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Musings, science news, and miscellaneous cruft by Dr. Gravitas

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DrGravitas

Ok, I'll be honest: I'm never going to get around to uploading those vacation photos and writing out the rest of it.

Moving on!

The young cousin we met last year on vacation is coming to America to visit! The plan is right around the same time last year. My father is quite excited and has found a festival to go to with him and then were going to show him around the Midwest. The catch is, the tail-end of the visit overlaps with my plans to attend Anthrocon. While it's becoming increasingly difficult to obscure where I'm going to be, I think it'll work out.

There's just 3 days where my folks won't be available, before I'll be off to AC. Since it doesn't make sense to work 3 days in between two vacations, I've taken them off as well (leaving me with only 4 more in my time bank! eek!) But, since I'll be available, I'll be expected to entertain my cousin for some of those 3 days.

Hmmm, well there's a Bowling Alley nearby...

DrGravitas

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Geeze, I need to work on my Photoshop composition skills :\

After the first day's dinner, we had a day all to ourselves. Unfortunately, a combination of happenings led to it not being all that productive. We were up by 8:25, eating croissants and juice at a little shop a few doors down and out of the place around 11pm to do some sight seeing. Unfortunately, we were back in the apartment by 2:00 and promises and miscommunications on the possible arrival of our luggage led us to spending the rest of the day waiting around the apartment for it.

It's just as well, I was massively dehydrated and didn't come to realize this until around 3:30. I drank about 5 full glasses of water and laid down with my migraine. I spent much of the two hours after that sleeping intermittently and grabbing another glass of water when my stomach stopped feeling full. Finally at 5 pm I had to use the restroom for only the second time of the day though this was a much more healthy semi-clear than the first (I swear this will be the last discussion of such things for this vacation blog XP). I continued to drink 2-3 glasses at a time, when possible through the first half of the next day when the effects of dehydration had been fully quashed.

Worst of all, I had failed to remember that my camera battery needs charging (as it drains on its own over time and was dead in the morning) and so only had a partial charge by the time we set out. It would be the last time I made that mistake on this vacation, but for the day I only managed a paltry 87 photos! D:

So, I mixed in a few other day's photos that were of the same subjects.
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Riga, and especially Old Town is an absolutely fantastic mix of old and new:
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There's also a wonderful air of friendliness and humor in this city:
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Oh, so that's what cultural appropriation feels like from the other side :V

*AHEM*

 

The Freedom Monument. We visited it again towards the end of this day, and observed some sharply dressed guard, whom I grabbed a few shots of with my phone.

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Though it wasn't until the next day with my Nikon that I was able to get some truly nice (and more comprehensive shots) of The Freedom Monument.

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And finally, I have a lovely little History of Latvia session for you as well! This is taken verbatim from the Introduction (page 5) of Rīgas Jūgendstila Ēkas : Art Nouveau Buildings in Riga book by Jānis Krastiņš that I purchased from the Riga Art Nouveau. I have been well aware of the general and many specifics of this country, area, and people's history before coming on this vacation but this book's summary of Riga's history (and, in effect much of Latvia's history) is probably the most perfect summary of it that I've read and really sets it out in just the 2nd sentence alone:


The old Haseatic city if Riga was founded in 1201. Today it is Latvia's capital, but over the centuries it has been governed by the Germans, Poles, Swedes, and Russians. Riga's history of the Middle Ages is marked by civil strife between the Livonian Order and the city's residents. This strife came to a head towards the end of the 15th century. On several occasions in 1484 Riga's residents defeated the knights of the Livonian Order, but in 1491 the Order once again gained the upper hand. Following the Livonian wars of 1558 to 1582 and the collapse of the Livonian Order, Riga passed into the hands of Poland. In 1621 the Swedes took control of Riga. In 1656, Russian marauders led by Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich Romanov made their appearance in the outskirts of the city, but were driven away. During the Great Northern War of 1700-1721, Poles, Saxons, and Russians in turn laid siege to Riga until finally in 1710 the city was taken by Tsar Peter the Great. The Russian domination lasted for more than 200 years but it was the Germans who dominated Riga's economy until Latvia's declaration of independence on November 18, 1918. In September 1917 the German army entered Riga; in January 1919 the Bolsheviks took control of the city. In May of the same year the Bolsheviks were forced out by the Baltic German Home Guard and the German Iron Division; in July, the combined Latvian and Estonian forces freed Riga from the Germans. On November 11, the Latvians were able to withstand an attack by a German-supported anarchist army led by Pavel Bermondt-Avalov. In August 1920, Latvia signed a peace treated with the Soviet Union. [Doctor's Note: The Freedom Monument was built in 1935] According to the treaty, Russia renounced all claims to Latvia "voluntarily and for ever", but, nevertheless, occupied the country on June 17, 1940. In June 1941 the German army entered Latvia, followed by the Red Army in October 1944. This was the beginning of almost a half-century of Soviet occupation, which only ended with the renewal of Latvia's independence in 1990.

Welcome to Latvia!

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DrGravitas

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Oh where to being? With almost two and a half weeks of vacation, blogging about it to share pics seems like quite the task! But, I'll try not to drone on like I have in my other posts, but instead hit the highlights. A minor point: I tend to be rather private in certain ways, so don't expect names (I'll tend to stick to titles or some kind of nickname) or photos of the family (though I might show up in some from time to time.) I'll probably keep details on those bits light altogether, I'm not sure.

So where did we leave off from the travelogue post? It was 1:23pm Eastern European time when we discovered our luggage had been lost. We were in Latvia with the clothes on our back and whatever we had in our carry-ons. The Riga Airport is not as large as Amsterdam's but was a fair bit bigger than Dayton's airport. Decor was an interesting functional modernist style:

(Some photos will be blurry and lower-quality. These are generally ones taken with my phone)

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One of the more remarkable (though, on reflection, rather obvious) bit about the trip to Latvia was how most the folks general appearance felt almost familiar; there was a certain something that made it feel like they looked more like us than most people do. I felt like I fit right in with the complete strangers shuffling past us on the Air Baltic flight. Descending from the clouds to see the rich green-hued forests was an unforgettable, shivering moment; it felt like I'd come back home.

