My company, Automattic, currently employs over four hundred people scattered across the world. Last week I was attending a meetup in Dublin – a jam-packed week where a few of us get together “in real life” to work together. While transiting through the Dallas airport I bumped into Steve, a coworker of mine who I hadn’t yet met. He was wearing a WordPress pullover and maybe something else with a logo on it. Seeing those, I showed him my WordPress bag from Timbuk 2 (something many of us have) and asked if he worked with me. It’s not too rare to meet with coworkers en-route to a specific meetup destination, but Steve was taking personal travel. On my way to meet coworkers in Dublin, I met another coworker at random in one of the larger and busier airports in the US.
After my meetup, I came to England for the Word Camp London event, a gathering of WordPress developers, users, agencies, hosts, etc… When I realized that I had a few extra minutes before I needed to leave in the morning to catch the tube, I decided to go downstairs and grab some of the free food available for breakfast at my hostel. As I stood there starting on my yoghurt, a woman was staring at me with a confused look on her face. After a short pause she asked, “Dennis?” and I realized that it was Britta, one of the friends Amanda and I had in Hannover while we were there last year. In the middle of one of the biggest cities in Europe and in the basement of one probably two hundred or more hostels in London, I randomly met a friend from another place and time.
If the probability of these events happening on any given day were one-in-a-million and considering that I’ve been nomadding for about two years, then we find that the chance of this happening at least twice in that timespan is a little more than one-in-four-million (or a probability of 0.000000265956).
This morning I got out and had the first European coffee in a while and it was mighty tasty. Maybe it’s because I started to develop my taste for coffe in Europe that I like it so much more than in the US, or maybe it’s flat-out better. It’s different in the way that chili can be different in one state or another: whether or not it’s served with pasta, for example.
My flight into Dublin arrived yesterday a week ago just before 3:00pm local time. It was a particularly long day of travel because three flights were involved and I had started my journey in Tucson at 11:00am local time. That’s a total of twenty hours if I do the math correctly. There was no power or internet access on board the transatlantic flight and a small selection of movies, which made it rough for me since I couldn’t sleep and since my laptop didn’t have enough charge left to make it very far. Thankfully, despite being in the middle of the middle of the middle of the aircraft (the 777-200 had a 3-5-3 arrangement of seats in the economy sections), I was surrounded by a couple of polite women and we all had sufficient room.
Of course, I came to Dublin to work. It had been over a year since my team at Automattic came together in person (excluding our all-company meetup) and we were due for it. Since our team’s focus was recently changed and since we will be working hand-in-hand with another team, it was a joint meetup. The first part of the week was fairly exhausting as we brainstormed and planned for our next year’s worth of work, but as we actually started the work it became a bit more pleasant.
Yesterday we took a tour into the mountains south of Dublin. Ireland is a very beautiful and calm country. There are mountains (literally) of peat and turf that used to be harvested to burn for heating. These hills are bogs-on-mountains and are not only protected now, but some of the most efficient and effective carbon sinks in the world. From nothing more than the carbon-dioxide that the grasses and shrubs suck in, they supposedly accumulate peat at a rate of approximately an inch every thirty years. That figure is really quite incredible.
Back in Europe means back to cheap travel. My friend Donncha is flying to London (from Cork, Ireland) today to walk around the city and take pictures. He told me that his flight cost about 35€, or about $40.
I’ll be nomadding over the next month. Instead of flying home and then flying right back, I’m staying over here while Mandi finishes her semester. She’ll be joining me in May and until then I plan on doing some solo adventuring – hopefully to provide some interesting stories here.
Stragely, though I’m “more settled” in Tucson, I seem to have more time when travelling to do things like write on this blog. Right now it’s my short flight which gives me this opportunity; the first of many.
When I was young, under ten years old, my parents took me to a pizza joint in Indianapolis that doubled as a roaring organ theater. That place left me with fond but fuzzy memories I have cherished over the years. When I recently discovered that the concept wasn’t unique to Indianapolis and even more so when I learned that there still existed such a place in Mesa, AZ, I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity to experience it again.
