Flotsam and Jetsam

Turn Your Life Into a Game

I’ve found that my love for technology and games means that I get better results when something is made to feel like a game. I like checking into places on Foursquare and getting badges and mayorships. I was more likely to do pushups and situps when I downloaded the apps for “100 Pushups” and “200 situps” that auto calculate your sets based on your initial test.

Yesterday I downloaded Fitocracy, which I really like. You basically get points for any exercise you do. For this means that instead of facing the daunting task of trying to find an hour and using it to work out, I just periodically drop and do 10 pushups, or some air aquats, or walk around the building and a little robot awards me points for it.

I found myself thinking that Fitocracy would be even more compelling if I could add things like “resisted bagels” or “walked away from the snack machine.” That’s when some co-workers told me about the app, “Epic Win.”

Basically it’s just a To-Do List app but it allows you to turn anything into a fantasy quest. Choose an avatar and then make quests, assign them points and a stat type. For example, I just made quest for “eat a healthy breakfast” which repeats Sunday through Friday is worth 50 point and affects my “Spirit” stat. If I wanted to, I could make a one-shot quest (or recurring quest) on the fly for “drink water instead of Diet Mountain Dew” and watch my character level up and get loot as I accomplish this quest.

These types of things may not work on your mindset, but for they somehow motivate me and make chores into something potentially fun.

Texas Day Trip

My girlfriend told me she was kidnapping me for two days for a secret trip. So today she navigated as we drove a very scenic drive to Bandera, Medina, Vanderpool and Leakey.

We found some geocaches along the way (an excellent way to have fun, explore and find new places), rescued a butterfly from the Medina river (fished it out, dried and unstuck its wings until it flew away), saw lots of awesome scenery, ate at a cafe in Leakey, and ended up renting an awesome cabin at the Frio Pecan Farm from the lady working at the Leakey Mercantile store. It was a nice night of relaxing, singing and finishing off that awesome chocolate meringue pie from the cafe.

Plus we had much fun at the expense of the name Leakey all day. Like the fact that the school here is the Leakey Eagles. And that there was a Leakey Beverage Barn. And while driving, we passed a sign that said “road prone to flooding next 12 miles” and I said “well of course, the next town is Leakey.”

We also laughed like juveniles at the fact that omg the way there were two political signs that often appeared next to one another for “Butts” and “Payne.” or sometimes “Payne” and “Butts.”

Tomorrow it’s onward to Utopia and possibly Concan, then back through Bandera and home. It’s the first trip we have taken together purely for fun that was just the two of us and not for a band gig or family trip. And as Paula said to me in regards to our travel compatibility, “I haven’t wanted to kill you once!”

A Fleeting Moment of Serenity

I was walking to the store today when I suddenly felt so far away from my dreams, like they were so far out of reach. On the way home I took a moment and just truly felt the sun on my face, the breeze blowing across my skin and remembered that same feeling throughout my life, as a child, a teenager, walking to a friend’s house in my home town. For a moment I found the happiness in that moment, not worrying about the future. It’s something I’m working on but that is very difficult for me. I have a mind that is always racing at light speed and exists in a thousand different places at any given moment. Quieting that beast is not something I’ve been very successful at yet. It’s all part of my ongoing journey, I suppose.

Beatles with lightsabers

The Beatles With Lightsabers

I don’t know who originally came up with this, so apologies to the original artist but I wanted a higher resolution picture for myself so I photoshopped my own version.
Beatles with lightsabers

Strange Change Exchange

Vending machine 1 has the drink I want. Unfortunately it does not seem to be taking dollar bills. I concoct a wily plan. I go to vending machine 2 which is taking dollar bills but does not have the drink I want. I put in my dollar then press the change return button and I am given 4 quarters. Score!

I go back to #1. I insert a quarter. I hear a sound in the coin return slot. My quarter has been returned with several more. I insert a quarter again. This time it sticks. I insert a second quarter. It is returned to me along with my previous quarter and several more. Further attempts see my quarters just returned to me. I leave without a drink, but with a pocket full of quarters. The vending machine basically paid me to not have a drink and leave it alone.