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The benches were none too comfortable in the baggage claim area XP

We met with the Priest my Dad had connected up with online. When he had started planning this trip, he drafted a letter (translated with the help of one of his more locally-adjacent cousins) and sent it out to various people who shared our last name. Those who responded found the details he'd provided a striking match and the first spark connecting back was made as they traded back a few photos we'd never seen before of our Grandparents. In the correspondences, they brought up a Priest who traveled to America from time to time that was the Godfather to one of their sons. It turned out that my Dad had met the Priest once before with his parent several years ago. And so, the priest (and our newfound cousin, the Godson) agreed to meet us at the airport and help translate for the first meeting with the long lost relatives.

The Priest and the Godson drive us to the first of three apartments we had arranged to live in on the trip. The section of Riga outskirts the airport is situated on has an almost stereotypical Dreary-Eastern-European feel to, heightened by the rainy overcast.

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But, like the overcast, this feeling soon parted and gave way to the beautiful, modern European city that is much of Riga.

It was almost like a tease, showing us what our culture has established in our minds and then taking it away saying "Haha, nah just kidding; here's the real world!"

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But, of course, as is true of the real world, Riga is a complicated layering of old and new, good and bad. Much of the most beautiful and picturesque parts are concentrated in the section called "Old Town". A sector in the heart of the city dotted with the government building and a vast array of more touristy areas (and beautiful architecture). But Old Town, like our culturally-ingrained expectations, isn't quite true reality. It's almost like a massive tourist theme park, in a way. It has all the elements of true reality of life in Lativa and certain aspects cranked up to 11 with a hearty concentration of more tourist-oriented faculties. That's not to say it's a bad thing, in fact it was a wonderful experience. But, we'll get into that more in another Blog post I'm sure.

We arrived in our apartment space, which was being utilized and sold out like hotel rooms, just on the outskirts of Old Town with all the best attractions and interesting locals within comfortable walking distance. The apartment space was a fantastic deal, much cheaper than nearby hotels or anything situated completely within Old Town. But, being old government housing from the 1940s it didn't exactly give the best first impression...

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Did I mention it was a fantastic price?

Ok, so the inner stairwell and immediate surroundings were a bit run down, but the actual apartment wasn't that bad. It was no Hilton, to be sure, but comfortable enough (and a fantastic price!)

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This was the bedroom I shared, one of 3. (The entrance to it is seen as the blue-green area in the first photo.)  Although the incredible snoring of my family members (including those in an adjoining room) eventually forced me to flee to couch in the living room.

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The bathroom shower was rather nice. Although the shower head eventually broke off and had to be replaced. And the neighbor below let us know his ceiling above his shower had started leaking the day before our last day there (thankfully, he was also checking out the next morning, before we would have to shower). It also had a neat little sauna and a dryer (but no washer, as we soon found to be a common theme in Europe, along with a lack of air conditioning.)

 

There was only about 2-3 hours to rest in the apartment, before the Priest was to come back and take us to the dinner with the first of our long-lost relatives. Lacking luggage, we had to stick to the clothes we wore on the plane (or in some cases, had stuffed in our carry ons). By luck, I had some underwear and t-shirts and clean jeans I had worn the day before the trip, so I wasn't completely stuck in the clothes we'd just spend 18 hours flying and shuffling about in. At least we each got to take a shower!

Dinnertime arrived and we traveled to the restaurant. It was a rather ritzy looking place. My dress was well out of place, even in the bathroom:

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The restaurant had a formal dinner-party style to its meal, consisting of only two choices on the main course, after drinks and appetizers and bread. After the dinner was small dessert and then a drink. Unlike typical restaurant all but the choice of drink and main course were per-determined. Everything tasted wonderful and looked beautiful. There were toasts and short speeches, translated into English, Latvian, and Russian to fit for each of the languages spoken. Conversation was a bit awkward and slow-paced, but never-the-less it was nice to learn about them and what they do and see their reactions to our own info.

In particular, I learned I have a relation who works for a Russian games company! One curiosity occurred when informing them of our own professions. They each were polite and smiled in response to translated explanations of my older sibling and my work in different kinds of software. But, there was an electrified, and very positive response when they heard that my younger sibling was working as an assistant chef.

At the end, a sort of palette-cleanser drink was provided; a local specialty called Riga Black Balsam. I don't drink, so I didn't have any of it, but I'm told the flavor is herb-y and very bitter but not in a bad way. It also has 45% alcohol content. I decided the bitter bottle would make the perfect gift to brink back for my co-workers >X3c

Our parents had prepared some cookies as simple gifts to give the relatives and children (though it turned out they didn't bring their children). However, it turned out that the relatives had also brought gifts; rather more impressive calendars and trinkets. We saved face by saying the rest of the gifts we'd brought were in our luggage and only had the carry-on full of cookies that we were afraid might break if we checked them. Thank goodness the airlines had lost our luggage!

 

After the meal, we visited the Freedom Statue (a prominent landmark just down the street) to take some family photos and returned to the apartment. All told, from the moment we got up for our first flight, to the time we were back in the apartment, I had not slept at all. It had been over 24 hours before I finally fell asleep at the end of it. It was an amazing start to what would turn out to be an amazing vacation. One that I hope to continue to relay in blog posts and images again soon!

 

DrGravitas

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...Is stunning! Riga, Latvia is known as the Art Nouveau capitol of the world for its numerous fine examples of the architectural style. Old town, near where we stayed for the first stretch of the vacation, contains a number of examples but the finest examples are further into the newer sections of the city near the National Art Museum and the Art Nouveau museum.

