing" posters that this was a launch publicity thing, so I went in with my laptop and duffel bags to get a better view of the band.

A man and woman at the front desk called me back in German. "What's up?" I asked in English. "Your name?" "Oh, is this a private party?" "Yes. Invitation only." "Sorry." So I had to watch from the back of the stage after all.

I'm still not sure why you'd throw a private party in a very public square like that. Must be more of that German "otherwise you might not realize how awesome we are" attitude.

Italian Peanuts

  • My flight out of San Antonio was so late that I almost missed my connection in Chicago. I would have, except in an amazing coincidence our arrival gate was changed to the one next door to my Munich flight. United had already changed my itinerary to route me through DC, but it turned out to not be necessary. Fortunately, I missed my flight home, restoring cosmic balance.
  • The conference sent me two hotel reservations. One was correct. Unfortunately my first stop was the one that was not. The nice German lady at the front desk was starting to get anxious, but once I got online I found the other reservation. ... Yes, the first one had _free internet_, probably the only hotel in Italy. Not that I'm bitter.
  • Dude running the conference: "Why are you walking so fast?" Me: "Because my talk was supposed to start ten minutes ago." DRTC: "This is Italy. Relax."
  • Talk went okay, modulo the heckler who had too much to drink during lunch. That's a new one for me. Especially since the heckler was the speaker who preceeded me. I thought maybe he just overdid celebrating that his talk was finished, but he was drunk during the speaker panel the following day, too. Then after the conference I saw him at the first cafe outside the university with a beer in front of him. So I revised my hypothesis: he's probably just alcoholic.
  • Our lunch table was roughly divided into English (two Americans, a Brit, and a Hungarian) and Italian halves. Three of the Italians got into a spirited debate, arms waving everywhere. When they started raising their voices the English side paused, then smiled. Me: "Nobody argues like Italians." One of the Italians heard, and also smiled. Then he raised one finger: "Greeks."
  • One of the speakers had his name on his slides as "Prof. Dr. Martin ..." I thought it was because he figured just "Dr." might leave us ignorant of how special he is, but it turns out this is normal in Germany. Maybe I was overcompensating for being one of the few people in the room who neither had a Ph.D. nor intended to get one.
  • The weather was great the day before the conference, and the day after. Cold and rainy for the two days I was there. Oh well; I had work to do anyway.

The supermarket in Munich Airport

Originally uploaded by jbellis
I thought it was weird that Germans like to have supermarkets in their airports. Now that I missed my MUC to ORD flight, I still think it's weird, but I appreciate the chance to buy non-carbonated water and apples at less-exorbitant-than-usual prices.

(How did I miss my flight? I cut my train connection in Munich East too close, and had to wait half an hour for the next one. That was half an hour too long...)

Pizza, Italian style

Originally uploaded by jbellis
I had two Italian pizzas in Brixen. This is the second. I didn't realize when I ordered it with basil and arugula that it would come as a bunch of leaves dumped on top. (At least the bacon was about what I expected.)

All in all, I liked my first, less-fancy pizza better: olive oil, tomato sauce, with clumps of melted mozzarella cheese the size of half an egg scattered randomly about.

Now I'm hungry, damn it.

Western Europe really did get dealt a nice hand, climate-wise.

Originally uploaded by jbellis
The Innsbruck to Brixen part of my trip featured some of the most stunning scenery I've ever scene, including picturesque little villages like this one, farmhouses in the middle of nowhere with sheep on the hills, and beautiful evergreen forests. Even I looked up from my laptop to watch for a while.

Too bad all I have to share is a cameraphone snapshot through a dirty train window.

How to number floors

Originally uploaded by jbellis
This is how floors are numbered in Europe. Ground floor is zero. First floor is what Americans would call the second.

The most awesome part about this is how the basement is labeled. I think that is unusual even in Europe, but it's awesome. This is exactly how as CS major would number floors.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Airman First Class Sinden received his wings on Thursday. Dad flew into town to pin them on at the graduation ceremony. Chris's ceremony was especially memorable in that they were honored to have medal of honor recipient Lt. Col. Joe M. Jackson speak at his graduation. He is one of 5 living Air Force recipients and it is exceptionally rare for them to attend ceremonies or graduations.

Lt. Col Jackson was a small cargo pilot during Vietnam and he transported troops and supplies to and from bases. He was a personable, witty speaker and his story is amazing:

When the Vietnam War began, Jackson found himself piloting a C-123 Provider on 298 combat sorties in his third war. In May 1968, the special forces camp at Kham Duc, South Vietnam was tucked away in the central highlands, 16 kilometers from the Laotian border. After the fall of Camp Lang Vei during the Tet offensive in February, Kham Duc was the only observation camp remaining in I Corps, the northernmost military district in South Vietnam. When Kham Duc came under heavy mortar attack on May 10, Army Gen. William Westmorland ordered it evacuated.