The Paramount Pizza Palace
Theater organs were originally installed in, you guessed it, theaters. They were the source of sound and effects in silent films. However, as films started to ship with audio tracks and theaters built their own loudspeaker systems, the organ’s role vanished. Several decades later, these old organs turned up in places such as the Paramount Pizza Palace in Indianapolis (whereas the Paramount theater, the original home of the organ, served as its namesake).
Granted, in my years since I have toured some incredible European churches and cathedrals with significantly better-sounding organs and more highly-skilled organists, but there is a different vibe from the luster and opulence of the mighty Wurlitzer and its company. Beyond a few registers of pipes, these organs connect to drums, cymbals, bubble machines, trumpets, ooga horns, lights, accordions, and every other instrument imaginable. As an inquisitive boy I was also sucked in to the impressive display built up around the wind machine that powered the whole contraption.
In fact, the most clear memory I have of the place in Indy revolves around the giant window into the room with the bellows. Geometric boxes breathed in and out, pumping air while lights of all colors dressed them up. These were the mechanical heart of the machine that made it tick. I’ve still never seen the air source for the large cathedral organs.
I remember a bird that cooed, bubbles that fell from the ceiling, colors, pizza, and ice-cream. Beyond that, I was afraid the other memories were lost forever.
Organ Stop Pizza, Mesa, AZ
While in a daze watching an organist play on a revived Wurlitzer console at the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, I started to try and share some of these memories with a friend of mine. The music was great but the pipes and bells and whistles were absent where a synthesizer took their place.
Sure enough, there’s one about two hours from here. This one took the organ out of a Denver Theater. It’s almost identical in every way to the place in Indy, though I hear the pizza is better (they also have gluten-free pizza, a double-win). It was only a matter of weeks between learning about its existence and going there twice.
Back in high school some friends and I thought it would be fun to re-watch a childhood favorite: The NeverEnding Story. That was a bad idea because the film turned out to be much better for very young children than for adults. My memories were shattered, but thankfully it wasn’t that big a of a deal, just a few hours wasted. How would going back to the pipe organ and pizza stop support or revoke my cherished childhood wonder?
Thankfully, this experience gave me everything I remembered and more. It was just as enjoyable as an adult as I remember it being as a child. Today I’m more aware of the mechanics of how the organ produces its sound, what it takes to train for the skill to play it, and what kind of market dynamics are required to sustain such a business, but I still found myself plastered again at the window to the bellows-room and leaning over the railing to watch the piano magically play as the organist directed.
The organist plays with both hands and both feet, a feat of coordination and independence that must take extreme focus.
This marimba (one of my specialities from high-school band) hangs from the ceiling.
We are rarely able to hear some of the music that these pipe organs play. Our speakers can’t reproduce the notes they do, probably the best example being the tones booming from the 32′ pipe, which can be shatteringly loud at around 8 Hz. All in all, the organ has over six thousand pipes and other instruments!
At the center of all my wonder concerning this instrument is the simple fact that someone decided to build it. Somebody thought they could attract enough interest to spend all this money and effort to construct this marvel and bring in a profit. Although some might consider it pandering the way the lights and gimmicks accompany such songs as, The Theme for The Pink Panther, The Imperial March, and other Hollywood classics, the experience is an art in itself of a different kind than found in the halls playing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.
Never stop wondering, never stop being inspired.
People do tend to poke fun at the way I stare at the instruments and the wind machine and the console, but these are the kinds of things that inspire, and that inspiration creates wonder. While it’s too hard for me to objectively identify the role the Paramount Music Palace played in my taste for music in general, I know that it furthered my interest in designing big engineering feats whose result is artistic expression.
