Yay vacation and family

In just under 12 hours, I'll be walking out of my apartment to head for JFK, embarking on a two-week trip to Europe. Itinerary this time around: 2 days in Prague (via Amsterdam), then back to Amsterdam to meet up with my mom and grandfather before boarding the Celebrity Constellation for a 12-night journey through the Baltic Sea. Stops along the way: Warnemunde, Germany, which will serve as a gateway to Berlin; Tallinn, Estonia; St. Petersburg, Russia; Helsinki, Finland; Stockholm, Sweden; Copenhagen, Denmark. Then one final night in Amsterdam before heading home.

Prague, Tallinn, and St. Petersburg will definitely be new realms for me. It's been ages since I've been to Germany and Denmark. Funnily enough, I was in Stockholm just two years ago as a post-Norway trip trip. I thought about going to Helsinki instead, but I guess this works out.

I am impressed that my grandfather (who is leaving the US on Saturday to spend an extra night in Amsterdam) has the energy and verve to put up with a 10 hour flight each way, and then what might be a halfway physically active itinerary. He's 92. I do wish that I have the energy, spirit, and health to do that when I'm his age. On a slightly darker note, I can't help but consider that this might be one of his last trips, and there's the possibility that it may be the last time I get to see him since I'm no longer just a 40 minute drive across the Bay. So I hope I get a chance to chat a bit more, and enjoy his company, even if it's just sitting in a lounge watching the world go by. I think I have him to thank for many of my wanderlust traits, for pushing to always go out and to see the world. When booking his flight, I ended up suggesting a flight with Air France, since they offer a true premium economy cabin (I couldn't for the life of me find awards tickets that weren't like, 120K miles each way...freakin Europe vacation season). He was a bit concerned about a tight connection in CDG, and I offered to change his flights, and one of the chances was to switch from an A380 operated flight to a B777 operated flight. He told me I can change whatever but he wanted a chance to ride on the A380. Maybe that's where I get it from.

This also will likely be the last time I get to use my first adult passport, issued in January 2005. I find myself, and my passport, very fortunate to have passed through all six currently human permanently settled continents. Ok, maybe my passport only has five of them, since my Australia visit last year went into my official work passport. But if we consider Tahiti to be part of Australia/South Pacific? Anyway, I hope you have had as good a time as I have, passport. I wish I didn't have to replace you pretty much as soon as I get home but you're kind of useless after July or September since so many places require a passport valid for at least 3 or 6 months beyond the date of entry (or even departure).

Most of my stuff is packed up, I'm impressed I was able to fit not just tourist clothes but also some nicer dress clothes and even a tux all into my suitcase. Now the big question is whether I can lift it and finagle it through the streets of Prague and Amsterdam later...or...y'know, on the subway just to get to the airport. To bed now, because I still have to work a half day tomorrow.


Shutdown, Day 10 (well, on the east coast)

I've been wanting to write a little bit about the ridiculousness that is going on with the Federal government, my employer, lately, but article after article, op-ed after op-ed, most of the things that I've wanted to say have been said. What annoys me to no end, though, is the fact that a lot of people, commenters on blogs/articles, and even journalists, don't know, or want to know, how the government works.

Like the fact that the reason we're shut down is because of a law known as the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits the government from accruing or entering into contracts or situations that do not have funds appropriated for them.

Today, I saw outrage (of course) over the fact that armed forces death benefits aren't being paid out, while the State Department awarded a contract for crystal for its embassies. The thing is, that contract was likely awarded out of funds appropriated from FY13, not out of FY14, which we do not have a budget for. On top of it all, it's likely it was a "use or lose" expenditure, because like all good budgets, you want to end up with 0 at the end of the year, otherwise your budget gets cut the following year. Unfortunately, death benefits for deaths that occurred in this fiscal year are not appropriated for. There was shock (!) from Congress that the "Pay our Military Act" (thanks for leaving out the other two uniformed services) did not cover these benefits either. Well, as usual, nobody bothered reading the act, which identified only pay and allowances to be paid out - pay, and housing/subsistence allowances. Not benefits. It sucks for those who died in the line of duty, but the law was followed, and unless some poor pay officer wants to be thrown in jail for violating the Antideficiency Act, s/he is going to follow it.