On May 12, Mother's Day, a heavy fog hung over the camp, obscuring enemy movements in the surrounding hills. An Army CH-47 helicopter and two Air Force C-130s tried to land and takeoff with personnel, but were disabled by enemy fire. One C-130 burst into flames at the end of the runway, killing the crew and more than 150 Vietnamese civilians. Finally, a C-130 was able to land and takeoff with some passengers.

At 3 p.m. that afternoon, a C-123 took off from Da Nang, bound for Kham Duc. Jackson was at the controls, along with Maj. Jesse Campbell, Tech. Sgt. Edward Trejo and Staff Sgt. Manson Grubbs, his crew. As he circled at 9,000 feet in a holding pattern, the scene below was one of increasing devastation as the Viet Cong moved closer to the camp's 4,000-foot airstrip.

Hostile forces had overrun the forward outpost and established gun positions on the airstrip. They were raking the camp with small arms, mortars, light and heavy automatic weapons and recoilless rifle fire. The camp was engulfed in flames and ammunition dumps were exploding and littering the runway with debris. In addition, eight aircraft had been destroyed by the intense fire and one remained on the runway, reducing its usable length to only about 2,200 feet. To further complicate the landing, the weather was deteriorating rapidly. As the last C-130 was about to takeoff with the last of the men on the ground aboard, the airborne commander ordered jet fighters circling overhead to descend and destroy the camp. It looked as if Jackson's aircraft wasn't going to be needed in the rescue attempt. But then the radio crackled, informing them that the three-man combat control team, in charge of directing the evacuation, was still on the ground. As they searched the camp for anyone who had been left behind, the realized they were the only ones left.

One C-123 attempted to land, but enemy fire intensified and the C-123 was forced to accelerate for take off without finding the men. Jackson and his crew began their dive from 9,000 feet at a rate of almost 4,000 feet per minute. Jackson realized that if he reversed his propellers to stop the aircraft, he would shut off the two auxiliary engines he needed for a quick escape. Instead, he jammed on the brakes and skidded halfway down the runway. As it turned to be able to take off the way it came in, the three men jumped from a culvert next to the runway and leaped into the open cargo door in the rear. At that moment, from the edge of the runway came a 122 mm rocket, fired from just outside the perimeter. The men watched as the shell skidded along the asphalt, broke in half and stopped only 10 meters from the plane. It did not explode. Jackson taxied around the shell and applied full power, taking off under heavy fire from the hills on either side. The plane had been on the ground at Kham Duc for less than a minute.

Here he is in an interview a few years back:

After he picked up the command team and they were safely above enemy fire, one of the rescued men tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Jackson, when we get back to base I'd just like to see you stand up." Puzzled he asked why. "Because you must have balls this big!" [Indicating cantaloupe size].

I did a little research on the man and it turns out he is remarkable not only for his bravery, but for his service in the community and his humility. MSNBC did a story on him earlier this year and they found that he'd been serving in a food kitchen in Kent Washington for 18 years. Most of the people he'd helped and served never knew that he was a war hero.

Here is Chris standing next to him.

Pinning on of the wings is a very big deal in the Air Force and Chris had the opportunity of a lifetime to have a medal of honor recipient pin them on. He decided to give that honor to his dad instead.

Dad is just about bursting with pride. It's a wonder those buttons remained intact.

(Unfortunately the lighting in the room was poor and my flash not quite up to the task...)

Father and son (now with wings!)

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Uncle Chris

We enjoyed having Uncle Chris over for his last weekend in Texas. This coming Friday he should have his orders and be on his way for water survival training in Florida. On Saturday we went to Sea World with him. It was a blast! Sorry, no pics. The rest of Labor Day weekend we goofed off and relaxed. We will miss seeing Uncle Chris on the weekends.

Grandpa Don gave Matthew a flight suit and Uncle Chris gave him a hat and dog tags with his name on them. Matthew thinks anything Uncle Chris does is way cool. He's decided that he wants to be a pilot in the Air Force when he grows up. (And a scientist and an artist too!)

Reading and Writing

Melissa has worked hard all summer on her reading and writing. She's doing very well, I think!

Swimming with Uncle Chris

Back in mid August when Chris was still in phase 1 (restricted to base) we dropped in to see him. He took us swimming.

Before we left home, Jonathan took the pile of towels and swimming wear to the car. Unfortunately my suit got dropped along the way. So instead of swimming, I was the designated photographer. (I've since forgiven him. btw.)

Uncle Chris gave Matthew a swimming lesson. He used to be a lifeguard.

Isaac went down a water slide for the very first time with his Daddy. He thought that was great fun. Again! Again! Again!

