Monday, June 20, 2011

We will return to your regular programming shortly

     Ahem.. I've been absent from the blogosphere for a bit longer than anticipated. If you're wondering why, it's because The Chief and I have had many more adventures since the one below, and they happen at such high frequency that I can't keep up with writing about them. But more on that later. I expect to finish part three of the first misadventure with The Chief shortly. And trust me; they only get better from here.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bonding time with The Chief - Part 2: Medium James to the rescue!

     So Tuesday was a disaster. There's really no way around it. I had discovered a few minor issues, but there was really only one critical issue on my mind. The Chief kept overheating, and I didn't know why. Regardless how awesome the zebra print interior is, a Jeep that can only go two miles before breaking down is pretty useless. That night, I did some research on overheating issues. I found a few potential causes. There were a few of the usual suggestions: thermostat getting stuck closed (could be, because there was definitely circulation), auxiliary fan failure (due to fan, relay, or temperature sensor failure), or water pump failure (again, there was definitely circulation, so unlikely). However, I learned that the old (1988-1992) XJ ran a closed cooling system, meaning the overflow bottle had to keep pressure in it. This elevated pressure raises the boiling point of the fluid, allowing the coolant to run hotter. However, the previous owner was oblivious to this and filled the overflow bottle to the top, meaning it built too much pressure and blew the cap off. In general, this system is not highly praised in the Jeep world. I had some leads, now it was time to investigate.

     I went to work on Wednesday and mentioned the failure to my coworkers. They noted that I could probably work on the Jeep in front of The Bunker (the building where our lab is located: nicely recessed into a hill and full of bomb-proof equipment). This was good to know about. I would definitely need a place to work.

     After I got out of work, I called Big/Medium James, who had just arrived in Palo Alto on Monday. I asked if he wanted to meet up and help me rescue The Chief. He and Leonid were both just sitting around and watching TV, so they agreed that they might be up for an adventure. They decided to pick me up from Tesla (since they literally live up the street), and off we went to find my car. I remembered vaguely where I left it (at the intersection of 84 and 101 in Redwood City), so we made our way over by use of road signs and a vague sense of direction. On the way, I found out Leonid (the driver) had only had his license for a week. Just long enough for them to drive cross-country. Upon arriving at the parking lot where I had left it, I was relieved so see that it was still there. After all, none of the doors lock (well, they don't unlock, so I don't lock them). I guess if somebody had decided to steal it, they wouldn't have gotten very far.

     After Big James and Leonid laughed at the sight of The Chief, I got on with investigating the problem. Being more informed than before, I knew what to look for. I discovered two major issues. First off, the pressure bottle was stripped and certainly leaking, causing all the coolant to boil off (I later discovered that there was a black mark on the inside of the hood from when the cap blew off.. More pierogi, please). The second issue was a bit of an unexpected one. It was, as suggested, a problem with the auxiliary fan. However, it wasn't the relay or the sensor. I just didn't have and auxiliary fan. I'm not sure how that even happens.

     Well, that was it. The coolant system couldn't really be fixed on the spot. I had to get the car somewhere more workable. I believe that at some point, the plan was to get it back to Jason's place. However, that was quickly deemed a bad idea, and I decided that Tesla was closer and more conducive to working on cars. So I topped off the coolant and went back to the gas station from the night before to make sure I had enough gas to get me to Tesla (I didn't trust the gas gauge at this point. Turns out it's one of the few things that does work like it's supposed to). Being from Jersey and all, I'm not too experienced with self-serve gas. I've done it before, but still. On this occasion, I wasn't sure if the place took Discover, and seeing as I still didn't have a checking card (this seems to be a motif in these stories), I chose to pay with cash. Which I had never done at a gas station before. After becoming severely confused by why I couldn't get gas, James and Leonid told me that I had to go inside and pay first.


I knew that.

     So I went inside, to find the guy from the night before. "You're still here??" he said. I explained that I had left the car for the night and that I didn't get back to it until after work. At this point, he went off into some story about his brothers car breaking down, so he had to skateboard to work, or something. I don't know. I asked for $20 on pump 4, verified that I could use the hose outside, and went on my 'merry' way. It occurred to me last night that I may have left the filler cap at the gas station.. FML.

     After putting some gas in the tank and verifying that the fuel gauge worked, we filled up the two empty antifreeze containers with water from the hose and agreed on a plan. I would follow behind Leonid and Big James, and every two miles or so, we would stop to let the engine cool down and refill the coolant system. Off we went. I obviously stalled at a few lights, so in hindsight, it may have been better for James and Leonid to stay behind me at a safe distance (in case of stalling on a hill and rolling back). They were serving as navigation though, because I was going to be too busy trying to keep The Chief alive to be bothered with anything more than following the car in front of me. To be safe, I was keeping the revs up at lights to prevent the engine from sputtering and dying like it had the night before. Also, the higher revs with no torque meant that the main fan was pulling more air over the radiator while the engine wasn't producing too much additional heat (or so I like to think).

     About two miles into the trip, I waved for Leonid and James to pull off El Camino Real so we could check the status of the coolant. They responded instantaneously and gave me no time to react, so I drove right past them. I pulled off at the next possible location. Imagine my surprise when I found myself here:
Yes. I had pulled into the empty (but incredibly classy) parking lot of Ferrari/Maserati of Silicon Valley. Thank god they were closed for the day, as I'm positive I would have been shooed away immediately. James and Leonid pulled up a few minutes later, laughing hysterically. I grabbed the water from the trunk as James took this fantastic photo:
Upon opening the hood, I found the coolant bottle had sealed well and not boiled off all the coolant yet. So while I gawked at the Ferraris and Maseratis behind the glass, The Chief cooled off for the next leg of the journey.

     That next leg was not particularly long. I started smelling burning oil and noticed steam from under the hood. I waved James and Leonid off the road and we pulled into a small neighborhood. The overflow bottle and unsealed and sprayed coolant everywhere, and boiled off the rest. Flash boiling is an unpleasant thing when in a car. I let The Chief cool off some more and we sat around for a while. Finally, I refilled the coolant, and decided that refilling the antifreeze container would be a good idea. After spending about five minutes trying to figure out if we could just use a hose on the outside of one of the houses, we decided to just knock and ask someone to fill the bottle for us. We then spent five minutes trying to determine which door was the front door. Finally, we knocked and were greeted by a trophy-wife, who gladly filled the container with water.

     Off we went. And not much later, we were on the side of El Camino Real, right in front of the Stanford campus. I discovered that I do have a hazard light button, hidden on the steering column (where I had looked the previous night with no success). However, only the right rear indicator worked, which suggested I was trying to get back into traffic. No hazards it was. While Leonid walked off to the Trader Joe's across the street for some tasty mozzarella balls, James and I sat around waiting for The Chief to cool down before refilling the coolant, again.

