October 17th: Sydney

We bought travel passes at Central, then headed back to our room. We picked up breakfast items at a convenience store (we have a fridge in the room), then went back out for dinner. We decided on the Bourbon and Beefsteak Bar, and I had an “American steak sandwich”, which was a steak between two slices of bread. Sharon had sauteed prawns, we enjoyed it. After that, it was time for bed. A good 12 hours later, we were finally on Sydney’s schedule. Unfortunately, the sky was overcast and we cancelled our plans to go to Manly Beach in favor of the Blue Mountains (The guy at the front desk said Sydney weather was unpredictable, and the Blue Mountains more so, so we might as well go today as any other). I write this from the train there, which will leave in another twenty minutes.

Things I know now from the train trip: collision=smash, Target and K-mart are everywhere (along with McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Century 21), pharmacist=chemist.

Now we’re on our way back, after four hours of walking. We got off the train, had a bite to eat at the Poppyseeds Cafe, and commenced walking. We walked to Cliff Drive and took a path to the Scenic Skyway. We took the skyway, then took the railway (world’s steepest) down and walked to see Katoomba Falls from the bottom. We took the railway up, then took the trail to Echo Point. We looked at the Three Sisters, then walked back to town, and are now headed back to Sydney. We went to Arun Thai for dinner, right next to the hotel. I had Tom Yum Goong (prawn soup; I liked the fresh jalapenos) and Ped Ob Num Paung (roasted duck; very tasty).

[Originally published at GoHither.Net]

October 16th: Sydney

I’m writing this from the Botanical Gardens. Sharon and I took a taxi from the airport, the hotel let us check in at 8am, so we showered (thank God) and changed. We are eating in a cafe in the Gardens, having taken pictures of the flowers, birds, and the Opera House. I had “wedges” for lunch. Turns out it’s not a sandwich, like I thought, but fried potato slices (I should have known when the cashier asked me if I wanted tomato sauce and handed me ketchup when I assented).

Now in Hyde Park. Saw bats at the Gardens, the Opera House, and the Circular Quay. We cashed some traveler’s checks, I picked up some tickets, and now we’re letting the jet lag make us nap.

[Originally published at GoHither.Net]

October 14th: Los Angeles to Sydney

The flight to LA is nice. I’ve never flown on a 777 before. I especially like the TV monitors in the back of the seats, and you can surf. LAX has funky columns outside that change color at night, and a restaurant that looks like a spider. The flight to Sydney is long. I haven’t been on a 747 either, but I don’t like it as much. It’s cramped, and I have a hard time sleeping. I watched Frequency (and For Love Of The Game to LA).

[Originally published at GoHither.Net]

Concerts

I just saw Matthew Sweet at the 9:30 (amazing show), and there’s much more to look forward to: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Eddie From Ohio, Equality Rocks with Melissa Etheridge and k.d. lang, Earth Day (It’s a free concert and rally at the Mall, hosted by Leonardo DiCaprio and featuring Carole King, Clint Black, David Crosby, Keb’ Mo’ and James Taylor), NIN, Eric Idle, Jimmy Buffett, and the Dave Matthews Band (oh, and maybe Roger Waters if I’m not completely broke. 🙂 ).

[Originally published through the emmet swimming email list (ONElist/eGroups/Yahoo Group)]

Nuts and Bolts, Nuts and Bolts – We Got Screwed

I’ve been listening to a lot of Nirvana this week. Trying to understand why someone would do such a thing is never easy, and this is no exception. What I can’t accept though, is the attempt to make Kurt Cobain into another John Lennon. He’s not the “voice of our generation”.

Kurt didn’t want to talk about it, but he obviously had an unhappy youth. He grew up in a small logging town east of Seattle, filled with macho guys quick to make fun of anyone who didn’t fit the mold, such as Kurt. I can’t blame him for carrying a grudge, but it’s nothing different than what happened to me, or people I knew in school. Refusing to conform to the norm is never accepted, but Kurt was apparently really stigmatized. He thought if he could make music, all the pain would go away.