Sense Memory

While walking to get some breakfast this morning, I was just enjoying the gorgeous weather. The perfect temperature, the gentle breeze, the shining sun, the sounds all around me, the smells in the air. Then for some reason that I couldn’t quite get a hold of, it all triggered memories of my childhood, walking around my neighborhood, my home town, my elementary school. I remembered a book that I checked out from my elementary school library. A compilation of Science Fiction stories. I only have the vaguest memories of it now but I’ve always wanted to track it down and read it again. About the only memories that remain are vague recollections of some crystalline, large flea-like creatures on another planet and another story about a robot (that’s certainly no help).

I wondered if the school has records of what was in the library back then. It’s strange but wonderful how some magical combination of sensory input can suddenly transport you for reasons that aren’t quite clear. It’s a beautiful day. We only get a handful of these here in Austin! I’m going to enjoy this precious commodity!

The Mystery of the Urinary Blackout

Had a weird possible fainting/blackout thing last night. Got up in the middle of the night to go pee, suddenly felt really bad. I thought that I quickly sat myself down on the floor but judging from the way I totally took out the toilet paper dispenser (broke the plastic roll, bent one side of the holder, and pushed the other side into the wall, and have no memory of this) I’m thinking maybe it was less voluntary than I thought. Next thing I remember is feeling totally disoriented and everything is pitch black. I felt my way around until I found the door and rushed back to bed in a cold sweat. Then I felt fine a few minutes later.

My right pinky toe hurts like I strained it (I think somewhere in the process I bent it back too far), I have scratches on my back and one of the little caps over the screws at the toilet base was knocked off. I think it was partially because I was right in the middle of a deep, deep phase of sleep and maybe I just got up too quick and had a blood pressure drop or something. I don’t really remember much. Can’t remember if I turned the light on (I thought I must have to see where to pee) but if I did, when did I turn it back off? Did I actually open my eyes and couldn’t see because it was dark or did I just not even open my eyes or did I just have a vision blackout as I was coming back around? How did I go down that injured my toe, took out the toilet paper dispenser and knocked the cap off the base of the toilet? It’s like some weird Sherlock Holmes mystery. Or an episode of House. Or Jekyll and Hyde. Or I’m a werewolf. Either way, kinda scary and definitely bizarre.

Maui, Day 6, The Last Day

I awoke at 2:30 A.M., successfully this time, to make the drive to the summit of Haleakala, the world’s tallest dormant volcano, to watch the sunrise. The drive up in the dark was slightly harrowing, as the road wound up the mountain and you knew that just off the side of the road was a plunge to certain death. Since it was still dark you couldn’t really see anything but my mind filled in the blanks. I was kind of afraid it would be more harrowing on the way down in the light.

When I got to the summit at 10,023 feet elevation, it was damn cold. I hadn’t brought a jacket to Maui so the best I could do was jeans, a tee shirt and a long sleeve shirt over my tee. Since it was still a while until sunrise, I rested in my car for a while. Then I went up to the highest observation point where most people were gathered. For a while I stayed inside the glass shelter to stay a bit warmer but as sunrise approached, I went to stand outside.

It was amazing. As it became light I could see that we were above the clouds. It was like a solid floor of clouds around us. I was chattering with cold but determined to experience this and I’m glad I did. One of the most stunning things I’ve ever seen. As the sun first breached the horizon, it first looked like a line was splitting open in the sky with a fiery orange glow like magma. I’m always shocked at how quickly sunrises and sunsets actually happen. It’s only a matter of minutes until it completely transitions from nothing to the full sun (or vice versa) as you can kind of see in this video. I also did a quick 360 degree video.

After enjoying it for a while, I started the journey back down the mountain. I was pleased to find it was less harrowing because in the light, it wasn’t quiet as scary of a drop off. It would still kill you, but visually, at least, it wasn’t as vertiginous. You could sort of see the slope of the mountain as opposed to just a sheer drop. I drove to Kahului, where the airport was, and decided to just spend the day there and stay in the vicinity. I had all day but was tired and just sort of in that “waiting to leave” mind space.

There’s not a lot in Kahului, but there is a Whole Foods! I waited for them to open and had a nice fruit smoothie. I then went and found several geocaches to keep me busy and exploring for the morning. One of them took me to a really nice spot on the beach so after I found it, I rolled down the windows and took a nap in my car to sounds of the ocean (and the kiteboarding instructors and students) and with a nice breeze blowing.

