Friday, July 13, 2018

News Bulletin

Defense spending goals were a big deal during this week's NATO Summit. Trump said allies were going to work on this, so the U.S. will stay in NATO after all. Macron and Merkel said they have been working on this and are going to keep working on it. Trump mentioned doubling defense spending goals, and everyone was like, ‘... we would need to have more meetings about that.’

Eritrea and Ethiopia have been fighting over their border for years. A few days ago they resolved this dispute with an agreement to reopen embassies, re-link transport and telecommunications, and generally cooperate more. Ethiopia is a big Western and China ally, and Eritrea is cozy with the U.A.E., so this change could help lots of people be better friends.

Since becoming Nicaragua's president for the second time in 2006, Daniel Ortega has been increasingly authoritarian. Most business people sort of let it go and stuck to an unofficial deal to focus on business. Lately he’s been taking things too far with some unfriendly crackdowns on protestors. Unrest is increasing and the economy is not. Business people are now telling him to hold early elections.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Python: my coding adventures

Currently, I am taking a class on Python programming. Because coding is a big time skill these days, right? Everyone should know a little bit about it.

‘Really, Lauren? Aren’t summer classes condensed and therefore more challenging – and won’t this class be extra difficult since you don’t know anything about computer programming?’

‘Yes, dear reader. Such grounded, obvious insights are the very foundation of our friendship. Taking this class was one of my top worst ideas.’

print(‘Help!’)  - hehehe, it’s a little Python joke!

The first half-hour of the first class seemed OK. Since then I’ve lived in a state of confusion. 

It’s like if you’re standing at the foot of the hill and a small pebble rolls down and hits your shoe. After picking it up and looking at it for a minute, it seems pretty understandable, a normal, small rock; it’s hard but not that hard. Then an avalanche deafeningly buries you and you die.

If everyone else in the class wasn’t pounding the daylights out of their keyboards like Hugh Jackman in Swordfish, I would insist programming is one of the great challenges known to mankind. The tools at one’s disposal when learning a spoken language are ripped away. It’s you and the screen with its infernal blinking cursor ignoring your animated charades and attempts to point out YouTube research and looking up of concepts on coding forums.

Once after class I asked the professor for help on code I thought was quite close to correct. By the end of the conversation he was almost certainly thinking about retirement.

The professor gives the class starting code (great) peppered with little questions (not great), for which I never have appropriate answers.

    #  allwords.append(words) # why doesn't this work? I AM NOT CONVINCED ANYONE KNOWS.
allwords.extend(words) # this does...

    # allwords = allwords + words  # does work - but why is this inefficient?

There have been a few rays of hope.

A few days ago I met with my partner for our final project and typed out a working draft of our (very simple) needed code in about 15 minutes. All is well! I DID learn! I felt like watching Swordfish again to figure out what Hugh was up to.

Then I tried to do more homework, leading to the aforementioned conversation with Prof. L.

But whatever. Challenges are good, and I’m glad I ended daily conversations with myself deciding to stick with the class. I like knowing more about the scenes behind our screens; plus, it’s always important to keep terrifying pushing ourselves. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, ‘Do one thing every day that makes you want to claw out your eyes.’

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Passage to India

Apologies, Mr Forrester, for copying your book title. I read it before going to India and copy with the utmost respect.

I went to India for work and have some things to share!! Because it is a truth universally acknowledged an internet peruser in possession of a few spare minutes must be in want of travel stories and pictures. (hahahaha! Another clever literary adaptation! Ahem. Sorry, Ms Austen.)

The visit was only for a week, so no pretentious travel reflections here. I estimate having 5-7 seconds of worthwhile India knowledge to offer and therefore shall now present surface-level observations and pictures.

video: taking a Tuk Tuk
One time we missed an exit. Our cab driver backed up on the side of the interstate, held his hand out the window to stop 5 lanes of traffic, and we drove across the freeway to the needed exit.

We visited an agricultural village and learned about water rights, seeds, and GMOs in a community with 800 years of farming history. A family in the village is in charge of tracking history and genealogy.

We visited several organizations focused on food security and social initiatives throughout the week - like Goonj, a recycling organization which brings clothes/necessities to rural villages.

 My friend Nitya, who I met on a volunteer program in Spain (see this post). Before traveling to India, I recommend meeting someone on a volunteer program who is lovely, will meet you for touring, and bring you to their friends' house for dinner.

 Jaipur spice market.
We kept catching ourselves describing food as 'spicy' and having to clarify spicy -> full of spices vs spicy -> hot.

Ahmedabad market

 On a scale of 1 to 87, my Ahmedabad hotel room was an 88!
The House of MG, a former haveli (traditional house/mansion), is beautiful. The hotel probably made a mistake in awarding me this room, but one musn't complain.