     Eventually, we headed off again. At this point, it was already dark. We finally got off of El Camino and onto Page Mill Road, which we thought was the last leg of the trip. Leonid decided he wanted to turn off well before Deer Creek, though, and wound up at an entrance to one of the many HP buildings. He also decided to liberally use the brakes in front of me. We were in a parking lot, so I just drove around him and over a traffic island in the middle of the lot. This is why I bought a Jeep. O, and then I stalled, right as the steam started pouring out from the overflow bottle de-pressurizing. So it was probably a good thing that Leonid had taken a wrong turn.

     We stood around in the unlit parking lot for a while, forming a small circle around the container of mozzarella balls. We had each pulled out our pocket knives and were using them to stab the balls an eat them.  Eventually, The Chief cooled down again, and driving over another traffic island on the way out, we departed on what was to be our actual last leg. With the exception of stalling on a hill an almost rolling back into the BMW who had gotten to close (hey, he deserved the scare, for being that close), everything went smoothly. We dropped The Chief off in front of the bunker, and after our 3.5 hour, 10 mile long journey, we went to In-N-Out.

     We retreated to James's, Leonid's, and Karen's place to eat our In-N-Out and hang out for a bit. The adorable house cat demanded attention and took our minds off our journey. Finally, when it was time to leave, I realized I had left the keys in the ignition. On one hand, I knew it wasn't going anywhere. On the other, that's just poor practice. So James kindly drove me back to Tesla to grab my keys before dropping me off at home. We had started at 6:30 pm, and by midnight, all we had accomplished was getting The Chief ten miles, and eating some In-N-Out.

Clearly, I had some work to do.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Bonding time with The Chief- Part 1

     So you may have noticed, but I haven't been on top of this blogging thing as much as I would like. Mostly because I've been busy this week. I had arranged to buy the Jeep on Tuesday. In between looking at the car and buying the car, I had to figure out how to pay for it. I called my bank, and found out that the "only way" I could get cash was via postal money order. However, you need to purchase a money order with a debit card.. Which I had lost. So, I had to settle for using Jason as a middle man and writing him a check to cash. I feel bad, because I was about to suck Jason into a lot more of my problems than I would have liked.

     I had agreed to meet up with Paul for dinner on Tuesday after work. We met on California Ave and caught up while watching people ogle at his electric motorcycle. We finished our meal and went our separate ways. I had arranged for Jason to pick me up at the California Ave Caltrain so he could drive me to go get the car. I had brought a copy of the Kelly Blue Book estimated value of the car in hopes of talking the price down. It occurs to me that I should have done this before agreeing to buy the car. This isn't the last lesson in buying cars I would get.

     We arrived in Redwood City, and Jason asked me if I had bought insurance yet. Hmm.. I had shopped around for insurance, but for some reason I thought there was a grace period between buying a car and insuring it. It occurs to me that this was a stupid assumption, but since I had already shopped around for insurance, I knew who to buy it from. So Jason offered to look up the phone number while I was inside taking care of all the paperwork. Off I went, to attempt to negotiate price and to transfer the title.

     I walked up to the house and greeted the grandmother with a Polish "Good day!" She was ecstatic. Needless to say, negotiating the price didn't work out. Since I was still paying less than I had planned to spend on a car, I didn't mind and moved on. Next came the paper work. The Polish mother reminded me of my very own Polish mother. Similar haircut, similar build, similar way of talking. And of course, she works for a bank, so she knew how to handle all the paperwork (much like my own mother). It was rather hilarious hearing the daughter debate with her mother (not unlike my own mother and sister). The daughter spoke in Polish though, as her parents made her when she was young. The mother recounted "When they were young, if they spoke English to me, I would speak Russian to them. I don't understand you, and now you don't understand me!" Reminds me of when my parents would speak Russian to hide things from my sister and me.

     The paperwork went reasonably well. No real snags, apart from writing my first name before my last name (a common problem I have. Maybe I should just start writing Nawrot, Michael on all of my psets and tests). At some point, the daughter made a similar mistake and cursed in Polish. I snickered and she responded with "O no! I can't say that in front of him! He understands!" The entire time, the grandma was using the mother as a translator. Finally, as I was leaving, the mother finally caved and explained, "Mama! He can understand you! He just can't speak very well!"

     The grandmother was even more ecstatic. Suddenly I found myself in a casual conversation littered with broken Polish and resulting laughter. I don't remember much of the details, but the conclusion was as follows:

"Here, take some home made Pierogi with you!"
"O, wow, thank you!"
"Mama, I babysit near Tesla! Next time Grandma makes Pierogi, I'll bring him some!"
"That would be amazing! Thank you so much! You guys are too kind"

... For what follows, they owe me a lot of fucking Pierogi.

     It didn't start off too bad. I got out of the house, got the insurance company's phone number from Jason, thanked him for the map, and told him I would catch him later. He left, I got in the Jeep, adjusted the seat and mirrors, and went about attempting to drive stick for the first time (excluding the stick I've driven on an electric Porsche, of course. But you can't stall an electric car in the same way, so that doesn't really count). I'm glad I know the theory and the physics behind it, because I'm sure it would have taken me forever to figure out otherwise. So I put it in reverse, stalled once, and then set off on my merry way. I was going to drive it around the block to get used to it, then call the insurance company once I was no longer in front of their house (to not be creepy and awkward and all). I did just that, with many a stall along the way. At this point, it was getting dark. I called the insurance company and started going through the motions. In the meantime, I had noticed a few quirks about the car. The dash illumination didn't work, there was no interior lighting, and the glove compartment was tiny. Things I could live with or easily fix. The lady from the insurance company was quite friendly and helpful. However, when it came time to check my license and driving record, we ran into a bit of a snag. "Sir, the DMV database for New Jersey is down for maintenance... I'm not sure we can do this tonight. I'll give it a try, but it might be another twenty minutes or so. I'll give you a call back."

... Great. I had nowhere to be, so I continued practicing around the block. At some point, I got a voicemail. I pulled over and gave it a listen. Turns out the database was probably down for the rest of the night. Great. Screw you, New Jersey DMV. I'm not even in New Jersey and you still find a way to make me wait. At this point, I was stranded and needed to find a way back home. Driving without insurance, despite my momentary lapse of reason, is stupid. So I called Jason and asked if he could please come back and pick me up. I felt like a bit of a tool at this point. the Jeep smelled like it needed a rest from me burning the clutch up, so I got out and wandered around for a little bit. Finally, the insurance company calls back and informs me that I have been successfully insured. Right about then, Jason shows up. I felt bad for having him make the twenty minute drive yet again, but at least now I had somebody to guide me home.