I returned to Whole Foods for some Sushi for lunch. Then it was on to more geocaching. In the afternoon, I found two particularly hard ones deep in some rough woods. I had to do a lot of “bushwhacking” as they call it when you are off the trail and going through rougher wooded areas. Up hills, through overgrowth, over fallen trees, by a homeless person’s tent in the woods, it was quite a rough terrain adventure. They were both tiny “microcaches”, basically tiny camouflage cylinders attached to trees. After the second one, I was thoroughly drenched in sweat, which was unfortunate as I wouldn’t have a chance to shower until I got home (which would turn out to be almost 24 hours later).

I decided to try and find a cafe or some place where I could recharge my nearly dead phone, and use my laptop for a bit but this turned out to be pretty futile, although I didn’t try incredibly hard. There was a Starbucks somewhere but there’s nothing there I want to drink. I ended up back at the same beach spot where I had napped earlier. When my phone died, I opened up my laptop on battery power and charged my from from that for a while. I spent several hours just walking barefoot in the sand, enjoying the view and the sound and watching kiteboarders. While I was indeed anxious to get home (more on that later) there was a surprising sense of sadness as well. Maui had really got to me. It was as wonderful and beautiful as everyone had said it would be. I’d seen and done so much, met so many great people and characters. Turning away from the ocean and walking back to my car was definitely accompanied by a sigh, like I was saying goodbye to a friend after a visit.

I decided to go ahead to the airport even though it was still 4 hours before my flight. I always would rather have too much time than not enough so I have plenty of time for any unforeseen circumstances as well as time to just take it casually, eat, relax, etc. I arrived at my gate and began the waiting game. A friend of mine works for an airline so I was traveling on his “companion” passses which meant my round trip was significant cheaper but I was flying standby, which means I only get on the plane if there’s room. I’d done this many times before so I knew the game and knew that you just had to go into it knowing that it could be quite the adventure. I’ve been stuck in Chicago for an entire day and overnight stay, stuck in Austin for 2 full days and nights and other adventures so I’d learned to be pretty zen about it. My trip to Maui had been flawless. Made both my flights! I was ecstatic when not only did I make my first flight home, but I was in first class for the 6+ hour flight! I ate my free, fancy, first class meal and then slept the entire flight to Denver.

When I got to my gate in Denver, I ate breakfast and headed to my gate where they have electronic boards at the gates telling you how many seats, how many people are checked in, people on standby, etc. My flight back to Austin was not looking good. I believe it showed one open seat and 3 people in front of me on the standby list. Sure enough, I didn’t get on it. The next flight was three hours away. I set up at the “charging station” and set up my laptop in one of the little cubicle-like spaces to pass the time. As my next flight got closer, I went to the gate and once again it looked even worse than the first flight. In fact, they were asking if any paid passengers would willingly give up their seat for a later flight, for which they would be compensated somehow (I can’t remember how). I did not get on. Another three hour wait.

I got some lunch and again set up in my airport cubicle. At this point, I was mostly keeping my zen but was a little frustrated since I had just started dating someone right before I left for Maui. We literally had our first kiss and then I’m gone for 6 days. I was anxious to get back.

As the next flight approached, I looked at the board to assess the situation. Three open seats and I was fifth on the standby list. I was hoping for a miracle. They started giving seats to the standby list. Two guys got their tickets and boarded. They called the next name. No response. Again, they called for this person, and no response. They then moved to the fourth name on the list. Again, no response. The gate agent said, “Well then, onto our next contestant” and sure enough it was me. I shouted “Woohoo!” and threw my arms in the air, happily took my ticket and boarded the plane.

Once again, I slept almost the whole 2 hour flight and arrived home only 6 hours later than I’d anticipated. On the plus side, this meant my girlfriend was not at work and could pick me up at the airport. We spent the next 26 hours utterly relaxing and disconnected from the world. Then I hit the ground running with things to do and am still playing catch up (thus why I’m only now finishing this blog entry).

Of course, I’d have it no other way. I hope to go back some day, but it’s also great to be home.

Pictures from the trip can be found here.

Maui, Day 4 and 5

Day 4 began casually. Trying to sleep in but failing. My mind just decided that it’s ready to be up! So I went walking around Front Street in Lahaina town again. It was early enough that not much was open yet. I found one virtual geocache and then went looking for another. The second one was located under part of a restaurant that hung out over the ocean a bit. Unfortunately it was high tide so there was no way for me to get to it without getting completely soaked and I hadn’t come prepared for that. I got fairly wet just trying to see if I could get to it.