It didn’t, of course. His vision of Nirvana was success on the level of Sonic Youth, a major label contract, but not selling enough to be a household name. Instead, Nirvana achieved worldwide acceptance, and Kurt was adored by the people he despised He hated every second of the fame. Sure he had money, but now people wouldn’t leave him alone. He was constantly badgered to help out here, donate money there, and give ’til it hurt.

That coma he went into last month as a result of drugs and alcohol was apparently another suicide attempt, with note. This understandably freaked people out, and he was urged by his wife and band mates to seek treatment. He agreed, but left after a couple of days. I don’t know if we’ll ever know why he took this way out. He had been talking about quitting the band, but that solution just wasn’t good enough. Now it’s revealed that he was having horrible stomach pains, which is why he turned to heroin in the first place.

I personally don’t see it. Suicide is just an easy way out, forcing everyone else to deal with your problems because you just can’t handle it. But I digress.

Make no mistake, I do like Nirvana. I think they’ve made some great music. Soon after “Smells Like Teen Spirit” started getting big I bought Nevermind. I was impressed. After seeing Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Garth Brooks top the charts, it was refreshing to see some angst filled screaming overpower them all. I loved the album, and bought their first album Bleach, a couple of weeks later. A no frills album that sounds like a bunch of demos, it shows a promise that was delivered.

I was never deluded though. As good as Nevermind sounds, the lyrics are no more developed than Bleach. They just sound like a drunk guy spouting off, attempting to be wise, like “it’s okay to eat fish/’cause they haven’t any feelings” from “Something in the Way” or “when I was an alien, cultures weren’t opinions” from “Territorial Pissings.” They didn’t get much more intelligent on their last album In Utero. Witness “Like most babies smell like butter/his smell smelled like no other” from “Scentless Apprentice”.

I’m not saying that guy was a bad singer or songwriter. He had some legitimate angst to get rid of, and he managed to communicate that through his songs. How can you listen to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and not think that this guy is really pissed off? About what though? At the end of the song he sings “a denial.” A denial? Of what? I got the anger, but I didn’t see the message.

I don’t see Kurt Cobain as the voice of my generation. He wrote some good songs, but he wasn’t effective at communicating what he felt, and I think he gave up instead of trying harder. So who is the voice of my generation? I think it’s Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam.

Pearl Jam has only had two albums, but they’re both incredible. Eddie is capable of taking a subject such as abortion, incest, or gun control, and letting us know exactly what he thinks about it, in “Porch”, “Daughter” and “Glorified G.” When he gets personal is when he’s at his best. “Black” just captures the emotions I feel at the end of a relationship perfectly. And when he sings it live, you can see him reliving that feeling. And he can use a song to communicate on different levels, as in “Even Flow” where he tells a story about a homeless man, while showing his rage about the system that causes homelessness.

Eddie manages to channel the angst many of us feel and tell us exactly why he’s angry. I never felt that Kurt was anywhere close to mastering communicating anything more than a general rage. I can’t support the idea that a guy that just screamed is the voice of my generation. I don’t think my generation would just give up like that either. I don’t like a lot of things that are going on in the world, but I can tell you what they are and why I don’t like them – like Eddie can, and like Kurt never could.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

Mason Registration: Add a Class and Drop the Lines

I thought that already working for Expulsion would make my enrollment into the graduate program easier. Boy, was I wrong.

My tangled path started last January, with the School of Information Technology and Engineering’s Graduate Program Open House. It was extremely informative, with advisors from every program there to answer questions. From that, I was easily able to decide which program to apply for.

I applied in April, and received my acceptance letter in June. With it, I received the Fall Schedule Of Classes. I tried to analyze its cryptic contents and determined that I had to register sometime between then and August. I decided to wait and see if anything else would arrive that would make things more clear.