I hope this is not an un-PC observation, but seeing cows everywhere filled me with joy. They cross the road... lay on the road... generally hanging out with confidence and dignity.

Favorite cow sighting - 
a casual stroll through the Jaipur market.

Sulabh International. Another social innovation organization.

Humayan's tomb

Taj Mahal
(Everyone calls it 'the Taj'. Sound like someone who knows things by saying, 'I went to the Taj.')
The outside of the Taj is peaceful, the inside mirrors a Delhi traffic jam. Everyone shoves each other around while police blow whistles to keep everyone shoving, flustered, and not taking pictures.

 Me at the Taj

 Cows outside the Taj

Other assorted pictures

Monday, December 4, 2017

Going to Bollywood

Things have been busy with Bollywood dance classes and events.

I have been talking about these classes a lot. Thinking about them makes me grin like an idiot so my mouth is already open. Here is how it all happened.

I watched this Bollywood movie.
One of my friends was like, “That was okay...”.
Out loud I was like, "Right..."
and my heart was like, “That was wonderful."

I watched the movie again on an airplane and thought, "I love it and want to listen to Bollywood music and dance to it forever” and bought the movie.

Then I wondered, “Oh goodness. What if there are Bollywood dance classes in the Twin Cities?”

It turns out there are! And everyone is having a wonderful time.

A lot of the moves are similar to hip hop, but more forgiving. Hip hop requires swagger and street cred conviction, and is therefore not an option for some people. I look moronic trying to swagger due to a lack of anything remotely resembling street cred conviction.

Consider this conversation:

     Streetwise person: says something appropriately cred

     Me: umm... yes... heeheehee

Anyway, Bollywood is very cheery and encourages bouncy happiness. It is difficult, but don't be discouraged if your dancing skills lean towards bobble head character, because that's a real Bollywood move (not official terminology).

Most important is the joy. Being sad during Bollywood is like being mad about miniature ponies. Which is not how emotions work. There's a YouTube channel, just don't watch me because I'm pretty bad at Bollywood.

So go, dance like no one is watching.

I mean, people are watching. But tell yourself whatever you need to.

Friday, June 9, 2017

How to travel for FREE

Sometimes I get stressed about travel decisions. Should I go somewhere new? I love all the places I've already been! I must go again! There are many new places to explore!

Yeah yeah #firstworldproblems but seriously.

2017 winner: It's a repeat! Spain, wrap me up in your olive and jamón filled embrace!

Traumatic side story: While walking around Madrid I realized it was my Middlebury ten year anniversary. I froze in the middle of the street and had a one person freak out/class reunion. Ten year old kids, who are now walking around, talking, doing all kinds of stuff, were born when I studied in Madrid. I might as well die now.

Actually, what I've mostly been thinking about is the best way to travel.

Here is a list of ways to travel that are not the best:
large tour groups
Las Vegas

Those are the main ones I can think of right now.

Calm down. There aren't wrong ways to travel. But booking a flight and visiting a city's highlights is literally the easiest thing to do. Again, nothing wrong with this. CHILL OUT.

Slice me some jamón!
When I think of my most memorable trips, they all involve unique connections to the destination. Meeting or visiting people who live there... Joining some normal, local activity... Looking like an overly eager foreigner trying to blend in...

But, wait, I don't understand. Can you please give an example?

- Why yes. Yes I can.

I recently volunteered with an organization called Pueblo Inglés. They run English immersion programs for professionals from all over Spain. English speaking volunteers come and spend the week speaking a whole bunch of English.

You guys, it was so much fun.

Here is how many exclamation points worth of fun it was:

There were tons of games and activities: 1-to-1 conversations, group discussions, team challenges, trivia, theater skits... As other volunteers pointed out, it was like summer camp. Summer camp is way more fun as an adult.

Kid campers lack the life experience to fully appreciate camp. Their days already predominately consist of adult planned activities. And there's usually at least some preoccupation with looking cool and is ______________ noticing said coolness.

As an adult you realize being a kid is amazing. You've faced the chilly abyss of grown up responsibilities and there is no way you're passing up an opportunity to play the heck out of some games while someone else manages mealtime. Not to mention, it's been clear for awhile that looking cool is not going to happen for you.

The program also involved hearing ourselves talk a lot, explaining funny expressions like 'kick the bucket', and exploring La Alberca, a really charming area about 4 hours west of Madrid.

Above all, spending a week with 30 great people = new friendships and learning more about the world. I was amazed at how quickly students' English improved after only a few days. It inspired me to get my Spanish going again, but then I came home and naps.


Here are more pics. La Alberca: hasta la próxima!

views from Peña de Francia, monastery near La Alberca
Plaza Mayor, Madrid

Must hot dogs be the most famous American export?
Plaza de Cibeles

Templo de Debod

Palacio Real

**Sorry about the clickbait title. I really wanted you to know about this program.