Friday, September 29, 2006

Pictures for Minka

The following are a few pics from my Iceland "trip" that I'm sharing because (1) Minka is blogging from Iceland and (2) all Icelandic people are COOL!

This pic is of a lonely cottage in (what appeared to me to be) the middle of nowhere.

Like everyone else in the country, I stayed in Reykjavic.

This pic was actually sent to me. I was there in November and December (2001). This is a picture of the "midnight sun" the following summer.

I was in Iceland to help TAL improve their mobile phone system. This remote outpost is a cellular basestation on top of a moutain overlooking.... more mountains.

The drive to get up to this point was SCAREY!

Case in point... here was the view as we took what I thought would be my last drive anywhere. The camera doesn't do justice to what it feels like to drive up this kind of slope!

But we were in a VERY cool truck. Small by local standards, but something any red-blooded man (or cool woman) would be proud to drive elsewhere.

Iceland uses a lot of geothermal energy! For example, the steam plant (left) is not only the source of the electricity for the lights in the bathroom (right) but also the hot water. This hot water is used to bathe, heats the famous public pools, heats the homes in Rekyavic, and then the still warm water is (in places) used to stop steep slopes and curves on some roadways from freezing!

Still, with all the beauty in this country, I couldn't get over the sites in the city. My favourite way to spend Saturday nights there was in a club called Astro!!! (Guess why.)

I miss Iceland. ;-)

An email to Adam

I write a lot... if you count all the emails I send. Today I'm feeling a bit lazy, so my Blog post is an excerpt from an email to a buddy of mine. I normally prefer to keep my public persona more humble than my actual, but this is relevant to diving so here it is....

Hi Adam!

Cool to hear from your yesterday. Sorry i couldn't talk. I was in the middle of writing EIGHT exams for my PADI Divemaster course. One was an 85%, five 90%'s, and two perfects. Not bad since I barely had time for anything beyond reading the manuals once. Heck, on one exam I had to answer 5 dive planning questions using "The Wheel" (instead of the tables). The shop didn't HAVE a wheel. I got 2 out of 5 correct. :-) Just by guessing at the values and interpolating numbers from the tables.

Last Sunday I spent 4 hours in the pool performing various feats of wonderful diving demonstrations. To be a DM they basically put you through the instructor's exam. You have to demonstrate every one of the 20 skills taught in the Open Water class... but not just in a way that shows you can do them. Instead you have to do "demonstration quality" skills as if you were showing a student how to do them. For example, you do each skill slowly and point to the individual parts that make up the whole... exaggerating the movements, and "smiling" while you do them. I was dreading the 400m swim and the 800m snorkel. They're timed. But I got those done. It was the "equipment exchange" that almost drowned me!

The last test was to go to the bottom of the pool with a buddy, and take off every piece of gear (except bathing suit) while exchanging it all with your buddy and putting every piece of his gear back on. Not hard eh? Except you have to buddy breath off a single reg while doing it! Breath breath, fin off, breath breath, pass fin, breath breath, put fin on foot, breath breath, tighten fin strap, etc.. And there's a five minute time limit. So you can't breath breath, rest, breath breath take fin off, breath breath, rest. When clearing the mask I used my entire lungfull of air and had to wait a while to get more. It was only a few seconds, but I started to get involuntary breathing reflexes and had to hold my hand over my mouth while my chest spasmed for air (which I didn't have). Apparently my eyes went REALLY BIG at that point. By the time we got done (on the first try!) I was ready to collapse. I had a lot of water to choke up.

Tomorrow I do a resuce simulation, a timed tired-diver tow, and a small mapping exercise. No big deals there, we just didn't have time for them Sunday.

And when that's done, all that's left is paperwork! I'll be fully done my DM training and within weeks (sending the paperwork and upgrading my liability insurance) I'll be a certified diving professional!!!!

Cool huh?

Any way, to answer your question I'll be back in Amsterdam in about 16 days. Next Friday is my last day of work. Then I think I'll be diving (just for fun) on Saturday and driving to Niagara on Sunday. I'll spend 5-7 days with my folks (they miss me) then I'll hop a flight to Atlanta and another to Amsterdam. Those last flights are "booked" but I have to change the dates to fit my schedule. So I don't have exact departure details yet.