I still haven't decided how I want to do these blog posts, but I had a few images prepared already so I figured I'd post them up. I will probably have to do it over comments since this thing only lets me do 10 MB per post. It's either that or Imgur. I do have a few imgur images setup already, though:

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...Apparently the forum is A-OK with those linked images coming in as embedded!

DrGravitas

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A little preview of the photos of my vacation I'll be putting up at some point! (resized to fit posting directly to the forum)

It'll be a while before I do write ups and photo dumps on my Latvia/France trip, though. As was the case with the Grand Canyon photos, nearly every one of the .jpg files saved by the camera tend to be more than 10 MB in size. Most of them will barely fit on a forum post because the software tends to choke on 6012x4000 res images (I think the thumbnail generator takes too long and it assumes its hung.) So, I'll have to do some work to resize them. Bulk upload will be to imgur again, and that alone will be a nightmare. Not to mention the need for tweaks in Photoshop (when they're too dark/bright or too yellow/blue, need to be rotated, etc) So I have a lot of work ahead of me on that front!

 

Here's some stats:

I took 3,203 photos

The .jpg files alone are 28.02 GB

I took photos with both my Nikon and my phone. The Nikon accounts for 2,572 photos / 26.4 GB while the phone was 631 / 1.62 GB My Nikon is also set up to save both the .jpg and a raw file (the phone does not save any sort of raw, just a jpg).

If you include the raws, the grand to total is:

5,772 files at 81.1 GB

 

I ended up buying a second memory card after filling the new one up twice and running out of room to dump it to my laptop. Phone images generally > 8 MB and are 4128x2322, but are often not very good or are of trivial subjects for one off posts or jokes and stuff. There are a number of duplicates from both devices, as I sometimes need to take multiple shots to get one good one and it's not always possible to judge that from the camera's screen. The phone also may have dups purely from the occasional use of the Rich Tone HDR function, which is setup to save both an unaltered version and the HDR-processed image. So that, along with many of them being of personal subjects, means a huge number of them won't be posted at all. But, there still will be quite a number of them!

DrGravitas

Flight's actually tomorrow, but I'm packed and already over at my parents so I figure "why not start the blog travelogue?" As before, I don't know if I will be able to keep it up but let's see! If not, I'll switch to note-taking and update post-fact.

The trip is to Latvia (and a little of France.) The flight over is in three parts: one small 'n short one first, then a 4-hour layover in Detroit (*snap* KEVLAR! I knew I forgot to pack something!), and then it's off to Amsterdam on an 8 hour flight, finally ending with a 2 hour flight to Riga. I'm lucky to have a window seat on the first flight. I might be even luckier on the International flight because the seat next to my aisle seat is currently empty! With wifi, power sockets, and an upgrade for legroom, I stand to have comfortable flight with plenty of time to watch LPs, play Stellaris, and just maybe the privacy to do some posting in peace!

Tune in tomorrow for more updates! (should be plenty of time for it in Detroit XP )

8:00 am Up and at them!  grab a quick shower, get dressed and get going.

8:10 We are immediately side tracked when my younger sib's glasses break and we can't find his backup pair.

8:21 I just realized we forgot to budget time for at least 15 minutes of older sib criticizing our dress!

8:33 We finally found the glasses case. They were in the napkin holder, underneath the napkins... We finish moving luggage into the van.

8:50 The garage door won't close via keypad. We hide a door opener for tge lady who will be taking care of things.

9:00 We head off to pick up mom, get out and help finish up.

9:45 Time to head off to older sib before driving to the airport.

11:00 Arrival at the airport. My checked bag is 47 lbs and I land a sweet TSA precheck!

11:15 new title :D

11:45 Dad realized he forgot his laptop. He was planning on doing some work on the plane. I guess I know where I get it from. We have no wifi and the network sucks out here. Still, we're all in high spirits.

1:10 pm boarding. My window seat has a lovely view... of the wing -_- We take off at 1:35. I will never get tired of seeing clouds from the other side. I settle into my Otter book for the short flight.

2:00 We start our descent. So much farm land to see!

2:30 We get off and there's no wifi. Detroit has a pretty terminal, all steel and concrete and grey. Then there was an uderground tunnel and it turns psychedelic. Shame I didn't pack my glowsticks. On the other end of the tunnel we reach the main terminal  even more massive and has a big red elevated team running indoors. It's no O'Hare, but its very impressive in its own right. I settle in for a bit of Stellaris.

3:50 A Void Cloud nearly wiped out my first and only fleet. :| I probably shouldn't have chosen the 'weak' trait.

4:00 We wander off to our now-moved gate and stop off at a PF Chang's for a small snack. Plenty of time left in delightful Detroit. I broke down and use some data.

5:21 Time to leave work and head home for the day! Wait...

Still plenty of time to twiddle my thumbs. 4 books, a laptop with tons of vids and games and I spend most my time on my phone with the forum and Discord. Go figure.

5:30 They announced a delay due to cleaning and prep but simultaneously announce they expect we will land 16 minutes ahead of time Airplanes seem to practice flex time very much like the company I work for. :V

6:06 pm cleaners still is haven't gotten on the plane. Now planning for 6:45 departure. AirFrance... guess they must have been on strike XP

6:17 Cleaning crew's here!

6:47pm Stiiiiill cleaning. Still in Detroit. We have a 2 hour layover in Amsterdam but we have customs and security we have to go through, not to mention picking up our bags, beforw we nab to Riga flight.

7:07 Finally boarding

7:15 Got my seat! Such legroom! Little screens, power plug claimed. 2 sockets between 4 seats, so I plugged in early. It is now mine and people shall ask permission >:V

7:27 pm They mentioned we will fly over Scotland/Ireland/England. I'll be sure to wave to all the UK furs! :P This will probably be the last update for a while. Take off will be soon. Once Laptops are allowed again, I have a Void Cloud to deal with...

