March 2016

Day Four: The Day That Had One Job

I woke up, got coffee, and played Mass Effect all day, interrupted only by the housekeeping guy and having to stop to get food.

Now, if you spent more than 0.68 seconds actually thinking that that’s how my day went, go sit in the corner and think about what you just thought. You can come out only if you have mentally apologized or if you know what the 0.68 second figure was referencing (hint: it is nearly an eternity).

I did wake up – that much is indeed accurate, so my apologies to anyone who was hoping to get the windfall of a massive lawsuit. In fact, I woke up early enough to get breakfast at the main buffet room. I kept an eye out for Jon and Lauren, but didn’t see them. This was at least somewhat surprising, because 9AM seems to be peak hour for all the breakfast places. there was an omelet station and thick-cut mocha french toast, both highly recommended. I liked being able to watch the land get closer. Today, our destination was Great Stirrup Cay, an island owned by Norwegian, meaning that there were precisely two types of humans on that island: tourists and employees, so it’s basically a permanently docked version of the boat itself. About 10AM, the captain came on the loudspeaker to make an announcement. Side note: I have full confidence in the captain’s ability to skillfully command this massive vessel. However, he’s got a Russian accent so thick, you can slice it with a moderately sized meat cleaver. I’m of the persuasion that it might be a better idea to have someone with a voice for a PA system repeat what he’s saying, for the benefit of literally everyone…and yes, I’d expect nothing less if I were ever required to make an announcement for a primarily Russian-speaking crowd. While I’m on this tangent, what is it with boat and airline captains making useless statements? “The wind is blowing from the north-northeast at 16 miles per hour.” “Oh hey, my favorite wind direction, and a speed that happens to be a perfect square? This is my lucky day!” Seriously, nobody on this ship cares, but I digress. His announcement was the fact that the weather was sufficiently bad that there were concerns with the tender ferries, and even if there weren’t, the slight drizzle made a mess of basically everyone’s plans that involved the beach, including mine. I had exactly one plan today: find somewhere to get a piña colada, served in a coconut and with one of those little umbrellas, and lie on a beach…for as long as I could without turning into a tomato. I was so looking forward to this, I even applied sunscreen this morning. You had one job, Great Stirrup Cay! One job! Oh well.

This left us with a very full ship, as the pool/outdoor stuff wasn’t much of a picnic. The EDM tracks playing pervasively at a low volume in the public areas of the ship were almost a contrast to the overall tone that was being experienced. Props to the crew for managing to deal with such a packed interior area, the folks downstairs who undoubtedly ran a color copier on overdrive to print out a thousand copies of a new schedule, the bartenders who certainly brought their A-game, and the people who made arrangements for our ship to head over to Nassau early. Now certainly this can’t be unblazed trail for them, but neither is Black Friday at most retailers – that doesn’t make it any less stressful. At first I was wondering whether having to make all those refunds was going to be costly for NCL, given that there wasn’t an empty seat at a single video poker or slot machine on the ship, I’m certain that no one lost any money as a result of the rain (well, the company, anyway…the passengers are likely a different story). So yes, there was some Mass Effect playage today…but by default, as everything else on the ship was standing room only. I did manage to find a place to eat that wasn’t a zoo though – it was a buffet that was on the mirror side of the steakhouse. While the soup and the cheesecake were the highlights of the meal, the jerk chicken and ribs were less of a standout, though not bad by any means.

Now, before you come out and tell me how I need to not squirrel away in my room all day just because I have a valid excuse, I say to you, “don’t worry, I heard you yelling at me. After a while, the sun started coming out and the outdoor facilities reopened. So, I decided to put on my swimming trunks, grab my beach towel, put on my wet shoes, and head up to the pool deck in order to water slide. There are three water slides on board. certainly not as long as the ones at Splish Splash, but one has a notable design that is a near straight drop with an upward curve before splashdown. Another has four corkscrews in a relatively tight space, making the rider go plenty fast before the end, and the last one is a slower, open-tube one. Surprisingly, it was the last one that I enjoyed the most, though I went on all of them twice. The free-fall one was nerve racking, only because one stands on a platform that drops out below the rider, and an audible countdown builds tension, and the strong desire to utter an expletive. I didn’t do so, however, if for no other reason, than because I was the oldest person riding the slides – everyone else was approximately 15 and younger, with the exception of who I presume to be the father of one of the girls who was riding; the pair would ride down together where practical, or in immediate succession where it was not. It was great to see that sort of relationship building. Still while no one thought anything of me being amongst the crowd of kids less than half my age, it definitely caused me to feel self conscious, a feeling I presume won’t be changing any time soon.