Any chance you can give me a ride from the airport???

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I still shouldn't be here

I'm still in a training course, and I still shouldn't be typing this blog while the instructor tries valiantly to make the material less boring. But I have wireless Internet access and simply cannot keep reading other people's blogs without adding to my own.

It's been a darn boring time at work, but the time outside of work has been relatively enlightening. For example, I'm working this week with two old friends. There isn't time for us to share during work, but there's plenty of time over beer in the evenings. Very cool. And as I say, enlightening.

You see, for years I've listened to some really great stories from these guys. Really great stories. And last night I finally got to meet one of the main stars / co-conspirators of a number of these stories. Wayne just happened to be in the same town at the same time as Mike and Joby and I thought I was going to see a re-enactment of crazy and wild times. Three frat brothers loose on the town, and me to watch the chaos.

What I got were stories. And that's when I realized it. Of course the stories are so darn good... they've been told and spun and rehearsed billions of times!

So I've discovered that my friends are not necessarily the wild and crazy guys they might once have been. But hey, at least they're good story tellers. And that is a worthy skill.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I shouldn't be here right now.

I shouldn't be here right now. This is very disrespectful to the guy who's currently teaching the training course I'm sitting in on!

My personal intro says it. They make me work during the day, so I dive at night. "They" made me work all day yesterday (and without Internet connectivity!) and I did dive last night. So I haven't had time to blog. Today I'm also working, and still don't have time to blog. But "work" is a training course. A training course I could just as well be teaching as sitting in on. (Truly, the instructor was surprised to see me here.) But I figured it was worth attending.

I may have been wrong.

Thankfully there's Internet access from this training room! As the title says, I should not be using this access right now. But hey, I've got less than two weeks of work left... who could resist?!?

So I shouldn't be blogging. And really, I have nothing to blog about (yet) today. But sometimes it's just fun to go places you shouldn't be, and do things you shouldn't do.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Today is a milestone... two weeks to go!

Today feels like a milestone. It marks the day where I have exactly two weeks left of a contract that has lasted months, and a series of contracts that has kept me away from home for nearly half a year. 6 months is a long time to be away!

Normally two weeks isn't a special milestone. But for the next two weeks I'm training my replacement. My replacement, an old friend and long time associate, arrives Sunday evening. This means that any and all work assigned from now on is technically his to do. My job will be to guide that work... but it's on-the-job training from here. No more work for me.

That's a really good thing since I have lots to do and wrap up just in terms of my own life. I've got scuba diving, of which I want to get as much in while I still can. But I also have to finish up the requirements for my Divemaster course. That means an entire day of skills exercises in the pool and writing five exams in the next two weeks. Oh, and the paperwork! Lots of paperwork.

While I'm doing that I need to plan my return trip home. It's going to be a multi-leg journey, driving from Boston to Montreal to Niagara Falls, then flying down to Atlanta to catch my flight through London to Amsterdam. Two days of driving and 3 days of airports and flights. Ouch!

But through this whole experience I must also keep looking for work!!! I've sent some applications, but have many more to do. And job hunting (aka "finding the next gig") is always a bit of stress and worry.

Yet right now I feel no stress, no worry. It's the last day when I have to helm the work ship alone. Soon the new skipper will be here to take over. I'll help a bit with navigation, review the ship's logs, and add advice. But I won't really be working.

In addition, the next three weeks will be packed full of visiting family and friends at every step of the way. Some old friends, some new friends from earlier in this trip. But all of them people I care about and am looking forward to seeing again.

Today is a milestone because from here on my "work" involves only those things I care most about. Friends, family, travelling home, and a few scuba dives at night. What more could I ask from a milestone?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I-Dive-At-Night dove last night

Given the login name I chose (IDiveAtNight) I think perhaps it's appropriate to mention that I dove last night. And it was incredible!

Dive number 74, night dive number 10, occurred last night at Back Beach in Rockport MA. As always, it was spectacular! The wind was calm, the surge was gentle and predictable, all the critters were out doing their nocturnal critter things, and upon surfacing the sky was painted in stars.