12:00 Void clouds suck! >:( Stupid non-sentient clouds smashed my fleets again. I should try to get a bit of sleep, it's going to be a long day today. But, I've given in to my stomach pressure and checked out the restroom. I have also discovered that my phone carrier nets me a free hour of wifi on the plane! So, I figured a little update. It is sonewhere around 4/5 am in Amsterdam if I'm right. We are to arrive in at 9am. Even after our 2 hour 3rd flight we only have a few hours to get checked in before we meet with a priest relative, so we'll mostly spend it getting cleaned up. I figure that means I have 6-8 hours before I'll have a chance to sleep again once we start down. Better grab what I can now. I'll fill in some trip details (didn't just play Stellaris XP) later.

1:00 am Sleep did not happen. It was inevitable; I've never been able to sleep on a plane. Instead I chat a bit on Discord using the last on my WiFi freebe.

1:30 I give in to my inner furry and start watching Zootopia again.

1:40 I give up on Zootopia, I can't seem to enjoy something I've seen this many times when I'm this tired. Doesn't matter, as the cabin lights just came on.

2am / 8am They serve a breakfast snack : Frozen Orange juice, biscoff bar, roll with jam, slice of cheese, and yogurt. I skip the cheese and yogurt as I still have stomach pains. I do nab some black tea to wake me a bit.

8:05 We're over about the center point of the UK. I wave like a dork :D

8:35 am We begin our descent.

3:03 Two for two! It was a bit bumpier than the other and the weather is cloudy but cool in Amsterdam.

3:20 Apparently the plane had to drive around a but to find a parking spot :V Taxiing finally ends and he disembark.

We're late. Some people have already missed their connections, but we might still make ours if we really leg it! The gate is on the literal opposite end of the terminal. The airport layout is chaotic; there's no sense of flow like the others. But, we also have customs to get through...

3:45 / 9:45 we made it to the other side just in time for the plane to start boarding. Customs was a single question and a passport stamp. They had our boarding passes at the gate.

10:05  We're on board. The tiny plane stands in stark contrast to the massive international plane we got off. It's very hot inside. People look eerily familiar.There's a lot of cute girls on board, too.

10:33 They announce the luggage was late and being brought on board now. Announcements are made in Latvian, English, and Russian.

10:45 The plane finally starts moving.

11:04 Finally take off after another long taxiing session. My window seat affords me a view as the plane drives along a highway overpass.

1:45 We land in Latvia! The flight we largely uneventful. It's rainy but not raining. Forests abound below as we made our surprisingly smooth landing.

2:00 / 1:00 I don't know what timezone it is. We lost another hour, the flight was 1hour 45 minutes.  We're at the baggage carousel after disembarking via stairs and taking a 2 minute bus ride. The airport is smaller than Dayton.

1:23 They've lost our luggage. -_-;

 

Well that's about it for the flying! It would be quiet a few hours before I get to bed, but that is a story for another blog post. Hope you all enjoyed hearing about the trip so far!

 

DrGravitas

Getting Hyped!

It's almost time for my vacation! Two and a half weeks away from work; a break I sorely need. I'll be going on a trip to Latvia with my parents and siblings. We're going to see the old country! My father's parents emigrated from there just before the WWII came to the country (in fact, my grandmother's apartment was apparently shelled not long after). Going to see some sights and try to reconnect with the past and some long-lost relatives. That will be the majority of the trip, though the tail end of it will see us in France for the tail end of the the Tour De France. The flight will be killer, but I've given myself a day to recuperate once I get back. Though, I expect a fair bit of that day will be spent on yard work as it will no doubt have grown horrendously in the mean time.

Expect future blog entries (and pictures!) though probably not until I actually get back.

DrGravitas

At The Company we are evaluated each half-year on our performance and assigned a value up to a max of 5. We also recieve an annual compensation adjustment (raise) and bonus, based on our assigned performance band for the year. This year, for the first time in the ~6 years I've been with them, I've managed a > 4.00 for both half-year performance assessments!

Sadly, this actually has no impact on our performance band assignment. So this means that, for the 3rd year in a row, I have recieved a B ranking, indicating my continued lack if friends in high places. Previously, this was scaled on a bell-curve from A to D, with a special E meaning "get this again and your gone." Now, the scale is ABC, with variation in the percent associated with them, so I only barely ended up on the above-average ranking this time.

 

TL;DR I got a 2.7% raise and a bonus today. Time to get some commissions! :V

DrGravitas

This guy's a showman, oh boy.

400+ participants and so many of them cant follow the naming rules necessary to get credit.

Turns out it's general Harassment Prevention not just Sexual.

Key takeaways right off the bat: pervasive and severe. All about the perception of the victim, regardless of the intent of the person doing it! Gee, who knew ? :V

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14min in: No fewer than 4 Q&A pauses.

Shared the path to the Corporate policy document is 7 links deep from the front page.

500 people now. People interrupting for technical problems.

At least the guy is fun to listen to.

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20min in. Not sure how long I can keep up this blogging.

"Don't forget you can bypass the normal chain of command." has been said no less than 5 times. As if this company follows the CoC outside of the realm of paper.

All about the golden rule. You know the one. Also: all about perception of the one feeling harassed.

Attendance is stalling out at nearly 600 people on the teleconference.

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30 min in.  Had to use the restroom. Couldn't lock my machine for fear of getting kicked out and losing credit. Thankfully, I remain the only team member who has not received an MS Paint dick drawing from somebody who found it unlocked. And no, I'm not the one drawing them.

More Q&A pauses and more people trying to ask about problems joining the session.

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40 min in.  Illegal harassment is unwelcome behavior directed at a person because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex.

Also age but this is a tech company so... Woo! 5 min break then its on to Sexual Harassment prevention!

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640+ participants from around the US. Pity the poor guy connecting from Hawaii; what time that must be?

50min or so in. 20% of Men have experienced workplace sexual harassment. 70% of women. Host has the most corny POV story about asking out coworker. He spends an oddly long amount of time pointing out his last company let him go because they implemented training automation. I wonder if he's bitter? Still better than PPT slides.