But this is neither here nor there. Rather, I just want to note that I've been alone in my office for a week now. No coworkers whatsoever. As a commissioned officer, I, like all others who hold a commission from the President, am exempt from furlough, as allowed under the Antideficiency Act as a Presidential appointee. So while all of my coworkers were sent home, I got to stay, and hold down the fort. With promise of back pay. I did have one coworker who was not furloughed immediately, but as the import work dried up, he got sent home too. So instead, the district is being held together now by the seven or eight Commissioned Corps officers - the only ones doing routine, domestic work. Yes, we have a few people who work on imports, and one person working on drug inspections, which are excepted as they are funded by user fees, but otherwise, it's just us. And it kind of sucks.

If I don't go out to get something from Starbucks in the morning, or eat lunch in the office, I can go the entire work day without really interacting with anyone in person. I was somewhat lucky late last week where we had HVAC issues which led to contractors being in the office, so I got some of that interaction, but that's about it. USPS doesn't bother ringing the doorbell anymore, and I told UPS he didn't have to come by until it was all over. It's lonely. I don't have the same support system that I usually have, nor do I have the same sort of personal life support either to help get me through times of near despair sitting in the office (or at home once I get home). It's sad when the lights turn out on me because I haven't moved around that much. I think I've spoken about 1,000 words today verbally, mainly to the baristas and our janitor who still comes around each day to empty my trashcan.

But in the end, as it goes, these are the things we sign up for as officers. A chance for us to show what we're made of, the ability to step it up, to do whatever is asked of us from the district, from the agency, from the department, from the People who we serve. Right now, there is a salmonella outbreak in chicken, and unfortunately CDC is so understaffed they can't do the proper epi trace on it. Thankfully, chicken is USDA/FSIS's purview, and not ours, but I do not doubt that there might be a food outbreak or some other issue around the corner. If/when that time comes, I know that my fellow officers in HQ will do their damnedest with their four people (instead of 15-20) to track it down, and my fellow officers in the field, wherever they are, will do their damnedest to get the information needed, even if it means driving half a day to get there and working late into the night. The officers at CDC will get yanked every which way, pulled from their normal duties of analyzing cigarette trends to look at the latest outbreak curve, and we'll all step up to the plate to get the job done. It's the only way we can do it.
cayman dive

(no subject)

Random 24-hour viral infections are never fun. Spent the better part of the last 24 hours in bed, alternately being totally unawares, having delirious dreams, tossing and turning, and sweating enough to fill a tub.

I also forgot that acetaminophen always throws off my sense of taste - lends a nice metallic touch to everything.

So now it's 01:40 and I should have been in bed hours ago, but when you've been asleep for most of the day, it tends to be tough. On the plus side, I'm pretty sure the fever is gone for good (only took three doses of drugs), and just in time for a few days in Hawai'i - on Hawai'i.

Now I just hope and pray that the lack of a stuffy nose during this illness holds and that it doesn't come up so I can make my first dive in two years. Because the last thing I want is to not be able to clear my ears going down, or...coming up and having a snot explosion.

Christmas Cards!

It's about that time of year again, when despite not posting for long periods of time (or much at all), I still appreciate you LJers. And to that extent, I send out Christmas/Holiday/etc. cards...because it's kinda nice sending pieces of mail, and even nicer receiving mail other than bills. In the past, I've done comment screening and what not, but this year, a form! So please fill it out if you'd like...even more so if I've sent you a card in the past and you've moved!

I tried embedding the form, but LJ wasn't having it, so clicky click here!

(no subject)

I've been reminded that my paid account status is much as I wish to support LJ...I dunno. I can't seem to bring myself to pay $20 for a year of a service that I generally now only read and rarely post to. Maybe I'll see what this next year brings and if I find myself gravitating back to it, I'll up it...but for now...farewell, fun perks that I don't remember anymore.
love the world

ICCA West Semifinal 2012

I realize I haven't posted in about a bajillion years, but I feel like this absolutely must be forever archived in LiveJournal, where much of what I went through with the topic of the post is captured in.

As some may know, I started an a cappella group my second year of college, the ScatterTones. At the time, we were the third ever group on campus, and honestly, that first year, we got the dregs of the auditionee pool since we a) were new and b) started auditioning late. Regardless, my cofounder and I put together what we considered to be a fairly talented group, and we just went for it. There's a big national (now international) college a cappella competition that we auditioned for and were accepted in our second year in existence (the ICCAs). We didn't really know what we were doing; we picked a set list that we thought was impressive, but really wasn't all that creative, and it also included a song that we should have realized was far too difficult to do under competition conditions with choreography - seriously, never do a song with a ton of key changes, it's just bad. Obviously, we neither placed nor advanced to the semifinals, nor did we compete again during my time there, but it was a good experience and I think future generations took away from it.

