Archive | June, 2006
June 30, 2006

What’s so great about dumb ol’ Houston?

Enron building

I finally uploaded my Houston photos. As I said in my previous post, I had a really great time there. I flew in late Tuesday night and had work-related stuff on Wednesday and Thursday, so I didn’t see much except for the hotel conference room during those two days. I have a friend from LSE (Alicia) who lives in Houston, so I decided to take Friday off in order to stay there until Sunday and check out some of the city sights. I had never been to Houston before, and was bored out of my freakin’ mind in DC, so figured a change of scenery would be good.

On Friday, I hopped the bus to downtown Houston (yes, Houston does have public transportation) and then switched to the light rail and headed down to the natural science museum. I figured the science museum in Houston would have a sweet energy exhibit, and, of course, I was correct. The sponsor’s wall read like a “who’s who” of the oil & gas industry, and the introductory video was a hilarious cartoon composed of various music videos about each fossil fuel. My favorite exhibit was the “Global Oil Fields Information Center”, a HUGE screen on which you could zoom in on oil & gas fields all over the world. It was like a giant version of Google Earth…on crack.

After the museum, I decided to head back downtown and check out this weird underground tunnel system that Katerina told me about. You ever wonder why you don’t see many people walking around outside in Houston? It’s because they are all underground. A majority of the downtown office buildings are connected by underground tunnels, and in this underground tunnel system there are various shops, restaurants, banks, barbers…just about, well, anything you would find above ground. There are maps posted on the walls showing you the various “routes” you can take. The tunnel system is color-coded…it’s like a metro, but without the train. Totally bizarre. Aimlessly wandering around this tunnel system made me pretty hungry, so I stopped at Whataburger, a fast-food place that you can only find in the Southern and Southwestern U.S. It was decent – better than McDonald’s, but nowhere near the quality of In-N-Out.

After lunch I wandered around the tunnel system a bit longer, and must have looked completely lost, as a guy came up to me and said so. He advised me to stay on the tunnel loop, which connects all the tunnels. I finally decided I had enough of this bizarre underground world and finally surfaced in the Hyatt Regency.

Enron building
Future Enron building! (Or, was supposed to be anyways)

Alicia and I were planning on seeing an Astros game that night, so I headed over to Enron Field…er…Minute Maid Park a few hours early to check out the stadium. I somehow ended up with a free ticket because this random guy was handing out his extra season tix, so I went in early to watch the Royals take batting practice until it was time to meet up with Alicia and her friends. This is definitely the only stadium I’ve been to where you can watch the price of crude oil rise while you enjoy a beer, hotdog, and some baseball:

Minute Maid Park
Hard to see, but those are the prices for natural gas, crude…and some other energy commodities

Minute Maid Park outfield hill
There is a hill and pole in the outfield…I have no idea why

Minute Maid Park Conoco home run pump
Conoco home run pump

Minute Maid Park retractable roof
Retractable roof…so we can see the fireworks

Unfortunately, the Astros lost. Yes, I was actually rooting for the Astros. I think I cheered harder for them than I have the Nats at RFK. Minute Maid Park is genuinely just a fun place to see a ballgame (RFK Stadium, on the other hand, is bordering on comatose). I will even admit to singing along to “Deep in the Heart of Texas” during the seventh inning stretch. What can I say, this state is slowly winning me over.

After the game, we stuck around for the fireworks show (courtesy of Marathon Oil and the stadium’s retractable roof), and then hit some of the bars downtown. I think we went to 6 or 7 different bars…taking a shot at each…I can’t really remember…although at one point in the night we were all dancing to techno music on a stage…yeah, don’t ask. We hopped a cab back to Alicia’s place and eventually ended up at a Mexican restaurant at 2AM. Baseball, drinking, and authentic Mexican food – how can you do better than that?

Nicole dancing on the bar

The next day, we were up bright and early to tour the Ocean Star, an offshore drilling rig museum in Galveston:

Galveston Ocean Star jack-up oil rig
Ocean Star jack-up rig…that isn’t jacked-up

Galveston is…beautiful

This museum was awesome. If you ever find yourself in Galveston, you HAVE to visit. Where else can you dress up in a Halliburton uniform?

Halliburton uniform
Either this Halliburton employee was really small…or I was enjoying the BBQ and Mexican food in Houston a bit too much

We were pretty tired after our excursion to Galveston. It was incredibly humid down there…I’ve never been in weather that humid before, and it’s amazing how exhausting it can be. I’ll take the dry heat of the desert over humidity anytime. Later that night we drove out to Rice University to catch a free concert the Houston symphony was putting on. I almost dozed off in the middle of it because I was just damn tired, but it was a really good concert nonetheless.

My flight wasn’t leaving until the afternoon on Sunday, so we were able to take a quick trip out to the Johnson Space Center. Got to see Mission Control and the mockup facility where the astronauts train…and of course, huge rockets. I visited the Kennedy Space Center when I attended Space Camp as a kid, so it was really interesting to see the Johnson Space Center, where the astronauts actually train.