Art captures something in us that can’t be verbalized. It captures emotion and passion and I love to sit in a big reverberating room while a pipe organ blasts away. How do they create those notes?How does it all work together? How could someone build this thing? Questions like these drive discovery and my visits in Mesa rekindled some of those questions.
Anyway, despite the plethora of keys on the organ console, there’s no Like button, no Share button, and no This is a waste of taxpayers’ dollarsbutton. I hope that you too can get the opportunity to experience something like this or relive old memories from similar places around the US or around the world. I hope that you can put on some music and forget about the pragmatic cares of everyday life and listen and engage in something so abstract, so useless, so ars gratia artis, that it inspires you to something new and valuable and memorable.
There were too many instruments to capture in photos, but here is an array of drums on the left, all driven by hydroulic-mechanical systems (air is the liquid in this case).
The organist’s reflection in the window to the regulator and tremulant room.
Good organ music is made even more pleasant by a jolly organist.
Trumpets jut out from the balcony
P.S. The devices I described as bellowstechnically aren’t. They are actually tremulants, which control the vibrato sound of the pipes. Since I just learned this while writing this post, I chose to leave the incorrect usage in the main text.
Next to my AeroPress, my Hario grinder has been the most significant contribution to my coffee repertoire. It’s a hand-cranked burr-grinder and it does a mighty-fine job, letting me make extra fresh coffee one cup at a time.
Before my last round of trips, the washer mysteriously disappeared. It’s literally the smallest piece of the assembly – a small translucent annulus that reduces friction between the rotating burr assembly and the stationary bearing. Technically I could still use my grinder without the washer, afterall, it’s just plastic and metal and hand-crank speeds, but the engineer in me couldn’t pull the handle.
Hario’s a big company and I didn’t have high expectations of reaching anyone who could help me. I thought about just picking something up at Ace Hardware, but the employee at the local Ace had been pretty rude to me a couple times and so I decided plan A would be better – call Hario and see if they could ship me a replacement.
In fact, after leaving an email explaining my sadness for losing my fresh grinds each morning, I received a quick response from someone who wanted to help. I ended up corresponding with two different people and both went out of their way to make sure I could crush once again. If you know how I usually handle these kinds of logistical things, you can imagine the obstacles they faced. Luckily Eileen was persistent with my sloth-like responses over the holidays and got what she needed – $1 for the washer, $1 to ship it, and an address to ship it to.
My washer just arrived in the mail and I can’t wait to pull out the AeroPress and see if my old bag of beans has any of its berry vigor left after sitting alone in the drawer these past couple of months. I was surprised and impressed when it came in a hand-addressed envelope with a personal message warning me about the dangers of opening a folded post-it containing washers. In fact, if it weren’t for M.L, God bless his or her soul, I might have lost the replacement and sighed anguish instead of relief over the empty mug in my hands.
After visiting with family over the Christmas break, Mandi and I drove out to Omaha to spend a few days with our friends Andrew and Sarah and their two little boys. To our delight, they brought home the newest addition to their family just before we arrive: Missy, the Schnauzer.
Still small, Missy fits like a play football in your hands.
She’s a great dog for the kids (and Mandi): loves to be held but energetic and happy.
Missy does have issues with boundaries, as seen here by her insistence on kissing Mandi.
It was lovely to relax for a few days and hang out like we used to. Andrew and I used to have more opportunities like these when he lived in Chicago and I lived in Indianapolis.
With Mandi there this time it was easier for Andrew and I to get away together. Sarah has always been generous with me stealing away Andrew when I visit, but it’s hard for me to ask to do so because I know it’s like asking if we can go play while she takes care of the kids. I’m really thankful for that time, though, and knowing that Mandi was willing to help out made it easier.
Even those of us without kids know that it’s life-changing how different kids make things. When I spend the time with them I’m reminded of how little I have to think about things like eating, going to bed, doing house-work, etc… On the contrary, it can noticeably impact Ezra’s and Micah’s moods if they don’t eat at the scheduled times and they seem to fumble around with their bodies and expressiveness as they figure out how to say they’re hungry, just as missing a nap or going to bed at the wrong time can have frustrating consequences. I admire the effort parents put out to bring that needed structure and security in their kids’ lives (and clearly I have none of the structure in my own).