As I wrapped up my time at the water slide, I watched the boat pull into port; another Norwegian boat and a Royal Caribbean cruise liner were also docked; we were close enough to see people on the boat, but my attempts to wave at people on the other boats weren’t fruitful, not that I expected them to be. Despite having docked, I didn’t feel ready to leave, so I thought I’d at least catch dinner before it got crowded. I went to another main dining room, named “The Manhattan Room”. It had a distinct atmosphere of its own; the lighting fixtures were WWII era, the menus had a sepia-toned image of the Empire State Building on them, and big band music played softly in the room. The flashback scenes from Captain America could have been filmed in this room and would have been believable. The Chicken Kyiv was again, simply ‘good’, rather than ‘impressive’, though I did enjoy the salad. On my way out, I heard another passenger ask, “there isn’t a bar in here, is there?” To which I answered, “dude…where on this ship have you ever been more than 50 feet from a bar?”. His friends laughed, and he replied, “Well, I just came from one”. I wasn’t going touch it thereafter.

After dinner, I decided to take a walk around the island. It was getting dark, but I had a bit over an hour of sunlight left. Near the dock, there were the usual T-shirt salesmen, hair braiders, and such, as is a near-given in places where tourism dollars are an economic staple. However, me being me, I decided to walk past all of them and see what else was in the vicinity, and I was surprised. If I could describe the area in three words, those three words would be, “sketchy as [expletive]”. The buildings were as unmaintained as the traffic lights and the roadways. The cars were either new BMWs, these Toyota vans that looked a bit like a VW bus, or certified hoopdies – early 90’s cars with massive dents, color-mismatched doors, broken light lenses, the works. There was no in-between. The first bar I came across was called “The Bearded Clam” (don’t Google it), and though there was a Rolex dealer and three diamond shops, the only place I saw to eat was a Burger King. I wasn’t ten minutes into my journey before I was asked if I wanted to buy some weed. I’ve walked through Manhattan at midnight and felt more safe than I did here. Now, you might say that that’s because it’s near my home and I know how things work there, and that’s probably the case. However, I’ve felt safer in Germany, London, and Bermuda, than I did here. Am I the only one that feels this way? Is the city intentionally designed to keep the tourists at bay (literally)? Does the tourism industry have such an ironhold on the economy here that they dictate how the city addresses this, and does so in a way that is a detriment to the areas of the island other than the ones to which they run the excursions? I don’t know…but I’ve formally decided that my next cruise will be back to Bermuda.

After my escapade, I came back to the ship and started writing my blog entry.That’s when serendipity struck and Jon and Lauren crossed my path. It was good to see them again; we discussed how they spent the last day and things of that nature, and made plans to get together at the glow party tonight.

I was a bit early to the glow party, which was just as well – they were finishing up an event called “the quest”, which was basically a ridiculous scavenger hunt that can basically be summed up by the following situation: two guys, each wearing someone else’s bra, had to run up to the front and act as if one of them was giving birth, with the other being the midwife. Of course, the real fun was the host, who had zero filter, and told one of the guys, “that bra fits a bit too well, are you sure it isn’t yours?”, amongst a litany of other comments along that vein. I stayed for a bit and then went back to my stateroom to get ready.

So, what does someone who packed no white clothes wear to the white party? A black shirt, dark jeans, and black sneakers. It seemed like it made a bit more sense to go further in the other direction than to try and get ‘close enough’ with a blue shirt and khakis. Dan Dan, our cruise director (as he identifies himself on literally every overhead announcement he makes), was tonight’s hype man, and he did a half decent job for the first half hour, then subtly made his exit from the main stage. Jon and Lauren were alternating between dancing a bit on the sidelines, and outright sitting down. I ragged on Jon for being a bit of a hypocrite, though I did appreciate the fact that he laid off the “you must do the uncomfortable thing” rhetoric and the three of us were able to just have a good time together. As a graphic designer, he and I had a bit of a debate whether the video loop containing outlines of dancing people was done by motion capture, or by rotoscoping. There was no clear victor in that discussion. Toward the end of the night, we headed over to the other, indoor club, where the DJ I spoke to the other night was spinning. Jon, Lauren, and I talked and danced for a bit more, though Jon did revert to his “talk to someone” advice. Lauren did me the solid of approaching one girl and starting a conversation that I joined into thereafter, though it seemed clear that Ana preferred to talk to Lauren than to me, but she was sharing some interesting stories about being a first grade teacher, so I guess one could argue that Ana was telling us both at the same time. Before I left, I did give Jon my room number so it’d be easier to coordinate plans going forward.