     Off we went. The burnt smell hadn't quite gone away, but I figured the clutch had enough time to cool off that it was probably fine. I stalled a few times on the way up to the 101, at lights here and there, but I was keeping up and only pissing off a few people. Then the shit hit the fan (well, if there was a fan to hit). We pulled up to the last light before the on-ramp to the 101. As I was coasting down to a stop, clutch fully depressed, the idle dropped and the engine cut out. Uh Oh.

     I pull up at the light and tried to get the engine to turn over. At this point, Jason was two cars in front of me, first at the light, and didn't really have much of a choice but to go. This intersection was quite busy, and the people behind me were very frustrated when I didn't go. Even worse, I couldn't find the button for the emergency lights. I was stuck at this massive intersection with no engine to move me and no way of alerting anybody around me of what was happening. The light changed several times, and at some point, I got the engine to start. The idle was terribly rough, and it sputtered and died before I had a chance to move. Finally, after several more light changes, the engine came on, but this time, I kept the revs up by holding my foot on the gas. The guy in front of me kept inching forward, afraid I would run him over. I guess waiting at a light with a big Jeep roaring its engine at you could be a bit intimidating. Finally, the light changed, and momentarily breaking my streak of bad luck, I didn't stall. I rolled around the corner and into the nearby gas station. Right as I rolled in, the engine sputtered and died. This night was not over yet.

     I got a call from Jason as he was trying to make his way back to me. He had taken a wrong turn and almost wound up crossing the Dumbarton Bridge. It was going to be a little while. So I popped the hood and found out the cause of my problems. The coolant overflow bottle was completely empty. I opened the trunk and found some gloves, rags, and antifreeze. Seems like somebody had had this problem before me. I sure would have liked to have known that ahead of time. I checked the oil as a precaution and proceeded to refill the coolant bottle. At some point during this process, Jason showed up and helped me push the car over a speed bump and into the light. I filled the bottle with antifreeze, and watched it all disappear somewhere. Luckily, we were at a gas station.

     I went inside the station and asked for some antifreeze. The guy pointed to some and said, "It's right there, but I'm afraid we're closed"

"O.. My car broke down and I really need some antifreeze."
"Well, I guess if you really need it.. But I just counted all the money and I don't want to do it again.."

Too bad I didn't have my Visa.. *kicks self*

"Ok, thanks a lot man."

*rings it up*


     It occurred to me at this point that I had run out of cash, so I had written a slightly larger check to Jason, as a sort of ATM transaction on top of the money for the car. However, this meant I only had two $100 bills on me. I pulled out the hundred and the gas station attendant just glared at me. "You've got to be kidding..."

Luckily, I had a single and I let him keep the $0.13 of change, so he wouldn't have to count the coins again.

     Needless to say, we attempted to refill the coolant some more, running the engine a few times only to see the coolant disappear into nothingness yet again. I threw in the towel (or rag, I suppose) for the night. The gas station attendant was leaving right as I did so, so I asked him where I could park for the night. He pointed me to some spots, and as he left, I got the engine to start just long enough for me to pull into a spot and kill it. I got all my stuff out of the car (seeing as it doesn't lock at the moment) and drove off with Jason. It was close to midnight now, and I had started this whole car buying trip around 7:30. We stopped at Jack-in-the-box on the way back (delicious, by the way), and ate in Jason's living room while I researched potential causes of the problem.

Fun fact: If you search 1988 Jeep Cherokee, the second autocomplete is "Overheating".

After doing some research, I went to bed, hoping to recover The Chief the next day. I was exhausted from all the excitement, but unfortunately, it wasn't over....

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Fog City

      Well, I hear it gets pretty foggy, but that certainly wasn't the case on Sunday. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen so much sun in my life. But that's besides the point.

     After looking at the Jeep and getting some lunch, I decided to get off my butt and go into the city. After failing to find someone from the 'tvte who was in the area and wanted to go with me, I packed up my laptop and bag and took off to the Caltrain station, with only a vague idea of where in the city I would end up, and even less of an idea of what I was going to do. Turned out that I was going to do a lot of walking and should have packed lighter.

     I arrived at the Mountain View Caltrain and ran into a bit of a dilemma. I was approaching my credit limit, I still didn't have a checking card, and I only had a small amount of cash that was supposed to cover me in the city. Now, Caltrain has a policy that you're supposed to buy a ticket before boarding the train, and they check it on board. However, in all the times I had ridden Caltrain up until that point, I would buy a ticket, and nobody would check it. I felt like I was bleeding money for no reason. So, I was awfully close to not buying a ticket, based on previous experience, but my gut told me, "If you don't have one this time, it'll be the only time they check for it." So I bought a ticket, and of course, while I'm staring out the window and listening to music, I hear a faint tapping through my headphones. Ignoring it for a while, I finally turned around to see a ticket-checker (I feel that any other name would over-glorify his job) looking up at me angrily. Well, at least I think it was angrily. He was wearing sunglasses (inside the train -.-), so I couldn't tell. I fumbled around and eventually found my ticket, at which point, he grunted and moved on, disappointed that he couldn't kick me off. I found it rather obnoxious that on a two level train, he just walks on the lower one and bangs on the ledge of the upper one to get people's attention (these train cars are super weird. Note the giant hole in the second level)
     So I passed the time on the train by some combination of listening to music, reading the musings of James May, and sleeping; at some point, I'm pretty sure I was doing all three. The train finally arrived at the last stop, I got off, and walked in the direction I thought the bay was, because I wanted to walk up the coast of the peninsula and take pictures of the Bay Bridge. So I walked a few hundred feet, crossed a small drawbridge, and wound up here:

     So I may not be from around here, but I thought San Francisco was supposed to be a city... Not a giant empty lot. I was a little confused and kinda sketched out by the lack of any signs of civilization. Luckily, I turned around and saw AT&T Field, home of those other Giants (I usually forget that when people talk about the Giants, they don't always mean the football team). I had been a little disoriented, but I managed to find my way back to civilization shortly thereafter. Even though the Caltrain station did put me near some interesting landmarks, I was still a little puzzled as to why it was on the very edge of the city. It just seemed odd.

     I crossed back over the drawbridge and started walking toward AT&T Field, as I knew that the Bay Bridge was just up from there. Whilst walking past the stadium, I caught a glimpse of this awesome piece of engineering:
Look at this freakin' counterweight!

     I wandered up past the stadium and found a nice big green area, and watched a man play catch with his dog for a while. As Jessie would say, "PUPPY!"
And a flying one, at that. I hung around and messed with my camera a bit and enjoyed the beautiful weather. It was a pretty great scene, with people enjoying their three day weekend with their children and their dogs (there were about equal quantities of both), the nice new city on one side (new compared to Boston, at least):
the bay on the other side:
and this thing in the middle:
... I guess it's better than Transparent Horizons. I'm afraid to admit it, but I actually kind of like it. Maybe because it's so massive. Maybe another perspective for a slightly better sense of scale:
Note the tiny people in the not-too-far-off background.

