Spain, Part II

After a restless night, still not used to the time change, we awoke to start the day with a free walking tour of Madrid through New Tour. We met at Plaza Mayor and joined the English-version of the tour, led by our tour guide, Ramon Amoros.

Ramon, our Madrid tour guide

Ramon is a twenty-four year old Argentinian who has lived in Madrid for ten years, first coming to Madrid to study as an illustrator. When the Spanish economy tanked, he considered moving to Berlin but chose to stay in Spain. His brother suggested he take the tour guide gig and he has been doing it now for two years. He speaks fluent English and could easily pass as American. Leading tours is his only job and he is very good at it: a very smart, funny guy. His illustrations are quite impressive, too.
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Madrid bans half of cars from roads to fight air pollution | World news | The Guardian

Madrid’s city council has implemented restrictions on cars in an effort to combat persistent smog. While battling smog is a good thing, the measure does not restrict mopeds and motorcycles, which cause more smog than cars do and seem to me to be far more prevalent in the city.

Madrid has ordered half of most private cars off the roads on Thursday to tackle worsening air pollution, a first in Spain.

The restrictions will operate between 6.30am and 9pm. The city council said in a statement: “vehicles with even-number registration plates will be allowed to drive around on even-number days and cars with odd-number registration plates on odd-number days.”

The measure is activated when levels of harmful nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere go above 200 microgrammes per cubic metre in at least two measuring stations for two days running, and if the air is unlikely to clear imminently.

Source: Madrid bans half of cars from roads to fight air pollution | World news | The Guardian

Spain, Part I

At the end of a long journey on the way to Madrid.

I am writing this on one of Spain’s impressive high-speed trains, leaving Barcelona for Seville at 275 kph. It is 9:52 AM CET. We are on the home stretch of our trip to Spain, having spent the first four days in Madrid and the next four in Barcelona. After this six-hour-long train trip we will have a few days in Seville before returning to Madrid for the night.

Spain has been a wonderful experience, in spite of our not really speaking the language. We’ve soaked up the culture and the sights and walked many kilometers around the streets of Madrid and Barcelona. Now we head to what many call the most beautiful, most Spanish city: Seville.

Our trip began midafternoon on 21 December when we arrived at RDU for our flight. A lengthy wait at the Delta counter was rewarded with all four of us getting TSA Pre-flight status and bypassing the long, holiday security lines. Soon we were seated on our Boeing 757-200S for the long trip across the Atlantic.

I had my reservations about being crammed into a 757 for such a long flight but there were two things in our favor. First, it was a red-eye flight so my body would be somewhat used to being still. Second, the family had four seats right next to each other (1+3, right side). Kelly said up-front that she didn’t want the middle seat so I volunteered for it. Surprisingly, it was very comfortable. I got up once to use the lavatory and then used my travel pillow to get a few winks in here and there. Before I knew it we were cruising over the dark, sleeping hills of Ireland on our way to Paris.
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Georgetown Hospital blocks MT.Net, gives Facebook a pass

I’m connected to Georgetown University Hospital’s MedStarGuest network and trying to keep from being bored between tests. I was about to do some blogging this morning when I was greeted with a WebSense notification that my blog has been blocked:

No MT.Net for you!

No MT.Net for you!

What makes this particularly amusing is that Facebook is not blocked by the hospital’s WebSense nanny filter. It seems that MarkTurner.Net is considered “Social Networking” but Facebook, the granddaddy of all social networking sites, is not blocked for being “Social Networking.” What’s even more amusing is that other sites I host on the very same site using the very same software (like LigonPTA.com) are not blocked. Somehow I’ve earned inclusion onto WebSense’s no-no list.

This is yet another example of how idiotic these Internet nanny filters can be. Attention fellow IT people: there is no substitution for monitoring your own network. Don’t delegate your network monitoring to stupid products like WebSense.

And aren’t “guest” networks supposed to be safe for guests? Protect your important infrastructure with a secure network but your visitors shouldn’t need nanny filters.

Fortunately my VPN has not been blocked so that I could bring you this important message.

If it’s Monday, this must be DC

Update 2017 Nov 11: Dr. Baraniuk’s paper has been published.

At the top of the “Exorcist” Steps in Georgetown. I climbed these steps to and from my appointment today.

At the top of the “Exorcist” Steps in Georgetown. I climbed these steps to and from my appointment today.


I’ve been on the road for a little while. Last week I was in Seattle for a work trip, spending most of my time in a windowless datacenter. My colleagues and I did get out to visit the Museum of Flight as well as the Living Computer Museum, both which were fascinating to us geeks!

I got home Friday night to spend the weekend with my family before hopping a train north to DC. I’ll be here for the next two days participating in a DoD-funded research study on Gulf War Illness (GWI). The research study involves a bunch of repetitive vital sign measurements, some MRI time, and intense exercise tests. I got through most of the medical forms, vital sign measurements, and interview today but the real fun starts tomorrow when I pedal my ass off on a stationary bike while wearing a SCUBA breather and an EKG harness, then spend an hour cooped up in an MRI while they look at my brain. Then I do it again on Wednesday and celebrate afterward with a lumbar puncture (aka, spinal tap). Yay?