It wasn’t long after that it was time for bed; tomorrow is my early day.

Day Three: Florida, “The Boring Day”

Were you expecting me to have an epic story to tell you about going to NASA and piloting the space shuttle, or Universal Studios to do all the fun stuff there? Were you expecting to hear about more escapades with Jon and Lauren, or even a trip down the water slides? Yeah, be prepared for thorough disappointment as I describe the most boring day of the trip.

I woke up at 8, and went back to bed until around 10. I went to have breakfast at 11, and did so, at the last restaurant that was serving breakfast today. I got a $4 cappuccino, which was excellent, by the way. Why was I lazy? Simple: today, I had cell signal and a basically-empty boat. I caught up on some work – literally, I answered some e-mails and did phone support for a client, though that half-hour phone call saved my boss a whole lot of lost time, and fixed a start page hijack for a client of my own. I caught up on a few TV episodes, wrapped up and posted yesterday’s blog entry, and had a super-late lunch or super-early dinner, or whatever you want to call “the meal after breakfast that happens at 4:00PM” – admittedly an excellent grilled salmon filet; I’m still getting the hang of just up-and-leaving the table when I’m done eating at a sit-down restaurant because I always feel like I’m walking the check. I got 10 out of 20 questions right in a quiz game about different national flags; Sheldon Cooper would be saddened, especially because I missed Greece and Argentina. About the only reason I left my stateroom today was either to eat, or because housekeeping needed to work their magic. The highlight of my day was taking that picture of lightning, which was really a single frame of a video, falsely colored in Photoshop. I made a few phone calls to people. I started writing this blog entry. I called dad for a few minutes, and shortly thereafter, I headed into the magic/comedian show, whose highlight was an incredibly hyperactive eight year old with an “all-in” laugh and a propensity to handle his nether regions despite being on a stage in front of hundreds of people; said eight-year-old had the crowd laughing far beyond the comedian himself. I’m wrapping up my blog entry for tonight, and debating whether to head to sleep, play Mass Effect, or see if Jon and Lauren are up at the club, and either way, try talking to some new people. I also learned that I’ve been racking up $13.50/day on gratuities by default, so leaving 5-spots for housekeeping each evening as I’ve been doing thus far is either super-generous, or redundant; I can’t decide which.

I summed up the totality of my day in twelve sentences. The half dozen of you who have been compulsively pressing ‘refresh’ since Sunday evening know that I’ve written more about some of the meals I’ve had, and Sara, if you’ve decided to swing by and start reading the saga, I’m sure your other half will tell you that most of the e-mails I write him are longer than that. Most of you are probably thinking that today was wasted, or that I shouldn’t have been working, or that I should make it a point to meet more people because I’ll never see them again, or that I shouldn’t play Mass Effect as much as I am…and I understand where all of that is coming from, and it’s not entirely unwarranted. On the other hand, with Sunday having been a day filled with analysis paralysis, and yesterday the day where I met friends who, though well-meaning, spent a whole lot of time trying to ‘fix me’ despite only knowing me for an hour before doing so…today was probably the day I was the happiest and most relaxed out of all of them, and as I’m writing this, I finally figured out why: the essence of what truly makes this a vacation is the lack of a packed, crammed schedule. Today was simply the day in which that was most strongly felt.

A great picture

I’ll get to today’s blog entry eventually, but I did take this picture today. Yes, it’s colorized because I felt artistic, but it looks amazing, so I’ll share it early.Lightning_Art

Trip, Day 2

I am happy that I cannot watch the sunrise from my stateroom. My room is on the starboard side of the ship (i.e. the right, when facing forward), meaning that it is the sunsets that I get to view on the first half of the trip. Watching the sun rise will mean that I am headed home, and I am not ready for that yet.