In July, I got a copy of the graduate catalog, and received two pieces of mail from Mason. The first was about a general graduate orientation to be held on August 23rd. The second was about an orientation for computer science graduate students the night after. It also said that registration forms would be signed. Great, I thought. I could learn everything I needed and take care of registration at the same time.

I arrived for the first orientation in SUB II about halfway through the opening speeches (Hey, it ain’t my fault I don’t get off work until after six). I signed in and received an interesting packet and the Mason Student Handbook. The packet contained a graduate newsletter, a handout on resources, a schedule for The Center For The Arts, a handout for music classes, a pamphlet on sexual harassment, and an ad for Mason Money. I found it interesting that the Mason Money ad mentioned that you could use it at Domino’s, but didn’t mention that it was the only off campus merchant to have the system in place to use it. I also filled out an application for a parking sticker (which of course I haven’t received yet.)

Anyway, what I heard of the speeches was an explanation of some of the handouts, plus some Mason propaganda. It’s interesting that people think Mason is going to have a great basketball season, even though the new coach hasn’t been in an actual game yet.

But I digress. After the speeches, I went to an information session on the Mason computer system. Miracle of miracles, it was actually informative, covering topics such as how to get a computer account, how to find documentation, how to figure out an Internet address, how to logon to Mason mainframes from a home computer, and how to get help, as well as a brief discussion of where various software and hardware are.

The orientation the next night was held in a classroom in S&T II. The professor who hosted it provided information on people CS graduate students should know, some information on email and getting accounts, and most importantly, waited patiently to answer every question on courses and signed registration forms.

I left the orientation feeling moderately prepared and ready to register for classes. I thought perhaps I would register the next day. Further examination of the Fall schedule and consultation with other students made me change that plan, as registration was closed each of the next three days. The earliest I could register was Monday, the first day of classes.

I arrived in Fairfax about 8:50 that next Monday. I found a parking space about 20 minutes later, aware that perhaps all of these people were here for a reason. When I arrived at Krug Hall, the line for registration stretched out of the office and down the stairs. After several minutes of waiting in line, it quickly became obvious to me that I wasn’t going to make it to the front of the line within the half hour I had left before I had to be at work. I left, and decided to come back the next day, when the office was open until 8.

The next evening I came back, and the line was much shorter. I sat down in the office and of course discovered to my dismay that my first and second choices were both closed. I signed up for my third choice, which had already had the first class the previous day. As a matter of fact, the professor who teaches the class is an adjunct and doesn’t have an office, so the only way to talk to her is to go to the class, which kind of blows the idea of finding out what the assignment is.

I went to the course I really wanted, to see if I could talk to the instructor. Unfortunately, about 15 other people had the same idea as I did, forcing the instructor to cut the class short since there was no air conditioning and the room wasn’t designed for that many people. The professor did offer to try and find a new room to teach the class in, though.

I learned from this experience that in the future I’d better sign up for classes at least several weeks in advance. I would like to see a little more information sent to new students, like an abridged version of the information presented at the orientations, plus a suggested timeline of events, such as talking to advisors and registering.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

Commuting Sucks… So Hit the Damn “Snooze…”

You know, I thought this was going to be a good week. So l work full time, so what? I can deal with no Spring Break, just stay out of my way during the week.

The Frey household is usually prepared for anything, and this storm was no exception. No last minute trips to the store for bread and milk for us. We were snowed in Saturday and Sunday, but everyone else was, so no big deal. My Siberian Husky loved it, and we just relaxed and shoveled the driveway and our cars.

The first sign of trouble was Monday morning. I woke up, threw the alarm across the room, went upstairs and looked out the window. Our street wasn’t plowed yet. Great, at least 10 more minutes added to my commute. I started up my car, backed it out, and started down the street, only skidding twice before the corner.