After I had a long interview with the doctor in charge of the research study, he doesn’t seem convinced that I have traditional GWI (or it’s cousin, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, CFS). He does find my symptoms curious, though, and wants to get me some answers. I don’t know what I’ll find out here, if anything, but I seem to be in the realm of experts. At least I know that my vitals are good and EKG looks “stellar,” in their words.

Being away from my family for two weeks in a row isn’t something I’ve done since my 2006 business trip to Australia, I believe. Can’t say I’m a fan of this much travel. My health is important, though, so I want to find out whatever I can so that I can keep up with my very active family.

One plus of being in DC now is that I had a great view of tonight’s Antares rocket launch which launched from Wallops Island, VA. I saw it from the grounds of the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial with the Potomac River in the foreground and excited kids and dads all around me. Made me wish my excited kids (and my wife) were here with me!

Homesick in Seattle

Baggage Carousel 10 at Seattle-Tacoma (SEATAC) Airport

Baggage Carousel 10 at eattle-Tacoma (SEATAC) Airport


I’m traveling this week for business to Seattle, arriving at SEATAC airport this afternoon. As I’m walking up to the Southwest baggage carousel, I turn instinctively around to my family to joyously announce that our vacation has finally started.

Only my family’s not there. My colleagues Ken and Cameron don’t notice as my face falls and I get really quiet, looking around the room and imagining what fun I might be having there with my family. I spend the shuttle ride to the rental car place looking down at my hands as tears well up in my eyes.

What fun we’ve had here as a family. What precious memories we’ve built. What amazing adventures have begun first with a trip to the baggage carousel.

I return to my hotel room after a few hours of work, alone with my memories, laptop, and the feeling that I am blessed far beyond any man could hope to be.

Bouldered over

As I mentioned earlier, I took a new job recently. Last week I visited the company headquarters in Boulder for the company’s new employee orientation. Though I dreaded the thought of days of mind-numbing meetings it turned out to be a lot of fun. I was particularly impressed that my new colleagues and I took an afternoon out to volunteer for a local charity. That, and everyone was incredibly enthusiastic and helpful during the event. Obviously the company hires the right people – these are people anyone would want to work with.

I stuck around a few extra days to get in some work with my department, too, which was spent in a few team-building exercises and overviews of the product I’ll be supporting. It was a big jump-start to my daily responsibilities.
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Boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park

Cruising Resurrection Bay

Cruising Resurrection Bay


On the morning of the 13th (a Thursday), we hustled to get out the door to make the hours-long drive to Seward, where we would be taking a boat tour around the Kenai Fjords National Park. If we had to boil our whole vacation down to one activity, this would be it. This tour was a truly amazing experience!

We arrived a bit early at Kenai Fjords Tours in Seward to check in, knowing that the Alaska Railroad was soon to bring another load of tourists to town. We then had a few minutes to walk around the docks and get a quick peek at Seward.

The marina was alive with activity. Pleasure boats and commercial fishing boats occupied every slip. The smell of fresh halibut (which wore on me after a short while), filled the air. The strong morning sun lit up the brightly-painted boats and cast the clear sky in a dazzling blue. It was a postcard-perfect scene. The town of Seward was just as welcoming, with many shops and restaurants lining the main street. Pedestrians and cyclists wandered through town. Beautiful parks and community spaces provided inviting places to play. It seemed far more cheerful than Anchorage to me.

After a quick look around the dock, we joined a line of passengers waiting to board our boat. Kelly’s eyes rolled as one tour worker told a cheesy joke as he made a boarding announcement. We handed in our tickets and climbed aboard the modern, two-level tour boat. We found an unoccupied four-spot table on the top deck but soon left it for spots on the more exciting bow.
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Back from Anchorage

Well, over 12 hours and 3,500 miles later we are back home from Anchorage, having walked out of RDU around 11 AM. It was an amazing, unforgettable trip filled with many stories I have yet to tell. The red eye on Delta was exhausting, however, and my head does not know what day, time, or place it’s in. I thought I would blog more tonight of our trip but catching up on lost sleep seems more prudent.

Tomorrow I may awaken to wonder if it was all just a dream.

Anchorage and crime

Knowing the number of tourists that must pass through here, I was hopeful that Anchorage’s downtown would be a welcoming place.

I was wrong. I never felt fully safe when we were there, always having my street-smarts kick in to move us along whenever danger seemed to show up. There were a some guys here and there who seemed to be sizing us up as we walked by, causing me to walk us a bit faster. Suddenly, carrying that gift shop bag through downtown didn’t seem so smart.

One evening we parked downtown and headed over to see the “Aurora” showing at the Anchorage Center for the Performing Arts. I overheard the usher there chatting with another tourist.

“Anchorage has a great downtown,” he said without much conviction. “Sure, it has it’s problems …,” he continued, never finishing his thought.
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