While they charge for most room service, coffee and pastries are still free, as in ‘tip your delivery person, but no charge for the food itself’ kind of way. It’s why I ensured I took a complement of $5’s with me. The coffee isn’t spectacular, but I woke up with a headache. Say ‘hangover’ all you want, but I had two glasses of water after my one shot of Fireball with Nick last night. No, this was one of my classic “lopsided nostril” headaches that are just plain annoying, and happen regularly. My dad has been telling me to get that taken care of for years; this may well be the year I finally decide to do so. This headache also made me poignantly aware that I didn’t pack any Advil this trip. Thus, my first order of the day was to take care of my headache, so yes…Advil…from a gift shop…on a cruise liner that serves a LOT of drinks…yeah, I debated whether to just live with the headache, but I did cave. Once that was taken care of, back to my stateroom to get ready for the day.

My morning routine is generally crap, inconsistent, and half-done. Amongst the things I intended to do on this trip was to ensure that I do everything, every time, and so far, I’m off to a pretty good start, albeit a slow one, due to the aforementioned headache, that took about 90 minutes to subside and sent me back to bed for a little while.

Once done, I headed downstairs to get my internet situation squared away. I hear you judging me right now, to which I say, “…and how, exactly, did you want me to post the update you’re reading right now?” I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had a 1GB plan, rather than a 240-minute plan. I say this because I’m pretty good at keeping my bandwidth usage down – the use of noscript and flashblock takes care of a lot of bandwidth-heavy content on websites, I’m pretty good about keeping my background data using apps off when I need to conserve, Remote Desktop for the unavoidable data pigs, and e-mail clients over browser based access, every time – I still haven’t hit 50MB yet. Even more notably, the internet on the ship, while certainly having high latency, seems only slightly slower than my internet at home. Whether that’s a compliment to the on-ship internet or an insult to my home internet will be an exercise left to the reader. Either way, I spent my morning wrapping up last night’s blog entry and uploading it, then playing Mass Effect for a bit.

I did my “one fancy meal” last night, so lunch was done at one of their standard dining rooms…and by ‘standard’ I mean ‘still upscale and excellent’. The tomato soup was good, and reminded me that I do need to make my ‘unhealthy tomato bisque’ again soon, because it’s amazing. The fish and chips were also fantastic, though unsurprisingly, seemed to have been forged in the fires of Mordor and took some time to cool off, though tasty once it did.

I spent my time at lunch thinking about exactly how much data is crunched by Norwegian, and what kind of profile they have on me. In theory, they know when I wake up and approximately when I go to sleep. They know when (and what) I eat and drink, they know when I’m online (and possibly, what sites I’m visiting), and what I buy and where. Depending on whether they’ve installed beacons on the ship, they may well know exactly where I am, within a few dozen feet, and how I traverse the vessel…to say nothing about the (literally) thousands of cameras throughout the ship. Over the course of a week, it’ll end up being a pretty detailed profile, with virtually no way to opt out. I’m not sure I’m okay with that, but at least this week, I’m short on choices.

I had some time to kill, so back to the wonderful game of “not all who wander are lost”. Of course, the corollary to that would likely be, “they may not be lost, but they frequently don’t blend”. Y’know…because it totally makes sense to be on the pool deck wearing jeans and a button down shirt. Even so I think I learned a lesson today: all those nerdy/technical T-shirts I considered unfit to pack…I should have packed them. I say this because I passed an individual wearing a shirt that said “N7” on it. If you’re uncertain of the significance of N7, Google it until you do. What was intended to be a passing comment ended up turning into a lengthy conversation with the first friends I’ve made on the ship. Jon, his lady friend Lauren, and I ended up talking for nearly an hour regarding games, trips, life, occupations, and plenty of other topics. So, here’s today’s lesson: wear something that can very easily help strike up a conversation. Its corollary would be this: “…just be prepared for a highly specific person to resonate with that topic”. We made plans to meet up for dinner at 6.

I attempted to head over to the solo travelers meet-up, but it was being held in the ‘solo lounge’, an area designated for those staying in a specific set of staterooms optimized for solo travel…and by ‘optimized’, I mean ‘much smaller than my balcony room’. The solo lounge had a keycard access system to limit entrance. I went to the guest services desk, who indicated that it should open up in a few minutes, so I went back up, still couldn’t get in, and then said, ‘the heck with it’.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Jon (and Lauren, to a lesser extent) have ‘adopted’ me as their project for the trip. We had dinner at the top-level buffet area; amongst the things I have always appreciated about cruises was the fact that even the included, non-premium restaurants are still excellent, and you won’t beat the buffet for food diversity and impulse eating. The three of us talked about a number of topics, notably their preference for well done steak, though Jon has learned to prefer medium-well. This came up because they ended up going to the steakhouse last night (incidentally shortly after I did), and Jon made the mistake of ordering his medium rare, not realizing that “real” steakhouses will actually leave the center red if you ask for medium rare – we had a good laugh over the awkward situation. Him being Haitian and her being Caribbean (she didn’t get more specific), they noted that it is at least partially a cultural thing. They ended up inviting me to work out with them, I both appreciated the motivation to go for it and dreaded his ’18 minute insanity’. Also, my pajama pants found themselves pulling double duty as workout sweats.