Houston Johnson Space Center Mission Control
Mission Control

Johnson Space Center Soyuz
Mockups of Russki space vehicles

Johnson Space Center rocket

After the space center visit, it was unfortunately time to go back to D.C. I left Houston literally hours before the city was inundated with rain and subsequent flooding…only to return to Washington, D.C., where it rained for the past week and flooded a bunch of government buildings (oh, how sad!).
Overall, I really enjoyed my time in Houston. I’m not quite sure why it gets such a bad rap, as I certainly had a hell of a good time while I was there. Houston has amazing restaurants, fun bars, great shopping, and a lot of other stuff going for it. I could even – dare I say – see myself moving there in the future.
Rest of the photos are here.
Off to Pittsburgh tomorrow for a wedding…back to DC on Sunday. Frantic packing on Monday, and leaving for the Former Soviet Union on Tuesday.

June 25, 2006

Whereupon my D in high school chemistry comes back to haunt me

Unlike my last trip to NYC, this week’s trip did not involve any drunken sailor-bachelorette party-piano bar antics. I know, I know…how boring. The reason I was in NYC this past week was because my work sent myself and a co-worker to take a day and a half class, which was basically a crash course in geology-chemistry-finance-engineering as relating to our industry. At one point, I found myself calculating the pressures of various onshore and offshore wells, all the while thinking oh-my-god-nobody-told-me-math-would-be-involved-and-where-are-the-calculators? Amazingly, I somehow came up with the correct answers on my own, sans calculator (those of you who know me should be quite amazed right now). I’m just a regular reservoir engineer now, aren’t I? Also, I think I finally understand how to balance chemical equations – a skill that would have been helpful, oh, say NINE years ago when I barely passed my high school sophomore chemistry class. To be fair, I did quite well in my junior-year geology class, although I think that was mainly due to the awesome mudslide cake that Sarah and I baked for extra credit (envision a crumbled chocolate cake, topped with white icing for a snow effect, with little Lego people trapped throughout…brilliant, no?).

Houston photos up soon…Pittsburgh on Saturday and Sunday…leaving for Armenia on July 4th!

June 19, 2006

Back from Houston…off to NYC

I got back from Houston last night, narrowly missing the torrential downpour of rain they had this morning (although it rained here in DC today, and I was thoroughly soaked on my way home from work…must learn to always carry around an umbrella, apparently). I took a good amount of photos and will post those soon. I will elaborate on the trip later, but in short, I had a really great time in Houston.

Tomorrow I am off to NYC for another work-related trip…be back in DC on Thursday.

June 15, 2006

You know you’re in Houston when…


…you walk into your hotel room and instead of ridiculously cliche art work involving sailboats or flowers, a painting of an oil derrick is hanging on your wall:


I want to take it home and put it on my wall. I’m sure my roommates would love it.

And I have no idea what this is, but I’m guessing the Marriott must have gotten a pretty good deal when buying them in bulk:


June 12, 2006

Off to Texas…again

Houston, this time. Flying out tomorrow evening. Seeing as it is the home of the industry I work in, it was only a matter of time before I found myself in that city. I’m in meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, but am taking Friday off and spending the weekend there. One of my friends from LSE, Alicia, works in Houston and we will try to catch an Astros game and visit an offshore drilling rig museum in Galveston. I’ve never been to Houston before, but have heard both good and bad about the city and would like to finally see it for myself. I think it’s pretty much a given that the weather is going to suck, though. At least I’ll get to have some REAL Mexican food and BBQ.

Any suggestions on what to see and do in Houston?

June 8, 2006

This one time, in Cardiff…

England/Wales bridge

It’s been a year since I actually went on this trip to Cardiff, but I’m finally getting around to uploading the photos. Yeah, yeah, I know…lazy.

The trip to Cardiff was due entirely to Crystal’s insistence that we venture out of London and see a different part of the UK. I, myself, was content to stay in dear old London, but she found a bus company that specialized in day trips, so Crystal, Taline, Mathias and I signed up for the trip to Cardiff. Why Cardiff? I have no idea. All I know is, I found myself standing outside Victoria station at 7am on a Saturday, completely hungover from an excess of Strongbow the night before, and nursing a hot tea. Once everyone arrived, we hopped on an old, decrepit bus that I’m quite sure was used to shuttle Londoners back and forth from the countryside in the 1950s. Cardiff, here we come.

England/Wales bridge:

England/Wales bridge

Our tour guide was an Australian. That’s right, a goddamn Australian was leading us to Cardiff, and she had no idea what she was talking about. Couldn’t they have least gotten someone from, oh, I don’t know, WALES? She would try to pronounce some of the Welsh places and names (Wales has its own language) and it was like nails on a chalkboard.

Once we arrived in Cardiff, the bus dropped us off in front of the Welsh Lovespoon gallery, which proudly displayed an American flag….HELL YEAH AMERICA!