I decided to grab breakfast at the restaurant (“Cheeseurger in Paradise”). I got cheeseburger scramble which sadly was, “meh.” I don’t think I did anything else before returning to my room and just relaxing for a while before taking a shower and getting ready for the wedding.

I went 6 miles down the road to the Olowalu Plantation House where the wedding was taking place. Immediately I was struck by what a great place this was for a wedding. Beautiful and right on the beach, the ocean as your backdrop. The wedding itself was, without question, the most beautiful, magical wedding I’ve ever been to. From the scenery to the ceremony itself to the reception and most of all the people, it was just beyond words. I had come here knowing no one but the bride. At the rehearsal dinner, I had met many great people and so I felt like knew a lot of them now. I just don’t know how else to describe the entire atmosphere and experience other than “magical”. As the night grew to a close and the moon reflected off the ocean, I said goodbye to all these people and there was definitely a melancholy. Though I had two more days here and despite the fact taht I had not seen any of these people outside the rehearsal dinner and wedding/reception, it was strange knowing that the next day most of them were all dispersing to their homes or next locations on the itinerary. Though I had come here for a vacation as well, the reason that had spurred it all, the invitation that brought me, this magical event was over.

I got back to my room and set my alarm. My plan was to get about 3 hours of sleep and then drive to the summit of Haleakala, the worlds tallest dormant volcano, to watch the sunrise. Since I had visited the other end of the park on Thursday (mistakenly thinking I could reach the summit from there) my ticket was good for three days so if I went back Saturday, it wouldn’t cost me anything.

Day 5
As I slept, I kept thinking “wow, this three hours is not coming nearly as quickly as I feared.” That’s because I mistakenly set my alarm for 2:30 P.M. instead of A.M. I realized this about 30 minutes before sunrise and since it’s a two to three hour drive, that idea was out. I decided to just sleep in and that I would just pay another $10 and go back on Sunday morning.

Sleeping in felt good. I decided to take the day totally casually again and probably just fill it with geocaching since that always ends up leading me to cool places, no decision making required! First I went back to Front street and hit some shops (I hadn’t really gone in many of the shops). I also found that since it was Saturday it was much busier than I’d ever seen it before and there were arts and crafts vendors set up in Banyan Tree park. After much browsing, I went to eat at “Bubba Gump Shrimp Co”. It was kinda touristy and maybe a little overpriced but the view and the food were excellent. almost every table has a view right out onto the ocean, and the whole place feels very open and breezy. Not a lot of difference between the inside and outside portions. Never the less, I sat outside for that little extra breeze (it’s still covered…I’m not kidding when I say it’s barely any different). I had an awesome “chiller” smoothie type drink made from fresh strawberries and mangos and the “I’m Stuffed…stuffed shrimp”. Jumbo shrimp covered (not really stuffed) in crab meat and garlic butter sauce, topped with monterey jack cheese and rice. It was delicious!

A few more shops and then I went back to my room for a breather. I had a little nap then did some serious geocaching until sunset. As usual it took me to all kinds of cool scenic places I probably never would have seen and I got to feel like some secret agent finding hidden boxes, signing the log and then hiding them back in their place while trying not to be seen by “muggles”.

After what I decided was going to be my last cache for the day, I was at a very scenic rocky spot by the ocean so I sat down on a perfect little rock and watched the sunset. I decided to hit up “Teddy’s Bigger burgers” one last time, since I wouldn’t be able to on Sunday due to my plans and my flight out.

Tonight, I have my alarm correctly set for 2:30 A.M.

Maui, Day 3

In which I am over-ambitious and kind of like Bear Grylls if he was 90% lamer.

I awoke earlier than I wanted and was still tired but couldn’t seem to sleep any more so I decided to get going. Ate breakfast at Maui Tacos. It was only, O.K. Then I decided to hit ‘Iao Valley State Park first, however on my way, I saw a nice little stretch of beach just off the road (many, in fact) and got the urge to just pull over and enjoy it for a bit. I’m really enjoying this totally casual, no itinerary way of vacationing. Sure I don’t see as much as I could if I meticulously planned, but I feel so relaxed and casual and it’s fun to just kind of play it by ear with only the loosest of plans or see where the urge takes you and discover things along the way. After a brief sojourn at the beach I proceeded to ‘Iao Valley.