That late-night light-bulb illuminated the lounge
where we laughed and lingered while the little ones
were lulled in their beds and the chill of the winter
was knocking on that lounge door,
was knocking and calling but we couldn’t hear
for the light of that lamp which was warming our spot
in the corner of that lonely lounge
was all that our fascinations were fixed on as we
sat and sipped and shared tales
of the times that we missed
and the times that were yet to be.
We got out into a place called the Old Market in downtown Omaha a few times which was really fun. The city reminded me of Kansas City. He was able to show me some of the places from his childhood which were part of who he is and which are special to his family. He took me to the Drastic Plastic record store and to the Beansmith up the street. We sat and had good conversation right across from the old brick buildings lining the paved-brick road.
In fact, one of the buildings we sat across from had seen its last Christmas and wasn’t going to see another. In 7º F temperature, it burned up just a few nights after we left. Andrew took some amazing pictures of the beatiful remants the following morning. Water sprayed on the building to quell the flames froze before it fell to the ground. If you click on the picture it will take you to his full gallery, and it’s worth a view.
Eventually Mandi and I had to leave. The 7º F chill wasn’t exactly holding us back either. We packed up, took a 4:00am lift to the airport, and came back to sunny Tucson after having been gone for weeks. Her luggage was destroyed in transit and we are waiting for a replacement from the airline. Overall we had a good vacation, but it’s really nice to be back home and back into my routine. I hope you all had a nice Christmas and New Years and had a chance to spend some time with some great people too.
Mandi doesn’t like to take escalators, but I did here, which is how I got to the bottom in time to capture this shot of her smile.
Every new surface is a new opportunity to explore photography. This is the ceiling of the Omaha airport terminal.
We enjoy traveling and we enjoy traveling light. One backpack and one carry-on each is our mobile home and our gateway to journeying to new places.
The following post was written onboard a flight a few weeks ago.
You can attribute any typos in this post to my shaky ride through the turbulence high above the Pennsylvania countryside. I’m just returning after a long trip that ended in Philadelphia for the first-ever WordCamp US.
My original flight was scheduled to leave at 1:45pm to Phoenix, where I would layover and then catch a second flight to Tucson. Just before boarding, the gate agents announced that they would be offering a $500 voucher and a later journey for anyone willing to give up their seat on the flight. I’ve been given this offer a few times, but usually I’m rearing to get home or on a deadline. Today, however, I was in no rush and immediately jumped at the opportunity. Now I’m still getting home on the same day, but I’ll take the shuttle from Phoenix to Tucson instead of flying and I have an extra $500 to spend on a flight within the next year (the catch is that I have to buy the ticket at the American Airlines desk inside an airport).
Henceforth, instead of leaving at 1:45pm I left at 6:10pm and had the rest of the afternoon to wait in the airport. Years ago this would have been quite a deal: free WiFi was basically non-existent (it wouldn’t have mattered much because I didn’t have a smartphone and I didn’t carry around my laptop – I couldn’t easily carry it around and its battery didn’t last very long); I didn’t have much flexibility in my travel so I was always rushed in the airport (travel time was wasted time); I didn’t have much real experience at airports.
As times have changed, I’ve grown to enjoy the airport more and more. Today I sat around at a sit-stand shelf at Starbucks and worked on my laptop while planes taxied behind the floor-to-ceiling windows. After a while a small band setup next to the Christmas trees, Menorahs, and lights and started playing smooth Jazz. Like my last layover in San Francisco, it was simply a peaceful time. Despite the rush and chaos, I had the most focused work session I think I’ve had in three weeks.