The Caverns

Two weeks ago we took Uncle Chris to Natural Bridge Caverns near our house. We've been before, but they are worth a second trip. Most of the photos are courtesy of Chris.

The caves are "living" so they are very wet with dripping calcium carbonate ever so slowly making the formations. The temperature is in the mid 70s with 100% humidity. Like most of the caves in this part of Texas, they were discovered fairly recently- in the 1960s by a group of students from St. Mary's.


Isaac wants to do anything his big brother does. They took turns dumping water on their heads and laughing like loons.

It is good to have an older brother to look after you.

And it is good to have a younger brother who looks up to you.

Back to School Fashion Show

The kids went back to school on Monday August 23. The Saturday prior, Melissa and I went shopping for clothes and took advantage of the "sales tax holiday" Texas has the weekend before school starts. Matthew was invited to come too, but he declined a shopping excursion in favor of playing with friends. Boys.

Matthew looking goofy. Why? Why not.

Matthew's favorite shirt. "Knock, knock." "Who's there?" "Banana."

Sweet bee Melissa. Ready to take on kindergarten.

Welcome Gwendolyn!

Born August 24 weighing 7 lbs 1 oz.

Here's the gorgeous mama who did the hard work.

Melissa was very happy to have another "girl" cousin. She couldn't wait to hold the baby. "Aww! This baby is cute. I like this baby!" So do we all.

Grandma holding her newest granddaughter.

The Hanna family of three.

New Jersey trip

Our trip to the garden state was memorable for more than just sickness though.

Matthew went on bike rides with Uncle David, Grandpa, and his Daddy.

He was in boy heaven. Aunt Christine also took him canoeing for the very first time too. He can't wait to go again sometime.

Aunt Lisa and the cousins joined us for a trip to a sandy lake. The kids built sand castles, wadded in the shallow water, and of course splashed each other.

Matthew had a grand time splashing Aunt Lisa. Melissa loved playing with Hazel. Isaac made multiple attempts to drown himself by wading out as far as he could up to his neck. The child has no fear or caution. Good thing there were two big people to keep the troops safe.

We also played in the sprinklers, ate too many popsicles, ran through the parks and just relished every last bit of summer.

As Jonathan mentioned, Saturday evening we went out on a date courtesy of Uncle David and Aunt Dielha. Our kids have such wonderful aunts and uncles.

New Jersey trip continued...

By Saturday Isaac started to perk up a bit. Mom, however, was in quite a bit of pain. "I wonder if it is appendicitis?" she mused. Do you want to see a doctor? "Oh no. I'll just wait a see. I doubt it is appendicitis."

Saturday evening Jonathan and Dad both flew into town. We were all very happy to see them. Sunday Mom started to feel just a bit better but stayed home from church. Monday morning, the kids and I played with Aunt Lisa, Hazel, and baby Jed in the park. While we were gone, Mom began to feel much worse and finally decided to see a doc in a box. A few hours later we heard she was in the emergency room.

While having dinner that evening with Dielha and David, we learned that the tests for appendicitis were positive and they were going to operate. Poor Mom!

She got out of surgery just fine and came home the next day. She was wiped out, but feeling much better after the appendix was removed.

The fates weren't done with us, and Dad and Christine got sick next. Dad dealt with an abscessed tooth and Christine hunkered down to battle a bad sinus infection. We kept wondering what would be next. Fortunately nothing as dramatic as appendicitis popped up again.

Monday, September 06, 2010

August trip- NJ day 1 (we survived)

Doing a little catchup blogging here....

In August the kids and I flew up to New Jersey for a much anticipated visit to Grandma and Grandpa's house. Matthew and Melissa love going to New Jersey because not only do they see Grandma and Grandpa, but lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins too!

The flight out was perhaps the WORST TRIP EVER for Isaac. He'd had a head cold, but appeared to be getting over it. That morning he was his usual, busy, into everything self. Orbitz messaged that there was an hour delay in takeoff, so we stopped by McDonald's on the way to the airport to get out the wiggles. After getting through security, the status of our flight changed from "delayed" to "who knows?" Bad sign.

Two hours later we took off. Isaac was very irritable. Nothing would appease him, not even M&Ms which he absolutely adores and which we save for special occasions. He wouldn't drink much, refused to eat, and didn't want to nurse. Several hours into the flight I noticed he was running a fever. Poor fellow. He fussed and he squirmed and seemed thoroughly miserable. To top it off I started to feel very green about the gills with 45 minutes still remaining in the flight. I never get airsick, so I wasn't expecting that. Fortunately Matthew and Melissa are veteran travelers. They entertained themselves by watching movies, coloring, reading, playing games, and raiding their snacks. Thank goodness they are such easy travelers.