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1hr in. Dress code policy! Don't forget miniskirts aren't workplace appropriate! But they are not inviting harassment. More obvious reminders like male comments to males can be harassment to.

Asking somebody out is not harassment. Its about being pervasive and unwanted. Ask somebody out a 2nd and they signal they feel harassed? Boom, harassment. Ask for the 200th and they still turn you don't but don't signal they feel harassed? Nope! Have another go, loser!

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Time has lost all Meaning. Some of these examples (from within the company) are pretty creepy. I can't make this up: one of the client HR informed our HR of a complaint by their employee stating that our employee was "performing voodoo" on them. Which apparently involved rather creepy hand holding.

'Don't forget to Report if you feel harassed! Otherwise nothing is going to happen! If your not happy with HR's result, talk to other HR!'

Every 5 to 10 minutes the host's computer has an "Ergo Care" popup appear, prompting them to stand and stretch or rest their eyes. Must be a new policy thing. Thank goodness I use client assets, that shields me from some of the dumber ideas from The Company.

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670+ people. Seems to have topped off. Can be physical, verbal, or visual. Leave those pinup calendars at home. No seriously, that has been a problem in the past. To our credit, it lasted about 5 min before being dealt with.

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Wait, it's over? EARLY? Wow, presenter of the year!

'Hey, checkout these 8 other teleconferences in the next 2 months!' Also, this is only the first session of this one. I'm in clear for compliance by attending this one, but there's not enough space for the whole company. The poor guy has to present this at least two times. That's IF everybody involved can get their credentials set properly and not keep running into technical issues.

 

Oh wait, it's questions time.

First one had to be interrupted before they reveal sensitive details. More technical problem questions.

"Does this only apply to the US?" Lord help us.

______________________________________________________________

Well, its over. Now I gotta figure out what to enter for the extra half hour on my time sheet. :(

I'll clean up this post's spelling and such after I get out of work and off my mobile.

 

 

 

 

DrGravitas

It's a modern translation of a 17th Century collection of Chinese short stories called "Strange Tales from Liaozhai". I think I'm going to enjoy it, Given what I've read in the preface, which summarizes some of the stories in discussing the author and his time period. Check out this excerpt summary:

"... as [the short-story] 'The Fox Duo' (hu lian) demonstrates when a pair of female foxes attempt to seduce a scholar by tricking him into competing in a poetry contest that will end up with them all in bed together". o_O

No doubt these 17th century stories will be quite different from modern ones, but perhaps not quite as different from certain kinds of modern stories as you might think...

From what I've read online, the translator was very thorough and kept very true to the source material. The author's even states: "I have resisted idiomatizing Pu's [the original author] writing because I have found that translations which attempt to appeal to the slang and colloquialisms of the translator's immediate contemporaries tend, like topical humor, not to age well." What's more, the author apparently provides copious amounts of context and historical discussion. All other translations and versions I saw online were 400-1000 pages. This translator's work is 6 volumes, each over 400 pages!

Moreover, a lot more of the short stories deal with foxes and fox-spirits than I thought. I recall one reviewer remarked on the number of stories that involved foxes, but I didn't think much of it. While reading through the preface, I have learned that 29 of the 83 stories in this volume alone involve foxes! The second half of the preface is dedicated to discussing how foxes fit into these stories, and providing historical/mythological context. It would seem that Vol. 1 is at least partially fox-focused. But, a quick look into the content pages of vol. 2 & 3 reveal that fox-related stories are not limited to just the first volume. Much more fox content than I expected. I get to satisfy my as-of-late historical-bent and indulge my enjoyment of foxes, too! Sounds like a real win! ^.^

DrGravitas

How Sweet It Is!

This article is a fun look into the incredible amounts of effort that goes into maximizing so many aspects of modern life. The quest is to take the sweetest natural sweetener and make it sweeter. Something as simple as taste and yet the article illuminates some impressive lengths taken in its analysis. X-Ray chemical analysis to determine which parts of the protein make it sweet. A background compendium of knowledge that tells us how the tongue senses sweetness. And finally, of course, experimental evidence that confirms the amino acids responsible for the sweet taste. Step down a road to making a small improvement with a big impact.

DrGravitas

If you love mice, I suggest you skip this entry.

 

So, I caught my little guest. The one that had been leaving little droppings in my kitchen. He was a clever one, more so than I thought. Turns out he was too big to fit in the small trap, so that's why he didn't fall for that. He wasn't too small for the big metal no-kill trap, though. Instead, somehow he was able to steal the bait off the plate without triggering the trap. That thing was licked clean! I don't know how he managed it; I set it off constantly just trying to put the bait on!

So, I had to resort to a kill trap. I bought some glue traps and put them out where they had to travel. Sure enough, this morning there was a hefty mouse stuck to it. But, there was a problem: it was still struggling! I thought the glue traps were supposed to be poisonous, but apparently not! I had to pick up the trap with a paper towel, while it was trying to heave itself off the plate, and drop it into a plastic bag. The suffocation should be painless, right?

I feel kind of bad for it. Well, OK no I don't. But I feel like I should feel bad for it.

DrGravitas

Mice?!

Mice! In my kitchen! They left droppings on my sink! XC Time to disinfect it again!

Augh! I knew I had some of the little pests. There was a brief presence when the first cold spell of winter hit. I put out my usual no kill trap, baited with my tried-and-true choice: butter and peanut butter. This has been successful in the past, but this time they didn't fall for it. Shorty after that, all signs of them disappeared. I left the trap out just in case, but it caught nothing. But they're back. And they crapped on top of the trap. I think they're too big to fit or something.