     As you can imagine, the green grass and large piece of scrap iron lost my interest pretty quickly, and so I moved onto that large bridge in the background, stopping along the way to watch some high school drumline performing for cash outside of some high class restaurant. Like I mentioned, my only real objective on this trip was to see the Bay Bridge. I'm an engineering dork, and I spent a fair amount of my time prior to MIT watching big engineering projects on TV (despite the host's occasional blatant stupidity, I still enjoy watching "Build it Bigger" on the Science Channel). The Bay Bridge counts as a big engineering project in my book. Just look at it:

That's a cargo ship on the right, by the way.

The bridge is 74 years old, 4.5 miles long, has an island in the middle, and carries over a quarter of a million cars a day. Freakin' 74 years old! They were so much more hardcore, back in the day. It's also on Route 80, so if I really wanted to, I could get on the Bay Bridge and go straight back to Flanders, NJ without a single exit in between. The bridge also just seems to loom over the city.
Long story short, I think it's awesome. Deal with it.

     After spending far too much time staring at the bridge, I got sick of all this sunlight making my head hurt. I wandered off between the buildings to get some shade, and to find the Transamerica Pyramid. I did so rather easily, mostly just by looking for the big pointy thing in the sky. I took some more photographs to fulfill my voyeuristic engineering urges, but my camera is ten years old and they managed to disappear between taking them and putting them on my computer. I'm obviously devastated, as you should be. Now how can I prove to you that there's a giant "church" of Scientology across the street? You'll just have to take my word for it.

     After craning my neck for a while at the base of the pyramid, I went off to find some food on Market Street, walking through the financial district along the way. About half way to market street, I noticed a Cathay Bank. I was under the impression that it was just a sketchy Chinatown bank in Boston, but no, it's apparently a sketchy Chinatown bank with locations all around the world. This made me even more annoyed with my bank for its sparse locations.

     I eventually stumbled upon Market Street and walked back and forth a few times, looking for a place to eat. Unfortunately, it being a Sunday, everything was closed. I am disappointed San Francisco. You're not supposed to be like Boston. Things are supposed to be open on Sundays!

     In my wanderings, I did a careful job of dodging the homeless, the unemployed, and the hippies. Everyone below the age of sixty seemed slightly eccentric, at the very least. At some point, I gave up on trying to find a reasonable place to eat and settled for fast food. I wandered into a Carl's Jr, which is apparently the fifth largest fast food chain in the country (even though I had never heard of it before). After getting my food and watching some crazy people get theirs, I sat down on a stool by the window and ate my food. At some point, a man wandered over with some food and sat down near me. I didn't really think anything of it, since he didn't seem particularly crazy or homeless.

"Mind if I sit here?"
"Not at all"
"Ok. I just know some people like to be by themselves so they can have time to think. I didn't want to intrude"
"Heh, nah, it's fine. Don't worry about it"
"Where are you from? You don't mind me asking, do you?"
"No, not at all. I'm from Boston."
"Man, Boston!? What're you doing all the way out here?"
"I'm working for the summer"
"Really? What do you do?"
"I'm an engineer"
"Shit man, an engineer? That's awesome. There's a lot of money in that.. Yea man.. Lots of money"

... Uh oh. Maybe I was wrong.

"I'm not gonna lie to you. I'm homeless. I may not look it, but it's true"

     Ugh... Yea, I was wrong. The conversation went on. He explained to me that he was 63 years old and has had HIV for the past 20 years (didn't look like either of those was true), but something about some "drugs they have in California" was "keeping him alive", and he was "one in a trillion". It was hard to follow what he was saying once the crazy came out. At some point I gave him the rest of my french fries, but he kept talking. Something about him being very spiritual, how hard it is to get a job, how cold it is at night - Wait, what? I interjected here.

"Yea, I've seen the homeless in Boston out in the snow during the winter.. It must be so rough"
"... O.. Shit. In the snow? Really?"

Based on his facial expressions, I imagine he was thinking, "Hm... Maybe it's not so cold here"

     The fries were not enough, and he continued begging for help. I had already been sucked into casual conversation, so my technique for ignoring the homeless and crazies wasn't going to work here. I was getting frustrated by my pocket change, and I did feel for the guy, so I gave him the fairly decent sum of change in my pocket. He continued to beg. I lied and told him I didn't have any other cash. I actually had about $20 in my wallet, but seeing as my means for getting cash were limited, I wasn't in a rush to give it up. Also, it's never a good idea to pull out your wallet in front of a homeless person. Eventually, he started asking me to go to an ATM and get money for him. Here, I was able to tell the truth.
"Sorry man, I lost my debit card. I can't get money from the ATM."
"Come on, I know how it is with you kids these days. You just gotta punch a few numbers and you can get cash"
"Yea, but I lost my card, so I can't. Look, I wouldn't lie to you "

Err... Yea, well, I'm not convinced he was telling the truth either. They guy on his ID didn't look like him.

"Come on. I'm begging you. You need me to beat someone up?"
"No man, it's cool. I've got nothing against anyone"
"Come on. I will beat someone up for you. Need anyone beat up? Need someone's car to get fucked up? I'll do it"

     If you couldn't guess, I was really anxious to get out of there at this point. He was finishing his food, and once he was done with that, I was afraid he'd follow me out the door, or hang around and beg if I stayed. So I looked at my phone to check the time and said, "Hey, I've got to run and catch a train. I'm really sorry I can't help you out anymore. For what it's worth, take this-" I passed him my drink, which I had pretty much forgotten about "-take care of yourself, man"

     I walked out the door and quickly walked away from the Carl's Jr, in case he decided to follow. Glancing behind me, it seemed as though he had stayed where he was an I had actually gotten away. I briskly walked back to the Caltrain station to wait for the next train to San Jose. I had walked a ton and been exposed to enough crazy for one day. I didn't know what else to do in the hour before the last train out, so I just took the second to last train instead. I got on board, relieved that things would go back to being calm for the rest of the evening.

     Except they didn't. I sat down in a mostly empty car. A little while later, all these kids started piling into the same car, wearing sweatshirts from various big name schools, like Cornell, CMU, UC Berkley, Brown, Princeton, Yale, etc. They all seemed to know each other, which all made sense when I saw one of them wearing a Stuyvesant shirt. Ah. I see. So, living up to their reputation (although I certainly know some likable people that went to Stuy), they were obnoxious for the entire train ride. At one point, one of them was convinced that they should attempt to have a party with "all the interns in the bay area." Good luck with that one, buddy. They wound up playing several games of Mafia over the course of the train ride, having people standing in the aisle and getting in the way of Caltrain employees and passengers who were attempting to get on and off the train. I'm not really familiar with the game of Mafia, but it seems like a moderately less nerdy version of Dungeons and Dragons, but with people pretending to be mobsters while one guy dictates a story that he makes up. Needless to say, it was really annoying, and I was glad to finally get off the train in Mountain View. I walked home and called it a day.