When I finally got out on 236, it looked pretty good, plowed, sanded, and little traffic. It was obvious to me that my usual collection of back roads I use to get to Reston was going to be impassable, so I took the Beltway and the Dulles Toll Road. The Beltway was clear, but the Toll Road was nasty. I finally got to work, and it turned out to be one of those days. For those lowlifes who’ve never worked a day in their lives, let me explain that. Have you ever had a really boring and dull class, where the only thought going through your head is that it’ll be over in an hour? Just multiply that by 8, and you’ll be somewhat close. The way home was easier. The Toll Road and Beltway were completely clear, and I only skidded once.

Tuesday morning dawned as another alarm clock bit the dust. The street still wasn’t plowed, but I could deal with that. My first hint of danger was when I went outside to start my car. The car of one of my neighbors was parked in the street parallel to it, blocking any attempt to get past it. Hmm, I thought, this could he trouble. It was.

Unknown to me at the time was the fact that every idiot with a car was under the mistaken impression that they could drive in the snow. Let me give you a little hint: If you weigh more than your car, stay home. After a good ten minutes to get my neighbor’s car out of the way, I was on my way, or so I thought.

At the end of my street was a hysterical Hispanic woman in a Volkswagen Rabbit, with bald tires. I pushed it out of the way with my pinky, and finally got out on 236, twenty minutes after I started. It was then that I discovered that every idiot with a car was on the road. I couldn’t deal with it for very long, and got off the Beltway after one exit, certain that the back roads couldn’t be as bad as the world’s largest parking lot.

To my surprise and relief, they weren’t. In fact, they were all plowed. I arrived at work half an hour late, only to face another of those days. On the way home, I discovered that my street had finally been plowed. Heck, the rest of the week couldn’t be that bad, could it.

I made a 3 point shot into the trashcan with my alarm clock as Wednesday morning broke. It was raining, but it was above the freezing point. Good, I thought, and it was, at least on the way to work.

Did I mention that I had a dental appointment that day? What kind of masochist invented this torture, where a lady wearing rubber gloves scrapes your teeth for half an hour with sharp metal objects? I don’t know, but my teeth still hurt.

Anyway, on the way home, I found out that rain plus melting snow equals twice as much water. Six inches of water doesn’t seem like much, but a current can change things. I finally made it home, though. I could rest and relax, right? Did I mention that I live in a basement? That leaks? Yes, for the second time in two weeks, one of my rugs got completely soaked. I really hate mopping, too. Oh well.

The alarm clock made a plaintive beep as I flushed it down the toilet to greet Thursday. I mopped again, then set out on my commute, and discovered that any water left on the ground had frozen into ice patches, as I slid into work. It was another of those days. Actually, it wasn’t.

I’m working on a project where Thursday I performed the intellectual equivalent of banging my head against the wall. What fun. The temperature never got above the freezing point, so the ice was still there in the evening. Yuck.

A 60 ton weight did not destroy the alarm clock on Friday, so I was forced to call in a tactical nuclear strike, code named “The Big Snooze”. The ice was still there, and it was another of those days, but it was the last one.

Let me give a piece of advice to all people who drive in the left lane. If you’re not doing at least the speed limit, GET OUT OF MY WAY!!! This week was probably payback for a couple of good weekends, but it still sucked. If you can, I advise you to spend an extra year or two at school, just to put off having to commute.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

I Have Seen the Light and it Was Good: Brian May

[This was written by Katherine E. Kessler; I was the “fellow staff member” mentioned, also got to shake Brian’s hand and probably assisted in the writing. Still one of my top 10 concerts, and available as a video recording]

7:50 a.m. Friday morning. My first thought “What the hell am I doing awake at this insane hour? I only went to sleep four hours ago.” My second thought “Did the guy on the radio just say Brian May… at Hammerjacks? Tonight!” Well, I guess my pledge to not go to Hammerjacks this weekend (it would have the first time in a couple of months that would have happened) was about to be shattered. And so began the best day of my life.