In diving, a good night dive is as close to zen as it gets. Your whole world becomes focused at the end of your flashlight beam. It feels so natural to just focus on the minute details directly in front of you, as the rest of the world fades into murky darkness. Spotting your buddy is as easy as glancing over your shoulder. If the light he's holding is stead and calm, then so is he. No need to stop and try to make impossible eye contact. He's deep (pardon the pun) in his own thoughts and world.

Spot a lobster in your light and it immediately turns to face you... claws towards the unknown threat. Some fish, the predators, will take advantage of your dive light and use it to grab a passing fry they wouldn't otherwise have seen. Others, like rays, just seem to know they're beautiful and so they fly their graceful dance for you not to flee, but just because they can. And squid. I have no idea where squid go during the day, but at night they come out and are mesmerized by your light. Show they your illuminated hand and they dart away in inky terror. But just show them the light and they can't do anything more than stare at it. Their fins wave gently along their length while they slowly approach the source of the enchanting light.

In addition to the night life, there was human life. Numbering two, my dive buddy (Nick) and I. Normally I go out in larger groups. All my night trips to Back Beach thus far have been with more advanced divers... instructors... and usually students too. There is an element of working... minding the students... and following... the lead of the instructor who picks the route and the sights we'll see.

Last night, however, I was the lead. Called up mid-afternoon to serve as divemaster to a well trained and experienced diver. For a full hour I let the surge of the ocean (and to some extent my compass) guide us out and around the opening of the small bay. I checked on Nick from time to time to see he had the same air supply I did, and thus we were in no rush to rise and take our leave or take our bearings. 61 minutes into the adventure I brought us up in four feet of water, dead on the point we had entered the hour before.

And there we were greeted by all the stars of the universe. As we laid back and stared upwards stars revealed themselves in a way that headlight drenched eyes are never permitted to see. The town of Rockport shimmered across the bay and for one brief hour, everything in the world was perfect.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

So close, and yet so far...

To my friends in Amsterdam,

Wow, it's September 20th! I'm outa here on or around October 7th... so in 18 days or less I'm on my way home!!!

Trouble is, I'm starting to loose it. Motivation, health, etc. are all dropping like rocks right now. I feel like I haven't had a proper night's sleep in weeks or months. My knee aches, my shoulder hurts, I have sore muscles in my legs and back and neck....

I'm getting a bit of work done these days. I have to wrap up and report on all the computer simulations I've run over the previous weeks. And that is actually happening. But I still have 4+ hours a day in the office of nothing... just surfing the internet, sending emails, and day dreaming about being elsewhere.

What's worse though is I suddenly find my head filled with all kinds of worries! How am I going to get all my extra luggage home? What's it going to be like to go back to a tiny washing machine and no clothes drier? What on earth am I going to do for work when I get back to Holland? Will my last couple of paycheques build the savings I need to live for the next few months? It just keeps building and building until I have no motivation for anything!

I've also spent the last 3-4 nights in a row just sitting in my hotel. I have all kinds of time for going to the gym, doing groceries, going out... but instead I sit about complaining to myself that there's nothing on TV... and drinking beer when I should be exercising and/or studying.


I'm depressed.

I hope you guys are doing really well when I get back, because I'm going to need a happy smiling welcome home! I've still got so much to do between now and then (12 hour drive, shipping extra luggage, 3 flights over 2 days, finishing all my scuba tests and exams) that I'm going to be wiped out by the time I get there.

But there's good stuff coming up!

Mike will be here (right here at this desk) in 5 days. It'll be fun to spend my last two weeks in town with him. I have to share all I've learned about the local ammenities so he can pick up and start a life here more quickly than I did. By then my work should be wrapped up, and our old friend Joby will be here for a bit of that too. So lots of craziness is guaranteed!

My mom's been depressed lately and talking to her is probably rubbing off on me. But she'll be in great spirits for the week or so I'm visiting. And my dad and I have lots of scuba plans to make together... that'll be really cool too!

In 2-1/2 weeks my expenses stop!!! I'll be staying with family and friends from then onwards. :-) It'll be tempting to spend that "savings" on more scuba gear, but I'll try to resist.