     The following day was Memorial Day, but I decided not to do much of anything. I found out that Jason lives within walking distance from an In-N-Out (and by walking distance, I mean a 40 minute walk), so I went there for lunch. I got two double-doubles, one of them animal style, as well as animal style fries. It was a bit too much, to be honest. But it is strangely addictive, for some reason. On the way back, I stopped by a convenience store and bought some batteries for my camera. This is what I got:
Welcome to California, I guess?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A little bit of irony and a whole bunch of crazy

     So after failing to accomplish anything on Saturday, I set out to make up for lost time on Sunday. I followed up on the craigslist ad for 1988 lifted Jeep Cherokee and went to Redwood City in the morning to take a look at the car. I have to admit, it's not the best car in the world. But it has one hell of a personality, and I kinda fell in love with it on sight.
How could you not, right? If the mildly dented exterior of a former rock-crawler isn't enough to sell you, try on the zebra-print interior accents.
Pretty snazzy, huh?

     So Jason drove me out to yet another San Fransisco suburb to this garage sale, and I began investigating the car. As much character as the car has, it does have some non-ideal things about it. For starters, the sway bars are in the trunk, which is not where they're supposed to be. They should be visible here:
... Yea, they're not there.

Ok. So I can't corner too quickly, unless I want to find myself on three wheels. Luckily, I wasn't planning on being too aggressive in the corners anyway. At the very least, I have the swaybars, so I will be able to reattach them if necessary. The truth is, they do slightly reduce the off road capability of the thing, which is 90% of the fun of owning a Jeep.

     Apart from that minor issue, the body work has a few nicks in it, but for the most part, it's in pretty good condition for something that has spent a good portion of its 206,000 miles and 23 years away from conventional roads. The rear floodlights (and quite possibly the front floodlights as well) are not hooked up, but that's an easy job, and they're only necessary for off-roading and high-beaming the a-hole behind me (as Lou would do). The interior is a bit utilitarian, but that's exactly what I want. Perfect for getting covered in mud. Just pop off the zebra-print seat covers and throw them in the washing machine. The exposed wiring is a little questionable, but it just makes it easier to work on.

     So the owner (a woman in her mid twenties, if I had to guess) offered to give me a drive around the block to see how she ran. I went to get in the passenger seat, but the door was locked. So she tried to unlock it. No luck. We tried again. No luck. Her boyfriend (his buddy used to own the car) came over and wrestled with the lock a bit. No luck. You can see a pattern forming here. Eventually, we wrestled it open. I'm pretty sure it just needs some WD-40. So the passenger door doesn't unlock, and it also appears that the trunk doesn't lock... I'll put that on top of my list of things to fix.

     We took it around the block, and she seemed to run fine. Upon returning, I told the woman and her boyfriend that I was sold. When it came to the topic of price, the boyfriend and I didn't really know where to go. The woman asked, "Has either one of you ever sold or bought a car before?"
"Aw, this is adorable! I'm just going to stand over here and let you two figure it out"
Not much negotiating was done. Unfortunately, I feel like I'm overpaying a bit. However, they do have another Jeep coming soon that is busted but can be salvaged for parts, which they'll let me have access to for free. And apparently the boyfriend's mother works for NAPA, so they have agreed to get me discounts from them. Even still, it seems a bit high. I've got my copy of the blue book estimated cost, and we'll see if I can talk them down. Worst comes to worst, if I can't talk them down, it's still less that I was planning on spending on a car. Having the ability to go off-road over the weekends will certainly make this summer more exciting, and the cost of fun is probably equivalent to whatever extra amount I pay.

     So that was it. The car was mine, as soon as I could pay for it (damn you, local banks). The woman ran off to get her paperwork while her boyfriend manned the garage sale and Jason and I sat in his car listening to the Red Sox game. Upon returning, we signed some things and made some copies, and at one point, I showed them my license. The woman exclaimed, "O wow! I've never seen a New Jersey drivers license before! It's so cool! Mom, I need to get my Polish drivers license"
"Wait, you're polish? Me too!"
Heh, fancy that. I'm buying a Jeep from a fellow Pole. Her mother and grandmother were there, and we exchanged some words in Polish (mine was rather broken and slightly embarrassing), but suddenly, everyone seemed to trust each other a lot more. It was a pleasant little coincidence.

     I left with a copy of the title and a signed agreement, stating that the car would not disappear on me (like that 190E I was hoping to buy, but was sold right out from under me). On the way back, Jason and I passed a little reminder of home:
Unfortunately, that's a bluer sky than the real Mass. Ave ever sees.

     Now that I think about it, it's a bit ironic that I'm buying a lifted Jeep, seeing as I'm working on zero-emissions cars. As Nick so accurately put it, now that I 'have' a lifted Jeep, I'm going to have to get a lowered Prius to make up for it. I'm not sure if I really want to drive this thing to work every day. Among other things, I'm not sure if the spots are wide enough to park it. Tesla has increased the number of employees and therefore the number of parking spots. However, the parking lot has not changed in size, so the parking spots have just gotten narrower. There seems to be a fundamental problem with this approach. I'm sure they'll realize it soon enough.

     After the whole car bit and a tasty burrito for lunch, I decided to head to San Fransisco for the remainder of the day. This is where the "whole bunch of crazy" mentioned above comes into play. However, it's late, I have work in the morning, and I'm not really in the mood to keep typing at this point, so I'll have to recount my odd experience in SF tomorrow, at which point, I will hopefully be in the possession of a "brand-new" 1988 Jeeeep Cherokee.

     I'm thinking "The Chief" is a good name.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Like my dad always says: it's better to be lucky than smart.

     I don't think it's entirely fair to claim that this week has been unlucky. It's mostly just been my forgetfulness and poor planning. Between missing shuttles and trains, losing my checking card, and forgetting paperwork, it really just comes down to the fact that I don't look things up far enough ahead of time and that I forgot to put my card back in my wallet immediately, for the first time in three years. This stuff happens. However, this afternoon certainly had an aspect of bad luck about it.

     I woke up rather late, seeing as I had nothing I really had to do. I finished off that massive blog entry below (finally), then got my stuff together and went off to the bank. The plan was to go to the bank and get a lot of cash so that I could buy a car tomorrow, and then go to San Fransisco for the day. None of that happened.