We landed and staggered off of the flight to collect our baggage around 10:30 PM. While waiting on the curb for Grandma and Aunt Christine, my stomach mutinied. There was nowhere else but an ash tray. Just lovely. Sorry fellow travelers. I felt much better afterward, but Isaac still didn't look very well. On the way home Aunt Christine stopped to pick up popsicles for him to perhaps tempt some fluids down.

All three kids had popsicles and then it was bedtime. Around 3 AM Isaac woke up with bad congestion, a fever, wheezing and coughing. He still wouldn't drink anything or nurse and I was getting very concerned. He did take some motrin and part of another popsicle. Mom stayed up with us both for a few hours. (My mom-in-law is great!) We both concluded that he ought to see a doctor first thing in the morning. About 6 AM he went back to sleep.

The next morning Isaac was pretty lethargic and just looked sick. Aunt Lisa called her doctor and he agreed to see Isaac right away. Bless that man! Turns out Isaac had an ear infection and bronchiolitis. No wonder he was so miserable! The doc put him on antibiotics and albuterol to help with the breathing. Poor little tyke.

Our trip started out interesting, and it only got more interesting....

Sunday, September 05, 2010

August Peanuts

  • The family joined me for my trip to NYC. We spent the week at my parents in Westfield. The kids had a good time, and I borrowed my sister's old work desk, complete with 3.5" floppy disks.
  • The night before I arrived, Rachel called me. (I traveled to NJ via DC and MN, in that order.) Mom developed a persistent, tender pain in her right side. Rachel told her she probably had appendicitis, and she should go to the hospital. She didn't. I told her she probably had appendicitis, and she should go to the hospital. Like she would listen to me. That was a Friday; on Monday she finally saw a doctor, who told her she probably had appendicitis, and she should go to the hospital. This time she did. They confirmed it was appendicitis, operated, and she made a full recovery.
  • Matthew has been raised in a world of laptops and all-in-one machines. I tried to explain the concept of a "monitor" to him but I'm not sure if it made sense. My poor son.
  • Starburst is the perfect Isaac candy. He can unwrap the rappers by himself, but it takes him long enough that he's not just stuffing his face full of sugar.
    You know you're getting old when you buy more from shirt.woot for your kids, than for yourself.
  • An older gentleman was attempting to replace the empty paper towel roll in the womens' bathroom at church. After 10 minutes, Rachel stepped in: "What if we try it like this?" and clicked it together. "I hope I didn't embarrass him."
  • Melissa's going to start school a week from tomorrow. Rachel panicked when she realized that she had the options of getting up or letting me do her hair. "Jonathan, I'm going to teach you how to do a pony tail. That is the only hairdo you have to learn." [So far, she has gone with the "getting up" option.]
  • Matthew, protesting that 7:40 was too early for bed: "It's the hour of seven!"
  • Matthew asked for his own email account. I'm pretty sure 7 is not old enough, but I'm not sure how old is.
  • Matthew wanted me to install Chrome on Rachel's computer because Safari didn't work. I didn't believe him, so he showed me: he was typing searches into the url bar. Guess Google was on to something there.
  • "You have 122 movies that you have not yet rated." Wow, the kids watch a lot of netflix.
  • Melissa likes to toy with her computer opponent in Galcon. Which highlights a weakness in the implementation: a mere few thousand ships onscreen brings the engine to its knees. Back in my day we handled that kind of load on a 16MHz 386...
  • Me: "There's no bidet in my bathroom. I thought that was mandatory in Europe." Gary: "There's probably a water fountain in the lobby."
  • Melissa: "Your leg is furry. But you're not a cat."

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Entertaining Isaac

We tried a new (to us) Filipino restaurant last night. It's on the other side of San Antonio, so it wouldn't usually be worth the drive, but it was just a couple miles away from Lackland Air Force Base where we picked up Rachel's brother Chris.

The help was (first generation) American, but the food was good. And in the back Isaac found a place where the rain from the day before had pooled: two year old boy heaven.

Entertaininh Isaac
Originally uploaded by jbellis

Visiting Electronic Arts

Visiting EA
Originally uploaded by jbellis
I found out I still have an inner teenager who thinks writing games would be really, really cool. Fortunately, my adult side is too rational.

(I should have taken pictures of some of the many huge, impressive murals of game art, or the game lounges / arcades, but all I took was this one of a couple shelves of 90's era games.)

Feeding Daddy

Feeding Daddy
Originally uploaded by jbellis

Isaac's lightsaber

Isaac's lightsaber
Originally uploaded by jbellis
Isaac saw Matthew clip a lightsaber to his pants. Nothing else would do but have Daddy clip his likewise. He was immensely pleased, but not permanently satisfied -- he kept unclipping it to wave it around, then bringing it back to me for the clip treatment.

Melissa's first day of kindergarten