My last year of college, the same a cappella competition was launching it's high school version, and I was asked to help launch it in the West region. If I remember correctly, I got one season in as the West producer. When I moved to Atlanta for grad school, I was asked again to be the South region producer, and so I produced the high school competition in the South for both years I was there. I also ended up judging the collegiate quarterfinal at UGA both years I was there. When I moved to San Francisco, I didn't ask to continue, and the producer positions were all filled, but regardless, it turns out that the college West producer asked me to produce the Berkeley quarterfinal, which I've done for all three years I've been here.

Somewhere along the way, the ScatterTones recruited some amazing talent - both performance and arranger wise. Powerful, riveting soloists. Arrangements that were constantly in contention for best arrangement awards. The group got GOOD. REALLY GOOD. Especially in the last few years, they've managed to get some amazing arranging and musical direction talent in. I look at the group now and think that never in a million years, if I auditioned now, could I ever get in. I don't have the chops that they're looking for anymore. For the past three years, as a result, the ScatterTones have made it to the regional Semifinal, and I've always gone down to LA to watch and cheer them on, since it usually takes place at USC. Last year, they placed second, a heart-breaking second, just a few points separating them from the winners, the powerhouse group Vocal Point from BYU.

This year, their quarterfinal was actually at Berkeley, which I produced. As a result, I got to watch their set, which I absolutely loved. It was creative, and showed off all the points that judges look for: creativity, power solos, emotional ballads. While they won Best Arrangement, which the current Music Director has been striving for for years, they ultimately placed second to a Berkeley group - but no matter, it meant moving on to semifinals. Since they were up here, I had my first chance since graduating to really hang out with the group "I'll stick around for an hour or so" to chat with them turned into me leaving at 5am and getting home at 6 since the Bay Bridge was closed that weekend. I talked some shop with the President and Music Director (including the immediate past who was also there), and got to know some of the members too, which was really nice. As alumni, it's easy to quickly fall out of relevance and never get to know who's in the group.

Fast forward to this past weekend, when I flew down to LA again to watch the semifinals. I battled delayed flights, random traffic jams on LA's freeways, road closures, and stupid drivers who can't drive if it rains. At Bovard Auditorium at USC, I met with other alumni and families of current and even past members, and we sat in a giant cheering section of a group. To be honest, the first four groups we saw, I was even surprised they were at Semis...all I could think was that if they were there, their quarters must have been really, really weak. What's crazy, though, is that the West region is statistically the strongest region in the competition - out of 16 seasons, the West group finalist has won eight of them, including a five year streak.

This semifinal, in fact, had three groups that had previously won the whole thing - the SoCal VoCals from USC (who have won twice), Fermata Nowhere from Mt. SAC, and Noteworthy from BYU. In fact, I was kind of nervous going in - I knew the ScatterTones were about as good as I've ever seen them, but I hadn't heard or seen anything from Fermata Nowhere or Noteworthy in a while. Noteworthy had been on the Sing Off last season, but were kicked off after a few rounds. The VoCals, on the other hand, had won the whole thing back in 2010. It was going to be tough.

But for whatever reason, Noteworthy had tumbled from their highest point - something was off with the group this year, and I quickly dismissed them once I saw their set. Fermata Nowhere, doing their set, was highly entertaining, as always, putting on a show that can only be pulled off by a testosterone-fueled all-male group. But something about their execution beyond their first song was just...sloppy. The choreo started to fall apart, tuning started to drift, and the cohesive sound started to be lost. The VoCals, on the other hand, put on a very traditional VoCal set - loud, proud, and superbly technically perfect. But whereas in years past I always was excited and amazed at their set (despite rooting for other groups), something about this year's performance fell flat, emotionally. Something didn't connect - that spark that turns a group's performance from great to amazing just wasn't there. Yes, I'll admit I am biased, but the ScatterTones just managed to connect a little better this year.

And of course, came the deliberations...20 or 30 nervous minutes, with lots of whispering amongst the group. Was it our year? The VoCals had done something perfect as always, but did the judges feel the same lack of spark? In my head, it was a really nerve-wracking toss-up. I knew two of the judges, but not the other three. I didn't know their backgrounds or their leanings.