I’ve come to learn that although airports can seem pretty scary and unfamiliar, they are a warm home to frequent travelers. They’re clean, safe, and have just about everything you could need. I’ve spent time alone in airport yoga rooms and prayer rooms, washed my face and put on a refreshingly clean change of chothes in the bathroom, stared out the windows at things passing by, and sipped plenty a capuccino while calmly working at the gates.
An F-16 takes off from the Tucson airport for a training sortie.
An F-16 shoots upward with its afterburner glowing as it rumbles through the sky like thunder.
We don’t always have the luxury of time and flexibility, but we always have the choice of how to make use of our circumstances. Travel was always hectic growing up and coincidentally was never considered part of our vacation or part of our journey. Mandi and I have always tried to make the ride special: by stopping in the middle of a long drive to go hiking; by trying to walk around the entire airport during a layover; or simply by finding a place to get comfortable and work.
I wrote the following post over a week ago while returning home from a conference in Philadelphia, but neglected to post in a timely manner.
My flight home today was both one of the shakiest and most-consistently shaky flights I’ve been on. The pilot announced that we would likely experience more turbulence than normal “for a long while.” Not exactly the usual reassurance that it will be short-lived. The flight crew has been amazing tonight though. I couldn’t rate this particular experience with American Airlines highly enough.
When I finally arrived at home and laid down to sleep, I could still feel the turbulence just as feeling the rolling of the waves after spending a day on a boat.
Since that time…
All the shakes were pretty bad on me. After having broken a rib a week earlier, the rocking and bumping and shuffles wore me out. The night after the flight too, I could still feel the turbulence just like you can feel the rocking of the waves after a day on a boat.
It’s all good though, one more adventure in the journey book.
Too many people have been waiting for me on this…although I promised that it would take some time before I could publish the edited photos, it took me much longer than anticipated. In fact, I don’t think it’s ever taken me this long before to go from photo-shoot to Flickr, but I started out with five hundred pictures and have ended up with eighty-six.
It’s very difficult to delete so many pictures that I’ve taken, but this is one of the best disciplines for shooting. If I left in all the photos I liked, I’d bore you to death and you’d never be able to pick out the best ones from the rest of the group.
In Indiana the water goes down. In Tucson the water goes up.
It has rained here the past couple of days. Noticeable all over are the puddles that the rain leaves. If you walk along the sidewalk at the university you can see all sorts of multi-colored stains from where the puddles have lived.
In Indiana the sidewalks, streets, and parking lots are all slanted and the water flows downhill. Here, the water still flows downhill during the heavy rains, but after each rain there’s a large amount of water that sticks around on the relatively flat surfaces until it evaporates – it flows up towards the sky.
Growing up a heavy spring rain meant that the streets would be washed clean. Rainstorms in our part of town scatter and leave palm fronds and sand across the roads.
This morning I was finally able to join some friends on a ride around one of Tucson’s great bike trails. Today my phone tells me that I rode twenty-seven miles. It was fun and challenging. Not only am I not used to these kinds of long rides, but there were some pretty fast movers in the group (we were seven people, maybe?) and I was the only one with fat mountain-bike tires and a heavy bike (everyone else had a light-weight road bike). The first half of the ride was hard but I was able to keep up. However, once we got half-way I couldn’t do it any longer so I broke off and had a casual ride home, keeping my pace just at the edge of where a leg cramp would start.
At one point we had to stop and wait for someone to cross the road because apparently rattle snakes don’t know to stay out of the bike lanes.
It was a little discouraging not being able to keep up with the others, but it was also not that bad because I didn’t have high expectations. Since I was free for the return trip, I stopped by the Trader Joe’s that I’ve been wanting to visit for a while.
The hardest part of the day was the last four and a half miles home after Trader Joe’s. By that time I had cooled down and was ready to just be home – like finally returning from vacation but having a long travel time. It felt good and exhausting and took just about three hours including my shop-stop. These guys, the “loopers,” are doing this every weekend and I hope to go again.