Now they've gone too far! No more 'No Kill' traps, it's time for this fox to quit playing around. Tomorrow I'm going to the hardware store and picking up... some kind of trap that, like, kills. And more disinfectant. A lot more disinfectant. *shudder*

DrGravitas

I have found a successful caffeine replacement for my Coke Zero: V8 VFusion + Energy! Honestly, I thought it would taste like crap, but it was the only caffeinated drink that wasn't a soda or an energy drink loaded with way too much energy/caffeine. Much to my surprise it tastes pretty good, even for awful sounding combinations like pomegranate blueberry. As far as caffeine, it has more than most diet sodas, but still less than an average cup of coffee, so I can have it with dinner (as I did with Coke Zero) and not be up all night.

It does have 10g of sugar per can, but it also has 1/4 cup of vegetables (which I could really use more of) and 1/4 cup of fruit, quite a bit in the way of vitamins and such and only 50 calories. So, we'll see how it does as far as weight loss as a Coke Zero replacement.

DrGravitas

Dambuster

Making a purchase is kind of like putting a hole in a dam. The bigger the hole, the more likely it is to expand in an flood of expenditures. That 'souvenir' I bought in Sedona was something of a dambuster. I need a place to put it. I have very little in the way of furniture or decorations in my place. So, I had to buy something to put it on/in. Since I was home for the Thanksgiving, I thought it'd take my mom out shopping for furniture; a nice way to spend some time with her. Plus, she's great at decoration, so she'd be able to help me find something that's perfect for this sort of thing.

And find we did! Here's a picture of it at the store.

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Even better, we also found the perfect bookcase! I've been looking for something to replace the crappy particleboard bookcase I've had since a child, for about 3 years now. I really like the bookcase: It has a light, sliding door, and looks rather spiffy. I bought two of them:

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Well, OK, it's more accurate to say I bought one of them. My parents offered to make the other a Christmas gift and I was very happy to accept! Because the store had just recently opened (and we were not financing through them) we got a delightful 15% off and free shipping. It should arrive Dec. 7th.

We'll have to take the back off the case in order to actually fit the statue in, along with the top most glass pane. The door of the case is on the side, but it is a bit less that the 6 inches of the statue's base. I'll probably have to get some more stuff to fill the other parts of the case. But not now. I don't want to spend any more money, Christmas is coming up! X( These are a pictures of the statue fox statue I'll be putting in the smaller case. I took them with my camera, so they are gigantic again and Phoenix choked trying to generate a preview image for them again.

http://imgur.com/a/wWxoW

I also tried out my camera's video recording setting! Here's a video of the statue spinning

 

DrGravitas

I Need Caffeine!

This week, I decided to kick off a cola cutback initiative. That is to say, I forgot to buy more and decided to give going cola-free a chance for a week. While I like the idea, the absence of my dinner time caffeine seems to be hampering my after-hours productivity. Then again, I've also been stuck with after-hours work from my job, so maybe that has more to do with it. I think I'll keep the cola off and see how long I can go without it (I've got one can saved for Friday) but I really need another caffeine source. I'm not much of a tea drinker. So far, all I've replaced it with is water. Sometimes I've added an aspartame-based sweetener, but it has mostly been plain water. Blegh, I get enough of plain water during the day at work.

Oh, and my package arrived safe and sound on Tuesday! Yay! ^.^

DrGravitas

My shipment just got a tracking number! Soon I'll have the "little souvenir" I purchased in Sedona, Arizona. I already posted a picture of it in The Consumerism Thread, when I initially bought it. It was much too big and heavy to take on the plane, not that I'd want to risk damaging it by doing so anyways. (The airport had this lovely little wall of art, too: http://imgur.com/a/oSmZz )

There were tons of neat little gifts and souvenirs at the Grand Canyon. Sedona also has a ton of shops and art galleries! Lots of New Age-y crap too, though. I've never seen the word "crystal" so much in one place outside the fandom (sans proper spelling, of course).

One particular souvenir was all over the canyon shops and even in the airport gift shop:

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Just look at it! :3

I wanted it so bad! But I just couldn't justify spending ~$230 on an (albeit, beautiful) polymer clay figure of that size. The little one to its side was ~$130 (which was still a bit too much) but I wanted the middle-sized one. Dat Face! ^.^

I had spent $110 on two books (a huge book on Art of National Parks, and a neat Comic Compilation) the day before, so ended up buying a small $10 crystal cube with a 3D howling coyote etched inside.

One of the gift shops at an attraction outside the Southern Rim village had these two neat little characters:

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I wasn't as enamored with them as I was with the lil' coyote cutie above, but I did think they were neat.

 

Then I got to Sedona and saw some of their art galleries...

In one particular gallery, I saw 5 bronze statuettes and I knew I had to have one of them. I fought it a bit, but I knew it was going to happen. To mull over my decision, and be certain I wasn't going to miss out on something even better, I continued to look around at the other shops and galleries in the shopping area we had visited.

In this other gallery, there were lots of wonderful animal busts and statues. This wolf bust in particular was so sublime, I had to at least take some pictures:

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I love the way the lit it! The blue is so beautiful and really highlights the detailing. It is also bronze.

In another shop, I saw a familiar-looking figure being sold as a wolf with "war painting":

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But, after a couple hours, I had exhausted the unexplored shops and galleries of the little plaza (and bought my mother a music box for Christmas, to be split among my brothers and I.) I had dragged my heels, but it was time to go back to the bronze shop and make the choice I'd half-heartedly hoped to ignore. There were 5 figures.

This one was ok, but easily dismissed as the most expensive one and the least interesting (despite having the highest number of foxes :P) I do like the motif of 3s, though.

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This one was nice! The title is a pun (which I love) and even one fitting for me: "Attention to De-Tail"

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All 5 of their bases spin, which is quite nice. In the end, it came down to consideration between 3 different sculptures. The sales associate moved each of the 3 together so I could consider them.

These two put up quite a fight:

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I love the little gimmick behind this one. If you place the lights right, the fox pawing at the bird shadows. It's a nice effect! It's also fairly well colored and a nice shape.