Cardiff Lovespoon Gallery

We didn’t really know what we were going to see in Cardiff, so we opted to get on the “hop on/hop off” bus:

We sat on the top, even thought it was freezing outside:

We saw some really interesting sights, like these Texaco storage tanks:

Thirty minutes into the tour, we were wondering why nobody was hopping off the bus. Dammit, people, what’s the point of a hop-on/hop-off bus if everyone just rides around on the bus all day? We pledged to show these riders some American and German resolve, and hop-off the bus at the next stop, which happened to be the harbour. Of course, we were the only ones that got off the bus, and, I’m sure, the only ones to ever actually “hop off” the “hop on/hop off” bus tour of Cardiff in its entire operational history.

The harbour was a pretty typical harbour…water, boats, stores, restaurants:

Cardiff Harbour

By the time we reached the harbour, it was almost 11am. Time for a pint. We headed to the nearby pub for a breakfast of Strongbow and chips (french fries) with mayo. After breakfast, we decided to hop back onto the bus because there wasn’t much going on at the harbour. The only problem with the hop on/hop off bus is that it only runs every 30 or so minutes, so we had a long wait ahead of us. Damn, so that’s why no one ever hops off the damn bus. When the bus finally picked us up again, we continued our tour of Cardiff’s sights:

Cardiff Hard Rock Cafe

Cardiff Stadium

Of course, we had to visit the castle in Cardiff. The tour of the castle’s interior was actually pretty interesting…afterwards we climbed to the top of the keep:

Cardiff Castle

Obligatory American pose:

Can I take one home?:

Peacocks roamed freely:


All this riding around on the bus, drinking, and climbing to the top of the keep had made us quite hungry, so we went off in search of the medieval restaurant. Our Australian tour guide, you see, had assured us that there was a medieval themed restaurant at the castle. We were actually quite excited at the prospect of eating at a medieval restaurant, as we envisioned costumed wenches serving us plastic mugs full of Pepsi and giant chicken legs with a side of potatoes a la Medieval Times. Well, our guide was a goddamn liar. There was no medieval restaurant, only a small cafe that sold pre-packaged sandwiches and quiche (QUICHE! What the hell is medieval about quiche?!) I settled for some tea and Welsh tea cakes, which, although certainly tasty, couldn’t take the place of a huge piece of roasted meat. No, I wasn’t bitter at all:

Before hopping back onto the bus for the trip back to London, I bought some mini-Welsh flags so that we could remember our incredible trip to Cardiff. Goodbye, Cardiff!

Welsh flag

The rest of the photos from that trip can be found here. I have about 150 more photos from my year in London that I need to upoad…I’m sure I’ll accomplish that within the next decade or so.

June 3, 2006

You can have my flip-flops when you pry them from my cold dead feet

Here we go again, more anti-flip-flop propaganda from those elitist east coast bastards at the Washington Post (specifically, Robin Givhan):

The summer months bring steamy afternoons, lazy weekends and the urge to go thwackety-thwack, thwackety-thwack into the salt mines.

The flip-flops already are out in force. Their cheap rubber soles melt against the hot concrete and get all squishy, dirty and distorted. Last summer, members of Northwestern University’s women’s lacrosse team wore flip-flops to the White House and much ado was made about whether that was appropriate or a sign of a generational divide.

But the age of the feet doesn’t matter. And there’s no debating this. Flip-flops should be paired with surf shorts and swimsuits; they should be found on beaches and in public showers. Exceptions can be made for walking the dog, watering the lawn, taking out the trash and ensuring that a fresh pedicure makes it from salon to home without getting smudged.

Flip-flops are sloppy, cheap and generally unattractive. And that is part of their charm. (Ah, the pleasures of a slovenly weekend at the shore: $10 flip-flops, charred steak on the grill, icy Rolling Rock.) They represent the blissful informality of summer, the most grudging, reluctant response to the admonishment, “No shoes, no service.”

Do not make flip-flops into something they are not.

Awww a New Yorker doesn’t like my choice of footwear. I’m hurt…really hurt.

Personally, I fail to see much difference between flip-flops and those ultra-high priced strappy sandals (well, except for price and comfort, both of which favor flip-flops) that I’m sure fashonista-New Yorker Robin Givhan fawns over, but that’s just me. I’m sorry, Robin, that you had to grow up in a city like Detroit. Maybe if you were born in the Great State of California, you would have worn flip-flops to school everday (and yes, even in the winter!) and thus would have a different appreciation for this wonderful footwear, that, I’m convinced, was created by God himself (wait, didn’t Jesus wear flip-flops?!). Perhaps the next time you are traveling abroad, you’ll see fit to lecture the citizens of developing countries for their poor choice in footwear? I’m sure they’d love to hear that their shoes are only suitable “ensuring that a fresh pedicure makes it from salon to home without getting smudged.” I’ve worn my flip-flops to the Kremlin, Buckingham Palace, Vatican, the pyramids, and yes, even my college graduation, and will continue to wear them on the streets of Washington, D.C. during these fine summer months.

Keep on writing your anti-flip flops screeds, Robin…you’ll never convince this Californian to give up her flip-flops.