February 20, 2007
Wow. Okay, I’m really excited about this upcoming project. I was thinking I would be heading off next to Costa Rica, but my supervisor changed his tune on that shortly after I got back from the holidays. He said that there was another project at the same time that I had expressed interest in, and that he and another supervisor, Freddy, were thinking of sharing the Costa Rica project. I’m pretty sure that they were just chatting one day about how cool it would be to go to Costa Rica and decided that it was feasible, and that they would go for it. That’s okay. I’ve been to Costa Rica. I’m going to Ethiopia.
I first found out about this project a little over a year ago, but my boss, Jim, didn’t want to send an engineer on it because of security. This year, the group again requested an engineer, and my boss went for it. The PI, Eric, was at UNAVCO for something and the three of us met. I asked what the housing situation would be like, and Eric said the following: We stay in people’s houses in the villages, or in a ‘hotel’—using the term loosely—if there is one, or in the remote areas we just sleep out.
I couldn’t help it. My eyes got big. Very, very cool. Sleeping out under the stars in middle-of-nowhere Ethiopia…
February 17, 2007
Fish and Food
I debated whether to go to a coffee shop to work on a project, thinking it would just be distracting, but I was hungry for a snack and couldn’t think of anything appealing to eat at home and I was headed past the coffee shop anyway so I decided to stop in. My main concern was ending up in conversation with a friendly stranger, which has happened more than once before and can be quite rewarding. I don’t think it’s ever happened in this particular coffee shop, though, so I felt safe. I bought a chai and a perogi and took a seat in the sun. The woman on one side of me seemed very involved in some task with her computer and was turned away from me, and the man on the other side looked very studious with a thick book and several notebooks on his small table. He was a bit older, and I thought maybe a professor or a graduate student, or perhaps he was in a profession like law that required research. He looked harmless.
I sat down and booted my computer and made it partway through my chai before he asked me a question. The question he asked me was, “What do you think a chocolate piranha would look like?”
It might come as a surprise, but I wasn’t sure what he was getting at. It sounds like a fun question but I was at a loss. I didn’t really know where to go with it—there didn’t seem to be much room for creativity on that one. I mean, all I could think of was something that looked like a piranha but was chocolate. “Well, I think brown,” I said. Thinking there might be more to it, though, I played along. We talked about what it might eat and what might eat it, and mermaids was the best I could come up with—I liked the thought of something so conceptually feminine eating something as fierce as a piranha—but he didn’t seem particularly impressed. I asked if I might ask where the chocolate piranha idea came from. Well, he said, and picked up his book, it says here—he paused and then began to read—U2—the band—says they that they take their criticism and inspiration from each other. They bring a concept to the group and then battle it out together.
Okay. Still at a bit of a loss, admittedly.
Then he said—this must have appeared in one of the sentences to follow, that he didn’t read—that they are a piranha band. Pause. And you just had chocolate on the mind? I asked. I’m a chocolate conossoire, he said. I wasn’t sure what else to say. I was still trying to think of something creative to say about the chocolate piranha but was still at a loss. I can’t imagine the chocolate piranha having sharp teeth, I said. Why not? he asked. I imagine their teeth would get worn down, I said, melty or just have the chocolate tips wear off. He opened a small candy tin that he had out on his table and showed me the contents: very solid, hard, non-melty shards of cocoa beans. He offered me one. And it was good. And now I guess I can imagine chocolate piranhas having sharp teeth.
So that’s what I learned today.