     This buying a car thing is currently my number one priority, outside of my job. This state is impossible without one (and quite possibly with one, but I digress). I found an amazing deal on craigslist, but it was a ways away (Concord, about an hours drive north of here), so I couldn't get around to it until the weekend. It was a 1993 Mercedes 190E 2.6 liter with 182,000 miles on it, for $2300. The pictures made it out to be in great shape, and according to the kelly blue book, that car with that mileage in excellent condition is worth $2250. Everything seemed fine. I found the ad on Wednesday night and called the guy on Thursday afternoon. After talking to him for a bit, I learned that the only noticeable issue with the car was an occasional smell when the AC came on. He was looking to sell it because he had a family and the car was too small. He was only the second owner, and the previous one had been a well-off businessman who drove it to and from work, and that's about it. The car had been in California its whole life, so it had never seen real weather. It seemed perfect. After researching the car some more, I learned that they typically last for 300k miles, and that even Mercedes thought it was one of their most over-engineered cars. I have to admit, I kinda fell in love with this car before even seeing it. I was already starting to imagine myself driving to work in a Mercedes every day.

     So I set off to downtown Mountain View today to get some cash. I wanted to write myself a check and cash it at the local Bank of America. Now, I don't actually have a Bank of America account. I have an account with a local bank from New Jersey that only exists in about three counties. Not sure why this seemed like a good idea, when I knew I was going to be going off to study in not-one-of-those-three-counties. So I got to the bank after a half-hour walk, about fifteen minutes before they closed. I got to the counter and asked them if they could cash my check. They asked me for my debit card, I told them I lost it, and they had to look up my social security number. So I told them.

"I'm sorry, nothing seems to be coming up.."

Hmmm... well, I certainly exist and that's definitely my SS number. That's odd.

"Uh... What?"
"Do you have a Bank of America account?"
"O, well then we can't cash this check."
"Seriously? I was under the impression that I could go to any bank with a check and cash it, and if it isn't my own, you'd just charge me a fee."
"No sir, you need to go to your bank and do this"
"But my bank is on the other coast!"

.. Well, now I felt dumb. So, defeated, I voided the check, tore it up, and left the bank. Unsure of how to handle the payment issue, I called the guy who I was going to buy this car from. After letting the phone ring for a while, he finally picked up.. and told me that he had sold the car to his aunt. I was not thrilled. In fact, I'm still angry. So, at this point, my trip into San Fransisco was the only thing I had to look forward to for the rest of the day. However, I was hungry and didn't want to wait until I got into the city to get some food. Being in downtown Mountain View, it seemed convenient to find a place to eat.

     I wandered around on Castro Street for a while, doubling back a few times. On my way to the bank, I had noticed some Greenpeace people heckling others on a corner. Only in California, right? I had ignored them the first time, with my headphones on to drown them out. The second time, though, I had my headphones off and they stopped me. I let it happen, to be honest. After all the crazies on campus, and around NYC and Boston, I've gotten pretty good at giving the cold-shoulder. But I was in no rush, and I was curious how they would approach me. So, I was stopped by a girl named Soul. She had neon blue eye make-up on, a nose piercing, and I'm pretty sure she was wearing colored contacts, because I've never seen eyes that blue. She immediately got into the pitch, and was very good at it. She was actually quite convincing. However, I wasn't buying it, because frankly, I can't stand organizations that are all about "giving the people more power" and "giving everyone a voice". That may work in other countries, but I often feel that Americans are too dumb to handle having their own voice, and it'd be better if they just kept quiet. Case in point: Greenpeace is very anti-nuclear. As an engineer, I realize that nuclear can be very safe and well executed, and I frankly think that more nuclear is a good thing. However, by giving people who associate the word nuclear with bombs and radiation poisoning a voice, we're prevented from having a very good solution to the energy problem.

     Soul tried very hard to convince me. I agreed with her on a number of points, and I do think that a strong effort needs to be made to take environmentally friendly measures. I even brought up the point that I work for Tesla and am very interested in the field of clean energy and transportation. However, I was very obviously not interested in signing up for her mailing list and donating on a monthly basis. I said "no thank you," but that was not enough. After heckling me some more, she pulled the best line I've heard this week.

"I won't back down, because if I back down to you, then I back down to the corporations!"

Really? You think that? This is why everyone thinks you're a bunch of dumb hippies and doesn't take you seriously. First off, the "corporations" that you speak of aren't autonomous monsters that are out to destroy our planet. They're all groups of people, just like you and me, and they aren't out to do intentionally harmful things to the planet. Nobody is out to destroy the planet intentionally. In fact, a lot of corporations are taking initiatives on their own to be "greener". I can't even begin to put into words how angry this made me. But I kept a level head, said no for the fifth time, and walked away. Instead of taking the "O, I agree with you and do green things" approach, I should have just told her "screw renewable energy, I love burning gasoline." Lesson learned.

     After this, I finally found some food. It was a pretty meh chinese place, but they gave me a lot of food (likely laden with lots of MSG) and I ate all of it. I walked home to check the Caltrain schedule and get my sweatshirt, as I anticipated it would be fairly cold in San Fransisco. I got home and noticed I had a fair amount of time until the next train. I wound up laying down, at which point the food-come kicked in quickly and I fell asleep for about three and a half hours. I woke up and decided San Fransisco wasn't happening.

     At this point, Jason had returned home from cherry-picking, and we decided to go get some dinner. He had to do some furniture shopping, so we'd knock out a few birds with one stone. We decided to go to Santana Row to accomplish this task. Incidentally, Tesla just opened a store at Santana Row, so we thought we'd check that out too. We arrived, stopping by the Tesla store first. It turns out it's not very interesting to go to the showroom when you work for the company. What they show you isn't very new or exciting, and even though their new head of marketing is Apple's old head of marketing (and thus the Tesla store is more like an Apple store than a dealership), it's still just standing around looking at a car that I see about twenty of every day.

    After a stop off at Macy's, Jason and I wandered around Santana Row, looking for some food. After crossing paths with some Porsche's and a Lamborghini, and some careful maneuvering through crowds of women in cocktail dresses and men in shirts and ties, we decided that we were too poor to eat at Santana row and went elsewhere for food. This involved a lot of driving, as we found out that everything in the area closes at 9:30 on Saturdays. Great. It's just like Boston, but instead of walking around the corner to find another option, you have to drive for 10 minutes.

     This brings me back to the point of a car. I've found another potential option. It's a 1988 lifted Jeep Cherokee. More specifically, it's this one. It's certainly no Mercedes, but it's $500 cheaper, and the entertainment off-roading will provide cannot have a price put on it. A lot of my friends in Jersey are into Jeepin', as we like to call it, and this will be a fun way to get back into that. It's certainly a bit ironic, seeing as I work on zero-emission vehicles, but hey, I might as well have fun while I can. And from a financial point of view, I'd have to drive 6700 miles before the Jeep would be more expensive than the Mercedes. I'm checking it out in the morning. Who knows? Maybe I'll be the one running over trees by this time next week.

     And maybe I'll try to go into the city tomorrow. Best laid plans of mice and men, right?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

From Logan to San Jose to Tesla, and then some

     So everyone's been doing this blog thing lately. I've been considering it for quite some time now, but I'm always too lazy or too busy to do so. Usually some combination of the two, to be honest. But summer has started and for the first time I can really think of, I have things to write about and time to write about them. Or so I think. You may decide otherwise. In which case, I invite you to read something more interesting.. Like a blog about food or something.