Several rounds of push-ups of different styles, several rounds of roman twists, and several rounds of planks and reverse crunches later, we were done. It only took a few minutes for the ‘first workout pain’ to set in, but it did. Even so, I was happy I actually worked out, and glad I had friends with whom to share the misery (arguably the reason Jon and Lauren had me join them in the first place). We went back to our respective rooms to shower, and meet back up at the club later in the evening.

“Napping before clubbing” has a downside – you have to wake up to go out and party. I debated just rolling over and going back to bed, but they were expecting me, so I got dressed, did my hair, and headed out.

I ran into them, we started talking, and Jon asked me how well I dance. Here is the difference between Jon and Lauren, and you, the people that know me: you know where this is going, and when I say, “I don’t dance well”, you believe me. Jon seemed to be of the persuasion that he could pep talk me into giving it a shot. He ultimately won out for a bit, but not so much due to his inner Tony Robbins as much as the fact that he did have a point – after taking a look around the dance floor and watching the ~40 guys on the dance floor, there was one dude with a fedora that seemed to somewhat-know what he was doing, one guy who looked a bit like Justin Bieber and was probably underage…and everyone else was poorly foot-shuffling with a drink in their hand, occasionally, even on beat. It’s weird, because this exact scenario has played out dozens of times in my life, but it doesn’t ever seem to get less awkward. Nonetheless, I decided to indulge them and give it a shot, if for no other reason than because his pep talk involved a number of Mass Effect references, which were absurdly ridiculous comparisons that made me laugh. I did dance for a bit, but like most uncomfortable situations, it’s the kind of thing I can do in small doses. I did, then I sat down for a bit to just observe. I didn’t understand the DJ’s logic at times – while Suavamente was surprisingly well received, he played lots of the recent Enrique Iglesias songs (the full-Spanish versions), and after his third in an hour, he lost nearly 70% of his dance floor. I was surprised because, given how well “Be Faithful” was received, keeping it “pop-hop” would have been so easy to have kept the crowd happy. At some point, I lost sight of Jon and Lauren; I felt bad about not having said goodbye to them. Since we’ve got no meaningful means of communication and no set plans to get together tomorrow, it’ll be a matter of serendipity to find each other.

Before I headed back to my room for the night, I stopped by one of the restaurants for a late night snack, and for the first time, I wasn’t impressed. Nacho plates aren’t difficult to make well, but this one was well below my expectations. Perhaps it’s because things were otherwise set high so far. Now though, it’s time to go to sleep, for real this time.

Trip, Day 1

“The universe was created. This was widely regarded as a bad move.”

These were the first words of the book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. If you haven’t read it, you need to. If you’ve only seen the movie, it doesn’t count. Let’s be real though – you’re not here for quotes from deceased British science fiction writers, you’re one of approximately half a dozen people who are looking to see how I’m doing as I go on my vacation to the Bahamas…don’t worry, I’m getting to that.

A vacation was booked. This may well have been a bad move. No, not really…and if you’re the individual who was the one to foot the bill on this, keep an eye on your mail. I’ll spare everyone the details regarding going through security as it was basically uneventful, though I do remember thinking that it was strange that, despite this being my third cruise, I have no recollection of boarding any of the other ships. Regardless, after boarding and walking around to find out where everything is, I found myself with “analysis paralysis” – what did I want to do? Growing up, dad was pretty good about having our days scheduled down to the bathroom break. When I went to Germany and London in 2012, I was was either on a company’s time (and thus went along with their schedule), or trying to visit friends who lived locally and thus had schedules of their own, which I needed to work around. Amongst the reasons why I was looking forward to this trip was the ability to do whatever I wanted, not beholden to the schedule of another. The educational part of this trip was the fact that I would need to actually spend the whole week making decisions between equally-good options, a situation described in the movie “You’ve Got Mail” as the primary reason for which Starbucks exists. Meanwhile, Pastor’s message this morning at church made reference to the idea of living an outward-bound life. Given my relative freedom here, amongst my objectives is to do whatever I can to make the crew feel appreciated. Let’s be real – they spend every day dealing with a group of people who can very easily devolve into spoiled rotten children, and are usually treated as servants. Here’s to hoping that going out of my way to extend appreciation is an effective expression of that.

