The Road to Barcelona

mapAlmost every year at this time, I spend a few days in Barcelona for Mobile World Congress. So this month’s insane road trip takes me from Beijing to the US, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, India, and Spain before returning home to China. Fourteen flights in thirty-two days, and 29,560 miles all told.

The map above is from Karl Swartz’s unspeakably cool Great Circle Mapper. If you remember your conic sections from calculus, a great circle describes the shortest distance between two points on a sphere(oid) like the Earth. This is often not exactly how the plane flies — some countries’ airspace are best avoided, and in the summer, flights from North Asia to the US often use a much longer route over the Northern Pacific to take advantage of summer tailwinds. But is a great way to realize how thinking in Mercator Projection terms since school days has distorted our consideration of geography, making the shortest distance between two points appear as a curve.

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Fantasy Road Trip

Many Americans dream about traveling the world. I have been wandering around the non-US world pretty constantly for more than a decade, always feeling authentically American but also feeling like I was perhaps missing something about where I come from.

I’ve traveled around the US a lot, but mostly in my long-ago 20s. There are so many places that I haven’t seen in years, that were important to me in the past but that I only saw long ago. Of course, there are also many places in the US that I have wanted to visit but haven’t.  So I’ve been dreaming of a trip I want to make.


I’m thinking an anti-clockwise circle, beginning and ending in Vermont. I don’t have a date yet (well, I have some ideas) or even a car (well, we could take Patty’s Subaru) but it’s still exciting to dream. Now I just need to convince Patty to spend a couple of months cruising around the flyover states with me, connecting with America the James Dean way, or the Kerouac way, or the Easy Rider way, or the Simon & Garfunkel way, or something romantic like that.

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A Hanging in Singapore


Last weekend I met Patty in Singapore to attend the installation of three beautiful new paintings of hers in a private home. In this case, the owners are good friends of ten years whom we met when we all lived in Hong Kong. Having recently relocated to Singapore, they finally had the chance to commission some new works from Patty. They own a few other works of hers but this is their first commission from her.

As you can see from the picture, the paintings look just spectacular. I’ll have a link up to the “official” page for them over on Patty’s web site as soon as it’s posted.

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A Quick Visit to the Yard

marched on m

budsbracefarewellBecause of a lucky ripple in my work travel schedule, for the first time in three months I was able to stop in Annapolis this weekend. I met Carl at The Yard on Friday night, and we had dinner at the Navy Club with Bruce Webb USNA ’63, a classmate of my dad’s who very generously gave us his football season tickets for Saturday.

The next day, Carl and I saw the Navy Midshipmen utterly destroy the Georgia Southern Eagles 52-19, on a lovely but very cold afternoon at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. Even more impressive than the victory was the march-on of the midshipmen, the culmination of which resulted in the formation you see at the top of this post. I’ll let you find Carl. Here’s a hint, he’s at the bottom right…

Luckily he was able to get a chit to sit with me in Bruce’s seats, rather than with the rest of the mids as he usually does. After the game and Navy Blue and Gold (traditionally sung by the whole crowd and players after every game) we were off to Washington for a night on the town and a late morning.

On Sunday we ate a huge hotel buffet breakfast and then went to the Newseum, which is a pretty cool way to spend a couple of hours. In particular, the relationship between the constitution, the press, and the military stood out strong but silent as we walked through with Carl in his uniform.

Then of course, it was over, much faster than I could stand. After not seeing him for three months it was hard to say goodbye, but I’m consoled by the facts that 1. Patty will see him for Thanksgiving in less than two weeks, and 2. xmas is only six weeks away. It’s not shopping days I’m counting.

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Tournaments and Medals Galore

netball1Nellie and her Harrow U19 teammates have had an amazing couple of weeks. First, there was a Netball tournament in Beijing which they won. Then just this weekend, they lost a squeakingly close final game 28-30 to end up 2nd place at the ACAMIS Volleyball tournament in Su Zhou.

If you’ve never heard of Netball, that’s probably because you’re American. It’s a popular sport for (mostly) women and girls played in England and commonwealth countries. Nellie is not really on the team, but being a helpful and multitalented sporty girl means she gets drafted sometimes. When she does, they win tournaments!