     In any case, I suppose a brief review is in order for you folks from Jersey who might be reading this and haven't heard from me in a year. Junior year at MIT is finally over with, and having spent the last semester perpetually pissed off with the gratuitous amount of busy work my classes were giving me, along with a few of my hall mates, I was kinda anxious to really get away from the 'tvte for the first time since I got there almost three years ago. Luckily, I'm working for Tesla this summer. Unfortunately, that means I'm in California.

     I have firmly sworn to myself that I will not become one of those crazy California lovers who swears that California is the best place in the world. That said, it's certainly not the worst place in the world. I suppose my views on this place will become more apparent as I go. So I'll do just that. Go.

     To be fair, I've been trying to make this post since Monday night. So I've got a bit of a backlog. All of last week, I was attempting to finish up my UROP with the Bioinstrumentation lab, and wound up working about 35 hours on it, along with studying for and taking a final, plus worrying about the rest of my life. I didn't really start packing my room up until Friday afternoon. My flight was Saturday at 4:40 pm. Clearly not a lot of foresight or planning going on here. So, with the help (more specifically, management) of Marie, I spent the next 24 hours packing up the room I've been living in for two years, as well as everything I 'need' in California. After renting a uhaul van to get my large boxes of computer parts and thermofluids notes (about equal in both volume and weight to one another) to the UPS store, and getting a final reminder of why driving in Boston on a Saturday afternoon sucks, I went off to the airport to catch my flight.

     Being a poor college student and all, I got the cheapest flight to San Jose that I could. Which meant flying from Logan to Houston to San Jose. A total of about 10 hours of travel. Joy. At the airport, I saw about four other MIT students whom I recognized. One of them was a friend I had made during my visit to the 'tvte for CPW. I hadn't talked to her much since, but she was on my flight. This was just the first of many events which would make this world seem too goddamn small.

     Anyway, Logan to Houston was pretty great. If you're not aware, I love flying. I was obsessed with airplanes as a kid (despite my fears that one would come crashing through my bedroom window late at night), and the first time I was ever actually in a plane, I was flying it. That, in addition to being an engineer, leads me to believe that I had the best seat in the house on the first leg of my journey: window seat with a perfect view of the engine and the ground below. I felt like a little kid on a roller coaster, waiting to get launched into the air. Despite it being the first gorgeous day in weeks, Logan had a thick layer of fog covering it. So when we took off, I could see the streamlines over the engine and wing illustrated quite well by the thick air. I wish I had a picture. Needless to say, we punched through the fog fairly quickly and went on our merry way. Out of my window, I got my first birds-eye view of MIT, and despite being sick of the place, I already missed it a bit.

     And then I passed out for a few hours. Turns out I hadn't really slept the night before, so I could fall asleep just about anywhere. I woke up over Texas. It's the wrong color. Too much green, not enough desert color. That's about all there is to say about that place. That, and the Houston airport sucks. Absolutely no wifi. They did have a Jamba Juice though, which I promptly indulged in for the first time. It's got some serious addiction potential. So I put off starting this blog until I had some wifi, and stood in line waiting to board instead.

     I had reserved another window seat for this flight. Again, like a kid on a roller coaster, I had the "let's go again!" mentality while boarding, only to find that a Vietnamese woman had taken my seat. She was polite and asked (via hand gestures and broken English) if she could please sit there. I let her have the seat, and figured I'd still get to gaze out the window from one seat in. I was wrong. This woman sat there with the freaking shade closed the whole time. From take off to landing. I was so pissed. Why would you take the window seat from me if you're not even going to look out the window?? Seriously, what the hell? So instead, I read a bit of James May's "Magnificent Machines" and listened to some music while occasionally entertaining the incredibly polite old Texan woman next to me with small talk. The only real highlight of this flight (my window gazing having been unjustly taken from me) was the DirectTV. Not that I was willing to dish out $7 to watch crappy television. It was more that while listening to Chrome, I looked up to see someone in first class watching a documentary of sorts about FIRST. It made me pretty nostalgic for a second.

     So I finally arrived in San Jose and called Jason, who has been kind enough to give me a place to crash while I find actual housing. He picked me up, and my first question was, "Where's the nearest In-N-Out?" So we went to In-N-Out (which, incidentally, is actually worth all the hype). At this point, California seemed a lot like New Jersey. Lots of highways, suburban sprawl, and fast food. What's more, I walked into In-N-Out and was convinced that I saw Yazan, a fellow MIT student an Tesla intern. Turns out that it was him. Could this world get any smaller? Yes. It can.

     We arrived at Jason's place, where I expected to crash on a couch/floor. Imagine my surprise when I found out that he lives with his brother in a 3 bed, 3 bath condo-type-thing. It's worth mentioning that Jason is awesome for accommodating me on such short notice. So I passed out and decided to spend the next day exploring the area.

     And so I did. Kinda. Turns out that getting around California without a car is a pain in the ass. It's one of my bigger qualms about this place. Though I suppose it's true for a lot of places. Jason lives about 25 minutes from the Mountain View Caltrain station, by foot. This involves walking to a nice little "trail" (I'll have you know that California is the only state that would call a nicely paved sidewalk in between the trees behind some houses a "trail). The neighborhood is nothing overwhelming: quiet, reasonably sized houses of varying styles with cookie-cutter-condos interjected at various intervals. However, I noticed a trend in the vehicles parked on the street and in driveways. Everyone seems to own both a massive pick-up truck, BMW, or an old-school Porsche, AND a Prius. It's kinda like when we used to exercise and go to McDonald's afterwards to negate any positive effects. I even saw a 1960's pick-up with a bumper-sticker reading "I'd rather be driving an EV". It's either one extreme or the other, I suppose. California is similar to the Prius in that sense: it's not inherently bad, but I still think it's really dumb.

     So after walking through the neighborhood, I finally get to the "trail" entrance. How pleasant. A little playground.
Wait, what's that behind it?

O, just a diesel generator

And some high tension power lines without a fence around them

And a sketchy tunnel under the highway, perfect for kidnapping.

It's worth mentioning that it's a pretty safe neighborhood, but still.. I walked out into the playground the other day and saw a bunch of tattooed teenagers smoking what must have been "medicinal" marijuana on the park bench. I guess if everything gives you cancer in California, they probably needed it...

Come on California. Look at yourself.

So the walk continues. Eventually you get to a foot bridge over yet another highway. And next to some more transmission lines.

And then another California moment. A bicycle speed limit sign. Protip: if you can ride a bicycle, you should be able to tell if you're going too fast.
Am I the only one who thinks this is dumb?