The staterooms I’ve remembered staying in were usually described as “functional, but clearly designed to be slept in, and little else”. This room is actually pretty spacious – a multi-room suite it is not, but there’s actually enough room for me to make a mess. However, I spent some time actually putting my clothes on hangars, in drawers, and other variants of ‘away’ that don’t involve ‘still in the suitcase’. In fact, my plan is to use my suitcase exclusively for dirty laundry, thus concluding the week with a basically-packed suitcase. Why have I never thought of this before? Oh well. It was an efficient use of my time. Also, I have a balcony. It fits two people, two cups of coffee, and nothing else…but even so, it’s twice as large as it needs to be, given the quantity of occupants involved here…and actually watching the Statue of Liberty drift out of view from my own room is incredible. I look forward to being able to watch a sunset from my own room…tomorrow though – it’s still a bit chilly, and while I packed my leather jacket, a sweatshirt somehow managed to not make the cut. Yes, everyone who has just facepalmed, I know.

The crew seems to have a good sense of humor so far, more so than the passengers. My mustering location happened to be where the crew was assembled for their briefing prior to the drill, and they ran a few minutes over while also having called us there a bit early. Two ladies, independently of each other, remarked, “Why did they call us here if we can’t go in? I could have been drinking more!” Look, the ability to consume large quantities of ethanol without having to worry about driving home is certainly one of the selling points of a cruise…but I’m pretty sure it’d cost less to take a week off work, go to a liquor store specializing in larger bottle sizes, and spend the week completely plastered for about ¼ the price of a cruise, keeping in mind that, once again, we hadn’t yet left the dock when this statement was made. The individual who ran our evacuation drill, on the other hand, definitely had a sense of humor. The Asian gentleman started off by saying that we had the best group, because our drill was being led by Jackie Chan. He had to ask about 20 times for people to shut their phones off (and no, I wasn’t one of them; I was listening attentively), at one point saying, “If you don’t turn off your electronic devices…well, we can’t throw you overboard, but we will give you a spanking. [about a ten second pause] Sir, please don’t make this awkward.”. Later, he stated, “Don’t worry, we’re not carrying a nuclear bomb onboard”. Common sense will tell me that if one must make an announcement that otherwise be assumed, one must question its necessity. The first officer attended, and told me that unfortunately it’s no longer allowed to view the bridge as a passenger…and when I told him that I wondered how many pallets of wine were loaded, he laughed and emphatically said, “A lot”.

They say that not all who wander are lost. I’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s where on this ship already. I can get to my stateroom from literally any point on the vessel, have a good idea of all the different places to eat and play on the ship, and while the major counterargument is that there’s a bathroom in basically every stateroom, I’m pretty sure I’ve passed more bars than bathrooms – once you’re out of the stateroom areas, it’s a project to be more than maybe 75 feet from a beer, making the meager bathroom count seem to be a recipe for trouble down the line. Maybe it’s the lack of anyone to talk to thus far, and maybe I’ve seen Wall-E too many times (and thus associate the Breakway, its crowds, and its amenities with those on the Axiom), but I just felt this sense of emptiness, like everything was utterly meaningless, and why am I even here…at which point I became poignantly aware that I was thinking about everything way too much and just needed to try and find something with which to enjoy myself.

They had a “solo travelers gathering” at 6. Although a nice thought, it was unclear who was at that bar because they were a solo traveler and were looking to meet other solo travelers and I happened to have gotten there too late to understand the appearances, or whether I’m actually the only person here who’s by myself. Given the thousands of passengers on board, I highly doubt I’m the only one, but it is for this reason that I am starting to second guess myself here. Oh well. They’re having a kickoff party tonight. Perhaps I will end up with better luck then.

My mother is notorious for her “thrifty nature” – she has successfully turned the concept of living within one’s means into an Olympic sport. She regularly accuses me of spending unnecessarily, while I counterargue that she has a tendency to spend an inordinate amount of time saving a seemingly small sum of money. Somewhere between us, there is a happy medium. Given how I was feeling about..basically everything, I decided to embrace my inner Psalm 33 and “taste and see that the Lord is good”. Why didn’t God (through David) say “look and see that the Lord is good” or “hear and see that the Lord is good”, or “smell and see that the Lord is good”? Simple: because food is delicious. I’m sure there’s a deeper theological meaning behind it, but I’ve just spent a paragraph poetically saying, “I decided to go to one of the paid restaurants on my first night”, so I’ll leave the in-depth Bible study for you to do on your own time.