And so when the producer came out with the groups to announce awards, it was clear that the entire UCLA contingent, both on and off stage, were a nervous wreck. But of course, first, special awards. In a amazing moment, Taylor Fugit, our music director, won the Outstanding Arrangement award...for TWO arrangements in the set. Which, to my knowledge, has never been done before, at least at the ICCA level. It's exceedingly rare for the judges to do something like that. Like I said, some serious arranging chops. The look on his face was priceless. Then, the Outstanding Vocal Percussion award...went to Matt Flesock, our president. Matt had lost out on the VP award at quarterfinals because the judges thought it was too loud and overbearing - but apparently, he wowed them enough here to beat out some amazing percussionists on stage. Matt has won the VP award before, but never at Semis. All I could think was - we've cinched two of four special awards so far...this is going good...especially since we cinched the arrangement award. The choreography award went to Fermata Nowhere, which I kind of expected, and the soloist award went to a member from the VoCals, who I will admit did an amazing job with Tightrope.

So then the final placements...2nd runner up went to Fermata Nowhere...which I kind of expected. The group on stage, the group in the audience...we clearly were all just holding our breath. 1st runner up went to...the VoCals. I nearly hyperventilated...even now, I can recall the feeling of nervousness (and am actually feeling it!) of thinking "omgomgomgomgomg is it us?! omgomgomg what if it's not and we didn't even place?! no that can't be...oh crap it has to be us it has to be it HAS TO BE". And Lucy, the producer, in her ridiculousness, just milked it out and waited...I think the groups on stage were seriously about ready to faint. And then she announced it - going to finals was the ScatterTones. I don't think I've felt quite that elated in...I don't even know. On top of everything else, this is also the 10th year the group has been in about a happy anniversary present.

Honestly...there's no better way to express this other than a photo...whoever took this took 509 photos that night...and they are amazing flipbook material. But I think I absolutely love this photo:

What's amazing are some of the comments from the judges that I read and was told later that night...this will be an exciting finals. Needless to say, the afterparty was pretty ridiculous...and once again, I was out til 6am.

Congratulations flight is already booked...see you in New York...and happy 10th birthday!!

PS - if you've never heard/seen this group...this was their encore song, which was part of the competition set last year:

I'll likely end up finding a video of their finals performance later on...but for now, that's under wraps. ;-)

Oh, if you're curious what the overall set was:
1) C'mon Talk, opb Jarle Bernhoft
2) No Woman No Cry, opb Bob Marley (but totally not a reggae arrangement...amazeballs)
3) End of Time, opb Beyonce. Uh huh, the group has girls with enough chops to pull this off.

Because you may think I'm dead

I'm actually still here. There's a lot going on, but this month happens to be really, really busy.

In sum:
-start of the new Federal fiscal year. Management has decided to give us some new method of work planning. Result = more pressure to get stuff done.
-travel. This weekend is a college friend's wedding in San Diego. I'm still trying to decide whether or not to wear my uniform, as noted in our uniform regs. It is authorized. Both she and her fiance are doctors, and while we initially met as neighbors in the dorm, we furthered our friendship on public health work and RA life. The following weekend is a trip to Atlanta to see old friends. Yay.
-planning. Somehow, I got made the leader of the promotion ceremony planning group. I thought I would just help out, but nope, I'm herding cats and getting this thing together. Not only am I dealing with PHS officers, and we're already scattered enough with our various duty stations and individual work requirements, but we're having this thing on board a Coast Guard cutter. Which means lots of liaising with an officer who may or may not be around. And dealing with enlisteds, who have lots of other things to do, as well as other senior officers in the CG, who command lots of respect. There's a lot of formality going on. I just hope come the end of the month, no PHS officer makes a fool out of themselves and us as a service. I'd like to be able to show my face on CG Island again.

I had my birthday about a week and a half ago. The week leading up to it was so busy, and then the weekend of already had plans, that I ended up not doing anything for my actual birthday, other than getting taken out to ice cream. But this past weekend, I managed to get a few people together, and we went to the House of Air in the Presidio, and bounced on trampolines for an hour. Or rather, we actively jumped for about 20 minutes and spent the rest of the time catching our breath. We're all getting old. My shoulder/neck still hurts from landing wrong. And then there was dinner, and some drinks after. I feel a little older, but I'm still younger than most of my friends here. And certainly look younger than mankelly. My hair's all still black.

OK, I have a script to edit and an information document to write. Onward.
  • Current Mood
    busy busy
  • Tags
san francisco seal

I know I haven't posted in a while...

And this is something I would usually send over to facebook. But the audience at facebook and the audience here are two very different reads long strings of comments, the other, quick little blurbs. Maybe one of these days I'll write an update again, though I feel like I don't have all that much to update on.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share this gem of a thread. I need more popcorn.
cayman dive

I'm being good...

Look at that! Two a row!!!