When I think of Amsterdam my mind wanders to all kinds of things. Mostly I'm looking forward to seeing you guys. I picture us in a cafe or at the Joker, trading stories and laughing about silly things. I hope any way! I also look forward to walking a lot, to seeing my desk-belly quickly disappearing, and to cleaning the whole appartment of the 6 months of dust Rogier will have let build up.

I'm going to see if I can cut my smoking in half, with the hopes of quitting soon. And Adam, are you interested in joining the diving club in the Hague on their weekly Sunday outings? All year long they go for 2-tank dives somewhere local. I really want to join up with them... unless I can find a PADI shop that actually needs me to "work" for them on weekend dives.

But the closer I get the farther away it all seems. There's so much I have to do to find a dive shop that can use me... for example. And the lack of work looks like a big huge moutain standing in front of me. It was way off in the distance, but as I approach it now, the ground is getting steeper and the progress seems less and less each day.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Sweet Anticipation

I feel like it's Christmas Eve, and I'm 8 years old again. This time, however, I'm hoping for no surprises, as I placed the order myself and don't want to find out "Santa" made any errors.

I'm waiting for a package I ordered yesterday with a mess load of super cool (and pretty darn expensive) scuba diving gear. And when it gets here I'm sure I'll have a great time getting to know it and then taking it on hundreds of dives. But right now, I have only the sweet anticipation of something I've been looking forward to.

For as long as I don't have a choice I'm going to enjoy the anticipation! Often it turns out to be the best part. And I don't want to miss any of it.

Our imagination, when used correctly, is capable of focus such that there is no wrong, there are no problems.

Of course when left to itself, imagination can see all the missing parts, the late arrivals, the bad weather cancelling the weekend. I've got 20 hours of anticipation left so I don't want to leave my imagination to itself!

I think my time is better spent focussing on the positive. And studying the owner's manuals I've already downloaded and printed. Tomorrow when I arrive home, there'll be a package waiting, holding objects I've dreamed for months and months about owning. I'm going to enjoy it so much!

Ah, the sweet anticipation.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

What's the Big Deal with Infinity?

While in the process of grabbing a coffee (one of the mundane acts that breaks up the slow passage of my day) I overheard a conversation between two coworkers. One was reading a science magazine while the other was also preparing a beverage.

Coworker1: "Carol, have you ever thought about the universe?"
Carol: "What about it?"
Coworker1: "How can it be infinite? What's infinite?"
Carol: "I don't know, it just is."
Coworker1: "But it has to end somewhere. It can't keep going on forever. Why do 'they' keep saying the universe is infinite?"

I was actually a little shocked by the banter. What's not to understand about infinite??? What's the big deal with infinity?

Just to be a smart-ass I added in," You're reading about just one universe? What about the polyverse made up of an infinite number of universes?"

That didn't help Coworker1 very much.

But seriously, what's so hard to understand about the concept of "No matter how far you go, you can go further."

The universe (if you believe in just one) has been expanding for a finite amount of time since the Big Bang... or so the theory goes. But whatever it is expanding INTO clearly must be infitite; a nothingness that extends beyond the material as matter expands into it. Beyond the farthest reaches of matter there is light and energy travelling infront of it. Right at the limits of the farthest reaches of light and energy, there is a void that the light and energy are about to reach. And beyond that, further void about to be filled with light, energy and matter, but still unreached.

Why does the human mind want to wrap empty void in a limit? Why are we expecting to find a wall or barrier at the end?

I really fail the grasp the problem in failing to grasp infinity. However far you choose to count, you can count further. And instead of counting numbers, you can add them, or multiply them, or take one as the power to another and keep going ever further. Why would there be a limit? What aspect of our being demands limits?

Even more interesting (to me) is the question of whether this need for the finite is a human characteristic or the result of cultural or educational bias. A Taoist has no trouble describing the search for the void. Total emptiness. I would bet that a true zen master has no problems with concepts of the infinite, as they spend so much time considering the nothingnes.

And this leads me to thoughts about capitalism and its requirement for perpetual growth and progress. When did people begin to accept the idea of an infitely expanding economy but reject the idea of an infinite universe?

Economics is all based upon resources, which (for a single planet) are clearly finite. Even as each and every resource is known to be dwindling, the economy depends ever increasing production in order to move forward.

How did we get so confused about ideas concerning what ends, and what never ends? And why are these contradictions not more apparent to more people?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

My First Video!