     Back to the story (or the vague semblance of one). So I made this walk and took Caltrain over to Palo Alto, since there was apparently a Maker Faire and my friend Paul (who I worked with on EVT two summers ago and incidentally got me the connection at Tesla last summer) works on the Stanford solar car team, which was supposedly there. So I got off the train and walked to Stanford. I've never seen so much wasted space. Their driveway is literally a mile long. It's ridiculous. So I attempted to call Paul and got no response. I wandered around campus looking for the Maker Faire (had I done my research I would have known that it wasn't there), and after two hours of finding nothing worth mentioning (well, except that the squirrels are the wrong color. They should be gray, not black. Somebody forgot to tell California this), I gave Jon (a bitter old Beast cruft now studying at Stanford) a call. He greeted me with a handshake and a beer. After questioning his decision to give me a beer in such a public place, he informed me of the open-container policy at Stanford. Apparently it's perfectly acceptable. A ten-year old could walk around with a handle of Jack Daniels and nobody would question it. That's cool, I guess.

     We grabbed a bite to eat at some Mexican-ish place and talked for a while. I caught the Caltrain back to Mountain View and called it a day. Work started early the next day.

     Monday was when things got way more interesting than I would have liked. Having to be at work at 8:30, I got up about two hours beforehand to shower, get to Caltrain, and take the shuttle to Tesla. After showering, I discovered that I had misinterpreted the shuttle schedule, and in order to get to work on time, I had to leave half an hour earlier. So I made the 25 minute walk in 10, only to find out that the train was 15 minutes late. So I went to buy a ticket, opening my wallet to realize that I did not have my checking card: I must have left it at the Mexican-ish place, possibly throwing it out by mistake. I also realized that in my rush to get to the station, I had forgotten all of the documents that I needed on my first day. It was too late to go back at that point.

     The train finally arrived, I took it over to Palo Alto, and attempted to find the shuttle to Deer Creek/Tesla. Turns out that it only waits 5 minutes, even if there's no train to provide passengers. Luckily, while near another bus and frantically trying to figure out how to make the 20 minute drive, I overheard a woman mention that she needed to get to VMWare: conveniently located across the street from Tesla. Glad I looked on Google Earth prior to making my trip. So I asked this woman for help, and she basically let me tag along with her while she found a shuttle I had never heard of before. She also gave me the schedule for said shuttle. If only I had caught her name. If it weren't for her, I would have been an hour late on my first day.

     So the first day was interesting, to say the least. I won't bother describing Tesla as a company at this point. Prior to lunch, however, all the new hires got rides in the Tesla Roadster. This was actually my second time in one, so the effects were not as pronounced, but it's certainly a fun ride. While waiting for my turn, however, I was chatting with a Bay Area local who goes to UC Berkley. First, he mentioned how "cold" it was that day. HA. Cold does not mean the same thing in California as it does in Boston, apparently. And then he mentioned how terrible the road quality is in the Bay Area. I don't think these people have seen a real pothole in their lives. They pretty much all look like this one:
 Or this one:
Geez, what terrible roads. I don't know how people don't constantly crash their Prii into trees after driving through those massive ruts in the road. Maybe they just drive their lifted trucks instead, so they just run over the trees.

     So after sitting through an entire day of presentations, I finally went home, cancelled my checking card, and sat on my ass for the rest of the evening. It's nice finally having the ability to do that. The sitting on my ass and doing nothing part, I mean. The next few days were fairly uneventful. I mostly just ran into people from MIT (including certain unipunts) on various forms of public transit and got very annoyed by the fact that between going to work and eating dinner, I'd spend about two hours a day walking to and from downtown Mountain View, and about an hour and a half on public transit. Since then, my commute has come down to 45 minutes from doorstep to office (as Tesla operates a free shuttle from Mountain View), rather than 65 minutes. Still, it's only an 18 minute drive if I had a car.

     This whole transportation thing really came to a head when I decided to finally get some cash on Wednesday. This involved going to Walmart and buying something with my credit card so I could do that whole cash-back thing at the register. So I went, making the 25 minute walk to Caltrain, taking the train for 5 minutes to San Antonio, and walking 10 minutes to Walmart (in all, a 10 minute drive). Next to Walmart, I found this place:
... 'Nuff said.

So I bought a flashlight at Walmart, got my cash-back, and went to look for some food. Amongst all the cars in the parking lot, I stumbled across this guy:
Probably stuck out because it only had six characters, and not the seven which California plates have. I wonder what the chances are that some MIT student drove their Saturn across the country for the summer. It wouldn't surprise me, considering I've already run into so many MIT kids while just going about my day.
     I went on, got some food, and proceeded walked back to the Caltrain station. Upon arrival, I noticed that I had missed the train by about two minutes. And the next one wasn't coming for another hour. So my return time went from forty minutes to an hour an forty minutes. I suppose I could have just made the seventy minute walk back instead, and it would have worked out better. But it would have sucked. Just like public transit in the Bay Area. So instead, I started dicking around with my second-hand point-and-shoot camera. This pretty much sums up the excitement of waiting for an hour on an empty platform:
Exciting, I know.

     Finally, the train arrived, I rode it for five minutes, and then got off and watched it go.
I walked home in the dark, utilizing my new flashlight for fun as I wandered through the woods. It was probably a good decision to buy a flashlight, for as I was walking through the woods, I pointed it off the path and noticed a a bushy black animal running off with its tail raised. Note to self: there are skunks in this neighborhood. That flashlight saved me from a very smelly week.

     Thursday evening, Jason invited me over to the Google headquarters for dinner and a short tour. Maybe I should have been a software engineer. The Google campus is fairly large, with random dinosaur skeletons, busts of famous ocean explorers, and other random artwork/nonsense. The thing of interest at the time was Google's many "cafes". Apparently there are twenty-two of them which serve lunch every day of the week, and six of them which serve breakfast, and six for dinner. All free of charge to Google employees and their guests. And they serve real food. One of the lunch menus even had a lamb dish on it. Tesla's free cereal and coffee has nothing on Google. And then there's where the actual work happens. The office buildings feel a lot CSAIL at MIT. There's a lot of color, and everywhere you look, there are odd toys, giant Google Earth 300 degree viewers, photographs of world leaders giving talks at Google, and so on. Seems like a fun place to work. And the hours a pretty flexible. Maybe I should reconsider my career in MechE... Nahhh.

     At last, my week came to a close, having spent most of it at work, learning the ins-and-outs of the lab I'm working in. I started off the three day weekend by grabbing food with some Beast people who are in the area this summer and wanking about how dumb our hall has become, and how California can't govern itself in a reasonable way if the fate of world depended on it. Now I've got the next three days to go to San Fransisco, buy a Mercedes, and who knows, maybe I'll drive down and meet Eddie at an In-N-Out somewhere between San Fransisco and LA. Hopefully then I'll actually have something to write about.