20151031_145156_Richtone(HDR)_Copy2.thum

This one made for a very strong second. It was the first one I saw (just inside the shop) and the most reasonably priced. Not only that, It had the best shape of them as far as details go. For example, there were discernible paw-pads on the paw reaching towards the mirror-water. The shape was more organic than the others and interesting than most. The coloring was more finely detailed too: cleaner and richer looking.

It was a tough choice, but I just couldn't say no to the dancing couple:

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That one was my choice. I couldn't help but feel drawn to it; it was like the a physical embodiment of the ideas swirling around my Rederick and Blythe characters. Two foxes "EnWrapture"d (as title of this bronze statuette is) with one another. So deeply entwined in their dance through fate together they almost meld as one. It's sweet, it's beautiful, I love it, and I had to have it.

While the parallel to Rederick and Blythe had ideated during my decision, another popped up after I had purchased them. In a rather surreal moment, I drew a parallel to Dr. Gravitas in the story burning in the back of my brain. As with in this story I've been slowly working out, I felt a great desire to take on these two; to keep and preserve them. It was a real moment of meta; in which I felt like I had literally played out my story as my fursona in real life. It sounds insane, I know, but it was a warm (if disorienting) feeling and kind of motivating. I have no regrets getting these two.

And now: Soon, after a long stasis in transit, we three will be with one another again.

DrGravitas

The Mother Lode

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Finally! Do you have any idea how long it takes to upload pictures this size to Imgur? Boy do I ever!

These are a selection of the better images I pulled from my camera:

http://imgur.com/a/bt6bN

I also grabbed a few with my phone, including a handful of panorama photos! Not quite as good quality or as big, but there's still some nice ones. A couple filler images that were originally intended to be included with the travelogue Odyssey, LOLITS, Day 1, Campground, and Day 2 posts are present as well.

http://imgur.com/a/43niK

 

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DrGravitas

Continuing with the second day of the hike, I figured I'd just give a quick run down of the highlights rather than a detailed story-like entry. I had the foresight to make notes at various points on the trail, so most of the important details are have not been forgotten, even though I didn't get as many pictures on the second day. The imgur pictures will be up either later today or tomorrow.

 

7:00 am - Up and at 'em! Still majorly sore from the day before, but it shakes of quickly and I'm left mostly with a bit of stiffness and slightly tender inner thighs. Breakfast is freeze dried Apple crisps cereal. Yes, you really want to eliminate even the small amount of weight that moisture in cereal takes up. Plus, it helps long term storage. Like the spaghetti dinner of the previous day, it is re-hydrated with boiling water. Unlike the previous day, however, this was not at all tasty. It was not so much like oatmeal as it was soggy cereal using water in place of milk and heated up. It tasted like chunky snot. I didn't eat much.

Today was to be a 9 mile journey back up the canyon along the popular Bright Angel trail. We finished up taking everything down, packing it all up and set off...

 

9:26 am - And Then It Rained.

The rain was a mercifully short drizzle, lasting only a few minutes longer than it took us to get our rain gear on and packs covered. This first 1.75 miles are sandy paths winding along the river with mostly gentle up and down slopes with little vertical progress. I was still quite stiff and going down any level of step was incredibly difficult. Going up was surprisingly easier but still a bit problematic.

 

10:45 am - Our first little rest stop! We took off our unneeded rain gear and I took out my camera. From here we had about 3 miles largely composed of switchbacks, those zig-zag vertical gaining trails sections. It was the switchbacks of Kaybab that had murdered my knees. Thankfully, going up them really is better than coming down them. At least for your the knees.

 

12:35 pm - The switchbacks open up into a beautiful, verdant sandstone area! Miniature waterfalls, formed by the mild rain combined with natural streams, dot the landscape.

 

12:42 pm - We stop for our second break by a large outcropping of rocks, along a small trickling stream in the middle of lush vegetation. Having gladly heeded the ranger's advice, we only had a liter in our camelbacks instead of 3 and most of our water was to be drunk from our water bottles. This is because Bright Angle, unlike Kaybab, has several places where water is available.

My dad goes to collect water from the stream using the filter pump. He entirely forgot that the pump is broken and must be held together. Like me, it immediately pops off. This time, however, he isn't able to grab the backflow disk before it washes away and so we're down a pump. Fortunately, he has a back up gravity-fed filter that we can squeeze by with. We begin to enjoy some much needed snacks...

And Then It Rained.

It wasn't going to be a merciful drizzle this time. I could see it just before it hit us: a wall of water. We quickly got our gear on and our packs covered. We had to cut the break short and move on. Much of the most beautiful parts of the trail were here in the rain, and me without access to my camera. Most of the path here was gentle climbing slopes. The rain lasted maybe 30 minutes, but by the end of it I was in no mood for pictures.

 

2:04 pm - We break here again for snacks and a much needed 30 minute rest. This is the mid-point of Bright Angel a lovely little campground. I didn't know that the beginner trail was supposed to have an overnight in the middle of it. It was here that I learned about it first and that we simply hadn't been able to get a permit for it. Which is why we were going the whole 9 miles in a day. In the distance we hear soft rumbling.

 

3:00 pm - We clearly hear thunder. The trail briefly became sharply steep again here. This is the start of last 4.5 miles, most of which will be steep straights and laborious switchbacks.

 

3:30 pm - We hear thunder again and what sounded like possibly a coyote. Oh how I would love to capture a coyote with my camera! The thought of it brightens me up...

And Then It Rained.

I had to put away my camera and never saw a coyote.

 

4:10 pm - The rain subsides and we are left with what will be the remained of the trail: steep, muddy climbs and switchbacks. Lots of switchbacks. We're all very tired and chilled from the rain. I had completely given up on using my camera. At this point conversation had turned to personifying the canyon as being angry that a trio of flat-land midwesterners were tromping up it. I taunt the canyon, asking it show us what it can really do!