Wow, I'm going 21st century all over the place! I've now not only got a Blog, but also a video on YouTube.

What's next, an iPod and a PDA???

As for the video, my friend Amina came to visit Europe last summer. We explored Amsterdam and a bit of Paris. These are some snippets made with my digital camera. The dancing is cool, but it's the way the sounds "flow" that I liked and which inspired piecing these together.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Try Something Different

I always recommend doing something different, just for the sake of trying new things. Today, for me, that was running a Dive Shop.

After a late day at work (real work, aka the day job) I had a boring evening (laundry and early to bed) and woke up early this morning expecting to go scuba diving. I've been working weekends as a divemaster-in-training for a local scuba shop. Expecting to meet up with the instructor and students, I instead found out the instructor wasn't showing. The only qualified instructor available was the shop owner, who normally spends weekends minding the store.

So I quite suddenly found myself running the shop when instead I had expected to be underwater. If you've read the posts below, you know I love being underwater. But I have to say, I had a blast running the shop today instead!

It was actually a bit scarey, and a bit like being a kid in a candy store. I didn't have a clue how the credit card machine worked, what parts were and were not in stock, or what anything cost. Scarey! But I greeted each customer at the door and they looked to me for infomation and advice. Candy store!

Somehow I rang up a few sales (some wrong, oh well) and filled a lot of tanks so that others could get out and enjoy being underwater. :-) Compared to the desk I usually sit behind, running the dive shop was a great experience! There was something really special about facilitating and helping others to do something you also love. But best of all, without warning or preparation, I found myself doing something completely different. And that was the best part.

Doing something different, whether by chance or by choice, is always a great thing. If Chance hasn't thrown you such an opportunity lately, don't be afraid to make a choice and just try something for the sake of it.


p.s. The photos shows are from Adventures in Diving in Duluth GA, the shop I was working was Atlantic Divers in Danvers MA.
p.p.s. Photos used compliments of Lies (my favourite dive buddy).

Friday, September 08, 2006

I Am Analog

I couldn't say it better myself. And now that I'm blogging I think it's something I'll have to work to remember. Thanks Yasmina for posting this photo with such an obvious but necessary to remember comment!

I am analog, although after a long day on computers, listening to MP3s, and talking on digital cellular it's difficult to figure out where the digital realm and analog reality separate.

Deep down on the pit of my stomach, as the rollercoaster picks up speed down the steep slope... that's analog. But so is all the rest of it. Or at least it should be. The pains in my shoulder, knee, and back are analog. But they are all due to too much time infront of digital equipment.

We should all be so lucky to have clothing that reminds us from time to time, we are analog.

Scuba Diving - Flying underwater

Enough philosophy! Let me tell you about what I think is the best part of scuba diving.

Did you ever dream you could fly? That you were able to just float upwards and hover? I think we all have. When I was young I had a series of bad fevers, and as a result I had flying dreams while awake. At a time I should have been at my lowest, I loved the 'knowledge' that my body was completely weightless and that only the sheets of my bed were stopping me from floating away.

When I grew older (I'll never grow up) I flew airplanes, tried skydiving, repelling, rockclimbing and other fun psuedo-flying experiences. But none of them ever fully compared to my hallucinations (or enlightenments) of being completely weightless and able to fly of my own accord. Until diving....

Once you get a certain minimum of skills as a diver, you can move yourself through the water without active thought. Straight out from your initial certification it's all thinking. Every move is carefully executed and often incorrectly. But once you've got it... you fly.

Scuba divers aim to remain weightless underwater. Gear including your weight belt and buoyancy control device (a vest or harness that also holds the tank) allows you to adjust your total weight to match that of the water you're displacing. The result, neutral buoyancy. Total weightlessness. From this point the zen experience begins.

Once weightless underwater, the air in your lungs is your dominant control for your position. Breath in a little deeper and you ascend. Blow out a little extra and you sink. It's real flying! Total control of your position in space, simply because of the way your breath.

Needless to say, it takes some time. New divers tend to breath hard and heavy. The experience has frightening aspects of claustrophobia, the unknown, cold, darkness, etc.. But once those aspects become normal, and proper weighting and buoyancy are habit, then barely more than a desire to rise makes it happen slowly and gracefully.