While my mother would undoubtedly give me grief for doing what I did, ffind me somewhere else you could get a filet mingnon dinner for $33…though to be fair, I learned that a wedge salad without the bacon or bleu cheese was basically 1/3 of a head of iceberg lettuce – lesson learned on that. Even so, the food was thoroughly enjoyable, well presented, and served its purpose.

I caught the last half of the “welcome to the big honkin’ boat” inaugural show. The longest married couple on board was 56 years, and they won a bottle of champagne and a diamond necklace. Not bad. Neither the comedian nor the magician were terribly impressive, but let’s be real – they’ve both got their own shows later on this week, so it’s common sense to stick to the simple canned tricks that wouldn’t fool Penn & Teller, rather than start so strong that it’s neigh impossible to follow up well. Once that was over, back to my room, as I was a bit tired.

One of the nifty things about planning to go to a club on a cruise is the fact that it’s practical to do something that is a great idea that’s nearly impossible to do in Manhattan – take a nap first. I woke up around 1:30, put a nice outfit on, did my hair, and headed out. When I got there, it was empty. Literally, empty – only the DJ and the two bartenders were there; I was the only other person there. Yes everyone, you guessed exactly where this was going – the DJ and I started chatting it up, talking software, music, hardware, different events we’ve done, and the fact that, apparently, Norwegian doesn’t like to pay to have their DJ gear kept in great shape. He and I walked into the doorway where it was a bit easier to hear each other and continued talking. Another passenger from the casino came in and started talking to me. He clearly had a few drinks already, and wanted to do shots. I was like, “bro, they just cleaned off the bar, so you’ll be ‘that guy’. He didn’t seem to care, so I sat down with him and the bartender asked if I wanted a shot as well…so, because peer pressure and because free drink pass, I was like, “sure, I’ll do one”. He did two more after that, bragging to me about how he has a government job, and spends 2-3 hours a day actually-working, which is 2-3 times more than everyone else in his building, but since his dad does the budget for the building, he’s guaranteed a job for life, making about twice as much as me, to not-work…because it makes me feel so much better that my tax dollars are being spent that way (/rant). Ladies, I’m certain you’ve all ended up getting stuck in a conversation at a bar with that one guy who Would. Not. Shut. Up. This guy was ‘that guy’, and the fact that he went to the casino to break a $100 bill and didn’t come back was something that, honestly, didn’t upset me, and poignantly reminded me that sometimes being alone with my thoughts is the more desirable thing to do. The DJ and I talked a few more minutes (him explicitly stating that he appreciated the company), after which I went back to my room and played Mass Effect until I fell asleep.

Forgotten Knowledge

A friend of mine asked me to conjure up a working Windows 98 computer for her daughter to use to play some old school edutainment games (y’know…from the good ol’ days where you bought the game on a CD-ROM and that was that, rather than getting nagged to purchase ‘lives’ or ‘coins’ or whatever). I managed to come up with a basically-working one that just needed a bit of work to get prepped for the task, namely, upgrading the hard disk. When I did this, the 200GB drive only detected the first 2GB. I remembered that this computer was from the era when it was required to manually tell the motherboard how much storage space the hard disk would be able to handle…but not in GB’s, in Cylinder/Head/Sector (CHS) format. To further complicate things, the computer only allowed me to reference the first 64GB of the drive, because the motherboard couldn’t address any more than that. Even so, a 64GB hard disk in the Windows 98 era is a bottomless well; I edited video on a tenth of that.

The process of doing all of this dug into the deepest recesses of my memory. This was especially challenging because most of the support information for computers of this era predates Google, and thus, most web pages that Google scours – though notably the Google Groups archive of Usenet was particularly helpful for searching purposes. Other things, I either guessed, simply remembered, was able to piece together, or called my friend Bob who described his 58-year-old self as ‘ancient’, especially when I brought up fixing an issue by “performing a text edit on autoexec.bat”. Ultimately, things are going smoothly; I look forward to completing my work on this machine.