 

4:30 pm - Exhausted, we reach the 3rd break area: a small rest stop wit a roof and water pump with cess-pit restrooms near by. 6 miles down, 3 to go. I'm shivering cold from the rain and feeling sick to my stomach. Skipping the snotty breakfast is fast catching up to me as a bad idea. The last of my salty beef jerky helps settle my stomach as we hydrate with much needed water. We put on our fleeces but I still feel unnaturally chilly, even though it's only 50 degrees.

Screw the rules, we pull out our mini-stove and make tea.

 

5:30 pm - After much needed rest and warmth, I'm feeling better. We're running low on food. We bundle up: The sun will be setting soon. We set off.

 

6:00 pm - The sun is setting. My father isn't doing so well, either. He's the experienced hiker and he's having to stop to catch his breath every so often. A party coming down the trail warns us they were nearly hit by falling boulders. It's virtually all switchbacks from here on out.

 

7:30 pm - The sun has long since set. We reach the last rest stop. It sucks. The restrooms sit up a set of steep stairs that may as well be called the Devil's Stairmaster. Water is a distance away, ensuring you have to inch your way over to the rest room after getting your drink. I now know what it's like to be 90 years old: everything is stiff, you can barely move without pain let alone move quickly. I am hobbled on canes that were my walking sticks. It's cold, and pitch black as I weakly trundle off to use the restroom with only my little headlamp. The stench is unimaginable.

We take this last water opportunity to refill and to make a small meal. We split a freeze dried chicken and mashed potato. Thankfully it is pretty decent and gives us a bit of a boost. Mice creep round near by and as I greedily guard my pack. The mice in my house over the last year have left a bit of an impact on me, I think. It's hard to give a sense of just how exhausted we were at this point.

 

And Then It Rained. Again.

At 40 Degrees. In Pitch Darkness. On sheer-cliff canyon-side switchback trail. The heaviest, longest rain of the day.

 

9:00-ish - My notes are largely incoherent here. I recall being very jumpy about the shadows cast by our head lamps. Lots of little mouse droppings along the trail made me paranoid about the mice. Being so near the start/end, the ever-present donkey dung along the trail had greatly increased in volume and stench. Around 9:30 we ran completely out of food.

I'm told I was quite out of it at this point, but somewhere around here the rain had stopped. I seem to have scribbled something about barely being able to lift my legs up the steps. I recall the next day there was a severe rash on my inner thighs from all the sweat and motion, so this likely a major contributing factor. There were many such rashes, gashes, and pains.

 

10:10pm - We finally made it out, exiting just by a gift shop that also houses a lovely art gallery. We stumbled into the Bright Angle Lodge after bumbling around the parking lot barely with any senses. We call a cab to take us the relatively short distance to the lodge we're staying the night in. We manage to snag some buffalo wings from the last open bar just before they close around 11pm.

DrGravitas

DSC_0005_m2small.thumb.jpg.52d9f2911bf78

Well the last entry had no votes and 1 like (thanks Vae!) so I'm going to post more I guess. Both images are from the second day of hiking. In the bottom image, you can see on of the long straight stretches that make up the majority of the middle and very start of the Bright Angle Trail. I'm working on Imgur galleries so I can post full size images with way more than 2 in a single post.

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DrGravitas

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6016x4000

That is what the camera takes these images at... but the image uploader chokes on that and they're nearly all over 10 MB in size, so here are some down-sized versions! Still 3008x2000, though! I took over 500 images on my trip but I expect a number of them won't have turned out well, as I am the most amateur of photographers.

If there's any interest in this pair, I'll upload more!

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Maybe at a lower res, so I can fit more than 2 in a post...

DrGravitas

At The Campground

As we shamble forward, dead on our feet, the lifeless rocky terrain of the South Kaibab trail gives way to a verdant oasis: the Bright Angel campground. A rich canyon floor dotted with colorful domes and colorful people. The hikers who periodically passed us on the trail were polite and friendly and the people of the campground are no different. Words of sympathy and encouragement wash over us as the canopy above dapples and diffuses the harsh sun into pleasant light. We find an open campsite, number 9. A small plot of sand delineated by stones and separated by other such plots by a thin strip of greenery. The plot sit next a small bank leading to shallow creek. We relieve the burden of our packs on the plot's parkbench and find ourselves a moment of rest.

Before long, we set back to work. Stiff limbs pull through the packs, unloading supplies on the rubber-covered wire tabletop. Mess-kit, portable stove, dinnerware and everything you'd need for dinner. Except for water, having exhausted our supply on the desert trail. While the others prepared camp and dinner, it fell to me to pump it. With convienent stone seat, I drop the "dirty" labelled intake hose into the creek and begin to pump. Immediately, the dirty hose's connection to the filler pump pops off. I scramble to grab a small white disk before it washes away. Consulting with my father, we determine that the connection's busted and that the disk prevents back-flow. Our innovative solution is to hold the connection together with one hand while pumping with the other. Water seeps out the connection as I slowly work through the collective 9 liters of our camelback waterpacks. By the end of it, my pant leg is refreshingly soaked.

Dinner consists of freeze dried food, rehydrated and cooked by boiling water. I have a surprisingly delicious spagetti and meat sauce. Once complete, we clean our utensils in more boiling water. By the end of it, we've used the 9 liters and it's time to pump more for bottling. The oasis is deceptive and the desert air still steals water from our bodies. We must remain hydrated.

The Ranger stops by to check our permits and welcome us. Conversation turns to weather and she reassures us that a 40% chance of rain also a 60% chance of no rain. This is the desert, afterall.

 

 

You know what? I'm sick of this entry. It's tedious, boring to read and badly written. Let's cut to the chase: I go to bed early at 7:30. I wake up around 3am to stumble to the restroom under the full moon, like a werewolf whose just transformed for the first time. It's a real flush toilet, but a busted pipe means we flush it by pouring a bucket of water in it real fast. The End.

 

I'll try to make the next entry suck less.

 

 

 

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