It was amazing and breathtaking. I would get vertigo just looking up at the lush mountains around me. I explored all the paved sidewalks and then ventured off into the woods on some dirt paths. I went quite far, to the point where I started to wonder if I could find my way back. I generally have a very good sense of direction though so I wasn’t too worried. A few of the paths I traversed were right on the edge of a steep drop off. There was nothing too dangerous but I definitely had to watch my footing and stay alert.

Once I’d traveled pretty damn far into the woods, I decided, on a whim, to check my Geocaching app and see if there were any geocaches near. Sure enough, there was one 500 feet from me. I made my way back and climbed up a steep slope looking for it. It turned out to be much easier than that and was back down on easier terrain. There was also a “virtual cache” at the ‘Iao Needle and then a third one at the entrance to the park. Again, I made it far harder than it actually was and found myself climbing way up a very steep slope using trees, roots and anything else I could for hand and foot holds. It was at this moment that I realized how when I’m geocaching, I do much more dangerous and adventurous things than I normally would because I’m not really thinking about it. I’m just single-mindedly looking for that cache. This one, too, turned out to be back down in a much easier place.

On my way back to the car, a chicken with a line of baby chicks was crossing the road. They were so damn cute I had to try and document it. I slowly stalked through the grass on my knees with my camera, trying to get close without spooking them. I got a couple of videos.

By this time it was about noon and I decided today was a good day to drive the “Hana Highway”. It’s one of the most scenic drives you will ever experience, however it will take all day. I knew this going in, but was still not prepared for the endurance adventure driving trip this turned out to be. It turns out pretty much the entire eastern half of Maui is encircled by one “highway” and I use that term loosely. This is pretty much the ONLY road and it is narrow and winds around so much I had to stop several times because I started feeling sick. The main stretch that people drive is between Kahului and Hana and is about 60 miles but will take about 3 hours to drive. It was indeed stunning visually. Just indescribable. Almost incomprehensable but it was arduous. After stopping to eat in Hana, I decided to keep going all the way around instead of going back the way I came. I’m glad I did because the scenery did not get any less impressive.

Along the was was Haleakala State park with the world’s tallest dormant volcano. I already knew I wanted to go here so I decided to cram this in as well rather than makes this drive again another day. I thought I was accessing the area where you could get to the summit and the crater but I found out later that this was not the case. This was the opposite end of the park. Now, sadly, at this point my phone battery was dead so I didn’t get any pictures which is a real shame as this may be some of the most incredible scenery I’ve seen.

It’s a long hike, 2 miles slowly ascending through the woods, following a man made trail, sometimes of stones, sometimes wooden platforms, a couple of bridges over a chasm, and a few creek crossings using stepping stones or logs. At places, there are signs warning of steep and fatal dropoffs to your side. I think the coolest part for me was as you got higher, you reached an area where the wooden platform trail was in the center of a corridor formed by immense and dense bamboo growth on either side. It looked absolutely surreal and the bamboo and clouds at this altitude made it all very dark and overcast as well. The wind would blow and the bamboo would clack against itself making it seem alive, like it was chittering to you. There were parts that were quite rocky or uneven, muddy or slippery and all kinds of different terrain. The further I got, the more I questioned trying to come back down this all in the dark.

When I finally reached the end of the trail, it was incredible. Tall cliffs stretched upward on three sides and a waterfall cascaded down from somewhere near the top. There were huge stones everywhere in a massive pile. I decided to go ahead and set back while there was still light.

By the time I got back to the car I was exhausted and my legs were jelly. I’d already hiked who knows how far around ‘Iao Valley and now I just added 4 more miles, half of that, constantly ascending. I set back out on the only road there was, intent to follow it all the way back around. I didn’t realize that it was going to remain a tiny rough winding road for the vast majority of the journey. There were more unbelievable views and many times when you were driving a one car width dirt road with a mountain on your right and a drop off into the ocean on your left but the entire journey was stunning.

The drive home seemed to take forever though. Especially since for a large chunk of it you’re driving maybe 20 MPH if you’re lucky and winding around playing chicken with the occasional oncoming car or cement truck and avoiding the occasionally crossing cattle. I finally arrived back at my room about 12 hours after I had left it. It was a day filled with physical activity, adventure, and absolutely mind blowing sights and experiences.

Tomorrow, I’m sleeping in and taking it easy. I think some casual geocaching around my neck of the woods until the wedding tomorrow afternoon. I will sleep well tonight.