So today, I did it. I took myself over to the Presidio YMCA, used the guest pass they gave me when I went for my tour, and took a swim. The pool is the original Army pool, built while the Presidio was still an active Army facility. It sits in its own dedicated building, and a giant swimmer mural with ARMY on his swim cap is on one of the walls. It felt good to get back in the water, and I did more or less continuous slow laps for about 35 or 40 minutes, give or take. I'm actually impressed with arms are a little sore, but I did manage to get myself out of the water. I suppose we'll see how my arms fare tomorrow when I wake up. When I was all done, I wandered over to the membership desk, and signed myself up. So now...I need everyone to bug me about going regularly. If anything, though, I know I'm not going to work on my push ups today...I think I might be able to do five before collapsing. But I do feel a little better, and hopefully this will keep me going. I'll most likely end up going on weeknights after dinner or so, so that I don't end up eating too late, and I can shower for bed once I get home. They close at 2130, which isn't too late, but I figure if I get there around 2045 two or three times a week, I'll be good.

I sent this to my Twitter earlier today, but it was kind of inspiring and rewarding to come out of the pool building to be greeted by a view of the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. The Army certainly picked a great location. Also, somehow, doing laps and what not in an old Army building, on an old Army base, motivated me a bit more too. Those in uniform used to do the same thing I'm doing...better do them justice. I didn't end up going for the San Francisco area membership, which would have let me use the Embarcadero pool as well, but...we'll see. One thing I do like about the Presidio facilities is that the pool and gym are in separate buildings, so each has their own dedicated locker area. No need to smell the mix of sweat and chlorine.

In other random news, who would've thought that I would spend my evenings ironing and polishing shoes? I guess since the instructions for the uniforms calls for pressed clothes and shined shoes, it's a good way to keep me doing it. And in other other random news, I was reminded by romeohotel that Coast Guard Island probably has a tailor who's used to doing military uniforms. Even better that the Coasties uniforms and Navy uniforms are similar in style, if not color. So...going to bring things over to them to sew. I don't like taking business away from my local merchants, but in this case...making sure it's done right is more important. I just hope they have the necessary thread to sew it for my blues, and green for the BDUs. Coasties have a nice royal-ish blue for both. But...going to CG Island means walking around personnel who will be much more accustomed to customs and it is, whenever we're at the Oakland Federal Building, where the CG has an office, we're frequently saluted by the enlisted Coasties, and it throws off all PHS officers who don't work at the Federal Building. Time to brush up on my game and recognize the various types of uniforms they have. Though from what I understand...they usually wear their ODUs, but who knows. But again, one positive - for the most part, their uniforms are similar in style, if not color, to ours, so hopefully finding and recognizing the insignias won't be too hard. Also...I need to remember that I'm now a LT, not a LTJG...anyway, time to shine those shoes. I think I'll wear whites tomorrow.

Travel, travel, travel!

I know, everyone has bemoaned the demise of LiveJournal, and to be perfectly honest, I'd be totally lying if I said I didn't miss it. I miss being able to learn about people in their own introspective ways. I miss narrating out my thoughts and my life. While the instant gratification of facebook and Twitter have their perks, and in particular facebook's reach, yeah, I do miss it here. As silverthief2 reminded me in a facebook comment just today, LJ misses me. And I miss you guys too.

But I don't have a whole lot of time to construct a nice long entry, detailed about life, about thoughts. Reason...I've been doing quite a bit of traveling lately, and in all honesty, I'm spending a total of eight full days at home this month, as well as a few half-days for good measure. So, in that vein, I figured I'd ressurect something I did in 2007, when I was still interning with Delta and flying all over the place, inspiration from terraplanner and what he did with his travels: I put together some flight maps for this year. (PS - I kind of half-forgot how to make these flight maps, and they've changed a bit since my older ones...but I think they still work? Let me know if they don't.)

Last year was the first time I ever had "status" with an airline, my old hometown airline and employer, and while I certainly could put all those on paper, I figure I should do something better with my time. As for this year, I've already achieved the first level of status, and am really just shy of 10,000 miles short of the next level, which I think is totally doable within the rest of the year. I started tracking all my flights in 2007 with a site called FlightMemory, and have gotten somewhat obsessive with ensuring I have the most accurate data in there, including registration numbers, and going to Flight Aware to get actual wheels up/wheels down times (though sometimes I think I should count how long I sat in a metal tube instead).

According to FlightMemory's statistics for far in 2010 I've flown 31,064 miles on 14 flights, for a total of 62h, 55m in the air. Collapse )