I love being underwater. I like the colours, and the fish, and exploring, and the whole community of cool people who are attracted to diving. But most of all, I've known my whole life what it was like to be able to fly... that I could fly. And now, I've finally found out how. The hallucinations, merely prognostications of how I would feel when I finally learned how to fly.

(Image by Andrea Stanley of

Fate? Free Will? Devine Guidance? The Basics of Zen Navigation

Do you believe in fate or free will? Is what happens to you the consequence of the choices you've made, blind dumb luck, or fate? We've all be introduced to these ideas, and have all made opinions from time to time. Some ideas we hold dear and true, others we reject.

I believe in the idea of Zen Navigation. It's neither fate nor free will, but a wonderful glorious combination that I think is truer to the way the Universe actually works.

Some paths in life are like forks in the road, while others only appear to be. Some choices we make bring us to all new places we would never otherwise be, and some bring us to places it seems we end up at no matter what we've otherwise chosen. The trick is to recognize those!

Coincidences are some times just coincidences. However often they are not.

Free will allows us to ignore opportunities. After all, 0ur world is so full of distractions. There are so many false objectives in life. So many things you think you want, and try so hard to work towards. And opportunities can be so subtle.

Zen Navigation is the process of recognizing these turns in the road that are the path better taken. The challenge is that free will allows us to ignore these suggestions offered by fate.

Open yourself to the idea of fateful coincidence. Practice recognizing opportunity as handed to you by the Universe. Soon you'll actually become good at recognizing forks in the road that lead to truly new paths. Each choice you make brings you closer to a new and better you. Provided you don't try to fight against the influence of fate but instead choose to flow with it.

Open your eyes, and you find the Universe will provide.

(More, much more, on zen naviation later.)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Is This Balance?

I believe firmly and whole-heartedly in balance in all things. I view my own life as a constant journey to achieve personal balance.

But is balance possible in a binary format? Does 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 1 balance to the mathematical average of half, or is it a repetative bouncing between extremes?

My work is not balanced. After three months of (admittedly restful) unemployment I've spent nearly 6 months travelling as a consultant. The work has been either week after week of 70+ hours and 7 day work weeks, or week upon week of sitting with nothing to do but to look busy. Months of one followed by months of the other is an example of bouncing between extremes and in no way leaves the soul with the happiness delivered by balance.

How much time does such activity take from ones lifespan? Shouldn't there be an internet page that tells you this? You can look up how much shorter your life will be from smoking, being obese, or living below the poverty line. Your doctor can listen to your heart and tell you your physical (rather than calender) age. Shouldn't there be a way to rate how many years you'll loose based upon how much you hate your job?

In my case I can tell you how many pounds of weight I've gained this year, or how much my fitness has dropped. But why do we have to wait? Employers should have resources that allow them to calculate employee happiness before the signs are apparent to all.

Could you imagine the conversation that starts with," Sorry John, this job is killing you so we've decided to give you a generous severnce then let you go." Or," Congratulations Mary, you weren't the most qualified candidate but you really love the work and it suits you well."

How great would that be? How much happier would society be if things went that way?

Come to think of it, why the hell isn't there a measure for how happy society is?!?!? Don't tell me the damn GDP and the unemployment rates; tell me that this year people were 3% happier!

The person who invents the way to measure "average happiness" (via the joy-scope, smile quotient, hapilyzer or something similar) and uses it to tell me which politician is doing the best job or which product will actually improve my life... that person is going to be the richest (and likely the happiest) of all of us!

But I'm off track. Happiness comes of its own accord when all things are in balance. So perhaps the signs of stress are indeed sufficient. Perhaps it's enough to know you hate your job and that you're striving to find a better one. Or to know that your waist is growing and thus eating should be done less and moving should be done more.

Maybe bouncing between the extremes is balance. Is it? Truly what would be the point to maintain a constant and unchanging flow? Is not a lack of change simply a form of death?

Hmmmm, perhaps the personal weblog is the device that allows the introspective measure of individual happiness... with the whole of blogspace forming the measure for society.

Or perhaps I'm just so bored at work I'm spouting shit.

(Welcome to my new Blog!)