ACAMIS vbThe Harrow girls volleyball team – of which Nellie is most certainly a central member – has had a truly remarkable year. They squashed rivals, came from behind, rallied, and won more games this season than ever before. If you know volleyball at all, you’ll appreciate that with a final score of 28-30, that last game was a killer.

I’m so proud of Nell and all her friends – who are almost like family members at this point – for having matured into the great team of athletes they are now. Even more importantly, they’ve become truly first-class sportswomen too. You can see this in the way they win and in the way they lose, as rare as that is. Neither is this only my observation, because in addition to taking home the 2nd-place trophy from the tournament, they also won the team Sportsmanship award!


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Autumn in Vermont

IMG_0127Last week in San Jose, next week in Singapore – where to spend the weekend? Underhill, of course! I was happy to find that while I didn’t make the fall foliage at its height, there was still a lot of leafy color to be seen, as well as a bit of alpenglow on the slopes of Mt Mansfield. This view is from our front porch. The one below is the house on the day I arrived. A week earlier and it would have been more spectacular, but I’m not complaining.IMG_0117

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gaba_plebe_fdbA proud father being almost a egotism trope, I’m trying not to post too many pictures of Carl. But since this is the first time we’ve seen him in Full Dress Blues, I really didn’t have a choice, did I?

Dress for the job you want, they say. (This is the Navy, so what’s up with the rifle?) I know the classic Richard Gere An Officer and a Gentleman look is all about the dress whites, and the mids do seem to put a little extra work into simply looking good. But there’s just no getting away from how good they do look!

When she saw this picture, even the continually nonchalant and permanently  unimpressed Nellie said “Whoah, that is pretty cool.”

In any case, here’s a prediction from me: Over time, the rifle and even full dress blues will become less important, and Carl’s future in the Navy will be more about this largely overlooked announcement.

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Breakfast of Champions

The best morning meal is oatmeal. I don’t want a discussion or debate in the comments, we’ve had enough of those already. Whine on about your Eggs Florentine with the hand-crafted Hollandaise, or your free-range Huevos Rancheros with tortillas stone-ground by yo’ mama, or even your chicken congee or 粥 (our Chinese friends will surely get the Zhou-ke!) I love all of these, but if we’re talking about the finest combination of texture, taste, simplicity, healthiness, honor and sincerity – well, there’s really no contest. Steel-cut Oatmeal wins, hands-down. And the steel-cut part matters a lot.

Bowl_of_dry_steel-cut_oats_with_full_spoonWhen our friends, many of whom have had the pleasures of breakfast at our house, have asked me how to prepare the One True Oatmeal, I usually put them off. Fact is, while they’re nice folks, they must figure it out for themselves. It’s a bit like the Daoist’s uncarved block – when they find themselves doing it, they will know it’s the right way. So it goes with oatmeal.

But recently a good friend who stayed over made, between mouthfuls, the usual inquiry. I thought “this poor guy is going to take a million years just to begin asking the right questions” and decided to take pity on him.  So I’ve posted the recipe to allow the rest of mankind to benefit, not by my efforts, but simply by eating more excellent oatmeal. It’s a little like that Eat More Kale guy, just slightly less annoying and definitely better tasting. And you don’t need to massage anything.

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Kubota Power

kubotaI’m happy to report that after a lifetime of wanting my own tractor (I’m not talking about a riding mower here folks,) I finally have my own Kubota B2920. Bucket on the front, replaced by a snowblower in the winter of course. Brush hog in the back, laying waste to all in its path. Hydrostatic transmission! Three-point hitch! Two PTOs! Green Acres, we are there!

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Plebe Summer Never Ends

midn_gabaThat’s what they say around the yard, anyway. Silly us, we thought that Parents’ Weekend would mark the transition to the academic year, but in fact there’s still a week or so of obstacle courses, PEP and drilling before the Brigade Reforms (that is, the upperclassmen return) and classes begin in earnest on the 20th. But that didn’t matter to Patty, Nellie, me, or even to Plebe Carl, all of whom experienced a long-anticipated reunion this weekend in Annapolis. It was just good to have the family back together, a little like we were in the old days. Like six weeks ago.

That’s not to say that there were no transitions – or rather transformations – to be had. We saw Carl for the first time in his Echo rig with a real hat (combo cover, for you pedants or Navy people,) and as anticipated he (and the thousand or so other plebes milling around with their families) looked like a different animal entirely than the pimply adolescents we left at I-day. Continue reading

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