I tried to go back to sleep. I really did. I tried real hard. I tried to count water buffalo, but it was just to damn noisy and the neighbors started to complain. So I gave up.

Now it’s 8:10 in the morning. I really needed to tell someone, but I value my life and don’t particularly want to lose it over a phone call. I debated over it in my mind for about three seconds, then called my friend at UVA.

Surprise, surprise. I woke her up. Weil, sort of. I told her that Brian May was going to be at Hammerjacks and it was free. She said that was good and went back sleep, before she even hung up the phone.

I waited awhile, then called another friend at work. She couldn’t come. I called yet another friend at work, he couldn’t come. Called a couple other friends. They weren’t home. Great. It was beginning to to look like I was going to Hammerjacks alone.

I wasn’t going to even consider not going. My chance to fulfill my greatest dream, and I was not going to miss it just because no one else could go. Seeing Brian May live would not only give my life meaning, I would then be able to die happy. Brian May is my hero.

For those of you who for some strange, deranged reason don’t have any clue who Brian May is… you should be taken out and shot… several times. He is a rock icon. He was the lead guitarist for one of the best bands ever, Queen. The man is amazing.

10:30. The phone rings. The voice end says “Did you say Brian May?” I spent the next half hour listening to my friend convincing herself that she really didn’t need was to go to her class or her meeting.

I was supposed to go pick up a friend in West Virginia, but I wasn’t supposed to leave until 3 p.m. However, I wanted to leave for Baltimore by 6 p.m. Big problem. So I talked to my friend (who’s boyfriend I was picking up) and told her to call him at 2:30 and tell him that I should be there in a few minutes. I left here at 1. Plenty of time.

Then I sat in the lounge waiting for him for 45 minutes. Finally, he showed up. Apparently, she had just called him. It was 3:15. Well, I guess I wasn’t going to get back to Virginia (all get away from all the trucks) by 4. Oh, well. I finally got home around 5:20. Just barely enough time to get ready.

About 6:15, my friend from UVA, a fellow staff member, and I left for Baltimore. An hour and a half later, we finally got on 95. Then I hit seventy-five mph and didn’t slow down until we hit Baltimore. Amazingly, we got there in time. Actually, we got there a couple hours before the show actually started.

With two hours to kill, what did we do? We chat with the T-shirt dude. By the time the show starts, we are on the guest list for his next show in New York, I have a free T-shirt, and he’s going to try to get us backstage after the show. And we didn’t even have to promise to sleep with him. Wonders never cease.

Around ten-thirty the show finally starts. The smile doesn’t leave my face from the moment Brian May walked on stage until, well, actually, it’s still there. The shock that I am actually standing only ten feet from the one and only Brian May wears off sometime during the second song of his first encore. The show is amazing. By far the best one that I’ve ever been to. I’m on cloud nine just about now. And am libel to stay that way for months to come.

After the show was over, we went down and waited for the T-shirt guy to close up. An extremely long hour later, he went to put the shirts away and see about getting us backstage. Five minutes later, he’s waving for us to follow him.

We walked through the DJ’s booth and into a rather small back room. The security guard tells us to close the door behind us. I notice that the only other people in this room either work at Hammerjacks or for the band. Then I see him. Standing by the door in a full length leather trench coat.

One of the security guards said “We need to move some people out of here.” A deep thick British accent pipes in “Does that include me too?” That voice, it was Brian May.

We started to walk towards another small room and just happened to pass by him. I shook his hand. I said something to him. He smiled and responded. In complete and total awe and shock, I can’t remember what was said for the life of me.

I meet Brian May.

About one minute later, he left for the airport. Talk about timing.

As we piled in the car, I made a comment to the effect of “Now I can die happy. If I died tomorrow, it would be O.K. because my one dream has been fulfilled.”

Then, as we drove away over the train tracks, we were almost hit by an oncoming train that my friend swore wasn’t there.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]