The Washington Post published an article last year about disruptive technologies and how they changed our society. While we tend to think of ‘the internet’ as disruptive (and indeed it was/is), the argument the article makes is that the even more disruptive 20th century technology was the refrigerator. Pre-refrigeration households spent approximately 58 hours a week on housework, in the 1990’s, that was down to 19, for houses that were, on average, about twice the size. More relevant to the point, things like pickling, meat curing, canning, cheese making, and other forms of food preservation were things that were generally part and parcel with cooking, that relatively few people in the western world today need to do – and even those that do (professional meat curers and cheese makers aside), are usually doing so due to personal desire, rather than a requirement to prevent food spoilage.

I haven’t thought about cylinders, heads, and sectors in years. I’m *just* young enough to remember seeing CHS figures on the labels appended to hard disks, but too young to have actually had to configure a BIOS with one. I remember running into a SCSI controller once, and hearing that it was quite the project to set up even a relatively simple SCSI controller with a RAID array, but I’ve never made one – setting up a RAID array with SATA drives and modern controllers is a breeze by contrast. Network cards that used to have their modes and parameters set by DIP switches are now configured entirely in software. I don’t remember the last time I had to manually determine IRQs for my hardware, I’ve never set up a network that used coaxial cabling, I never had to manually install a TCP/IP stack into a computer in order to get it on the internet, and I only barely remember the ire that was “changing the font” within Wordperfect 5.1, especially if you didn’t have a mouse.

How much knowledge has been removed from the general societal consciousness due to its need being abstracted away through technological advancement? What else has been lost because it was “common knowledge” until it wasn’t? It’s amazing how even the banal, everyday things that nobody notices now are noticed later – like the number of people smoking indoors in this gallery of shopping malls from 1989.

Perhaps the fact that I’m less than 30 days from turning 30 has something to do with my pondering about the passage of time. For the first time in my life, I’m seeing a clear delineation between the ‘present’ and the ‘past’. I’m starting to see knowledge I gained become obsolete.


Life itself looks different.

Goodbye pfSense, hello Untangle

After all my blogging about the wonders of pfSense, you’d think I’d stick with it…but I didn’t. Both my firewall and my mom’s have been moved to Untangle, and I regret neither. Now, don’t get me wrong – pfSense is still an EXCELLENT firewall that I thoroughly recommend for a number of reasons, which I’ll get to in a minute. However, Untangle works much better for my needs.

pfSense, pros:

  • much more lightweight
    • ’embedded’ version runs off USB flash drive.
    • faster startup time.
  • faster, more simplistic UI.
  • deals with multiple static IPs better.
  • actually taxing the CPU and RAM is a bit of a project.
  • great SIP support; generates OpenVPN files for Yealink VoIP phones directly.
  • BSD-based (generally considered a better router distribution than Linux due to better TCP/IP performance).
  • firewall rules and NAT translation can be “Linksys simple” or “Sonicwall complicated”, depending on what you need.
  • the only paid things are support and “supporter” subscription; all functions included regardless.

pfSense, cons:

  • UI can be a bit confusing.
  • plug-ins are inconsistent with their operation and UI.
  • ad-blocking is a pain, and requires manual updates.
  • adding multiple physical interfaces to the same LAN segment is handled by NAT rules.
  • I wasn’t able to get Squid to do much good with transparent caching.

Untangle, pros:

  • beautiful, intuitive user interface.
  • very simple ability to assign network interfaces to LAN segments; changing them is a drop-down.
  • great reporting features.
  • the free modules are excellent:
    • ad blocking is great, and auto updates.
    • single simplest OpenVPN implementation I’ve ever seen (for desktops and laptops, anyway).
    • even the free virus scanning and spam options are quite functional.

Untangle, cons:

  • paid plugins aren’t clearly labeled until you try to install them.
  • …also, there are paid plugins. While the home version is pretty cheap ($54/year for everything), it gets pretty expensive, pretty quick if you aren’t a ‘home user’.
  • the free web filter picks the ‘wrong’ categories, in my opinion – filtering porn and gambling is free, but malware and torrent filtering is paid??
  • the network configuration area could be organized a bit better.
  • significantly longer startup than pfSense, and requires hard drive.
  • in my particular circumstance, Untangle will only boot in ‘safe hardware’ mode. I’ve had no issues with it, but an Optiplex 755 is pretty standard hardware.
  • distro relies exclusively on NAT for firewalling by default, though to be fair, the firewall plugin is free.
  • no geo-ip blocking capabilities (beyond making firewall rules out of IP blocks).


So, there you have it. two great distros.

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