Archive for April, 2010

LAdventure

HollywoodIf there was any business trip that made me feel like I truly have power over what I do with my work, it would have to be this most recent trip I took to Los Angeles. For a 3 day trip, I definitely got as much out of my time there as I could.

The trip was meant for me to visit a component vendor and see their production facility so that my Mechanical Engineering brain could wrap itself around some of the concepts that are key to the research I’m doing for my job at the moment. Here’s how the trip broke down: Monday – fly to LA. Tuesday – site visit. Wednesday – fly back to Huntsville. A whirlwind tour, but something about it not being 3 weeks long made it feel much more liberating. Also, despite the traffic (which seems to be pretty continual), it was nice to be in a location that had so much to do crammed so close together. On my drive to my hotel, I took a little side tour of Sunset Blvd. I did this mainly to satisfy my movie-geek tendencies, but as I drove, I came across Bel-Air and couldn’t resist taking a drive along that road too. The one thing I noticed is that there are a lot of nice houses that you can’t see. Privacy hedges and barriers are common, and the variety of driveway gates gave a little bit of an idea of what type of house lay on the other side. So yeah, not much to see there, but now I can say that I’ve been there.

Alfred HitchcockOf course, seeing as I know everyone in the United States, I took the opportunity to catch up with one of my college friends who had moved to Los Angeles. Even on top of that opportunity, I came down a little early and did a walk along the Hollywood walk of fame, because the restaurant we were meeting at was located on Hollywood Blvd. Either some people have stars for different things or whoever set up the sidewalks purposely repeated some people. I swear I saw Frank Sinatra and Alfred Hitccock every other block. What I found was most interesting was how many names I actually recognized. Not that I knew what they were famous for, but the name sounded familiar. This is mostly due to my exposure to the classics of film (having seen both top 100 lists from the American Film Institute), but also to the work of Stan Freberg (“Francis . . . uh . . . Langford?).

However, every trip has some adventure to it, and mine had to do with the rental car I was given. I’m not sure what it is about rental cars, but I always seem to get the more SUV-like ones, even though the reservation is usually for a Compact car. I’m fine with Compact cars. Heck, my own personal car is closer to a Compact than what they usually give me. Maybe it’s my height. They take a look at me and say to themselves, “This guy needs an SUV.” Well, they don’t charge me any more for it, so I’m not going to complain . . . too much. The issues I had with this particular rental come in two categories: control and comfort. Since I’m used to driving a smaller vehicle, I had to do some reaching to reach some items, like the rear-view mirror. The accelerator was also kind of touchy, and I would jolt more often than not. Perhaps the worst part of it was that it didn’t have automatic windows. Not only were they an inconvenience because I’d have to constantly roll up and down the window to get in and out of parking lots (which I shall discuss soon), but the handle of the window crank tore my shorts. I was getting out of the car (in a little bit of a hurry) and the handle caught and tore part of my shorts. Not only that, but if I had avoided doing it the first time, it happened again while I was there. Luckily the tear was kind of inconspicuous, but I’m probably not going to wear that pair of shorts anymore.

Since this was my first chance to spend any significant time in the Los Angeles area, I thought I would take a walk around and develop my own opinions. In my opinion, LA can be split into four categories:

1. Pornography – It’s everywhere, and it’s pretty blatant.

2. Tourist Traps – It’s everywhere, and it’s pretty blatant.

3. Scientology – It’s everywhere, and it’s pretty blatant.

4. Parking – It’s everywhere, and it’s pretty expensive.

In fact, #4 was pretty much the norm anywhere I went. I had to pay to park at my hotel. I had to pay to park in the city (which I can understand, for downtown LA). I had to pay to park at the beach. Although, I was probably a bit too anxious to get to the beach, because when I was leaving, I came across a state beach that was probably cheaper, or even free. Oh well, such is life.

Pacific OceanNow, the beach was definitely something that I felt I could handle this time around. For starters, I wasn’t going to go looking for it on Vandenberg Air Force Base, that’s for sure (lesson learned). This time I looked at a map of my surroundings and saw that I could take a nice drive through Toponga Canyon and connect into the Pacific Coast Highway and head to either Santa Monica or Malibu. I decided to head towards Santa Monica, since it was closer, distance-wise. I had made up my mind that I would find the first place I could and get into the ocean. Turns out I found a restaurant that was smack up against a pretty nice beach, so I paid for the parking and went down to the beach. I think one of the reasons I wanted to go to the beach (besides having lived in a landlocked state for most of my life) was for the photographic opportunities it would give me. I got plenty of nice pictures and definitely spent a fair amount of time on that beach so that I could get my money’s worth for the parking. The water was cold, but nothing I hadn’t experienced before. Definitely got sand in more places than I would have liked, but that’s the risk of going to the beach.

So, in the end, it was a nice trip that I utilized to the utmost of my ability. Now that summer is upon me, I am envisioning the utilization of my free time while traveling for work to be at peak efficiency. The next trip to Maryland is fast upon me and I look forward to what I have in store for it.

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LyricaLife

In my short life, there has been one particular album that has been the source of my strength through the dark times in my life. It has also been around in the good, and perhaps the instigator of drastic change. This was the band that my now ex-girlfriend and I tried to see in concert once, which was unfortunately sold out as we approached the venue and was the same band that we were going to see the day that she broke up with me. It’s interesting to me how I essentially ran across this album completely by accident. Still, it was encouraging to find a band that had an album that wasn’t categorized underneath “Gospel”, but still had a strong Christian message. When driving back from one of my ventures up to Maryland, I decided to put this album on, knowing full well that I still haven’t been able to get through it without weeping. This time I wept (as I knew I would), but only because I paid close attention to the lyrics as they were laid out in front of me, reflecting my life of late. Below, you will find the transcribed lyrics of this album (along with some editing done by yours truly). I’ve added some notes to give background to why each song is important, and where it gets its Biblical message. I realize that this is a longer post than usual, but just hang with it for my sake. With out further ado, the self-titled album by the band “This Providence”:

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
You’re throwing everything you have at me. Cheap shots, low blows. Will you ever let it go? You’re so pathetic, give it a rest. You’re not going to win. You’re never going to win. You love the sound of your own voice and the crown of death upon your head. You in all your royalty only adds to infamy. You’re going to taste my fist. You’re so good at stretching the truth into a sugar-coated lie. Everyone takes a bite. I have been dining with the enemy. It was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Now it’s so clear to me. I’ve had enough of your games. If you’re not trembling, you better be; because I’m gonna be the end of you. I’ve had enough of your games. I’m gonna show them who you really are. And I can tell you right now, it won’t be pretty. You say, “I can convince anyone anything,” provoking the anger of a jealous God. Still, you spin a web of lies, fear, lust, pride, greed and shame. You say no one escapes the pain. I’m a coward not a fighter, disguised as a lover. For so long now you’ve held me down, but it’s not going to last, because I can see right through your beautiful lies (and those eyes for that matter).
This song speaks of the Devil’s influence on society, and its implications of trying to live a Christian life in spite of it. There are so many issues that the media today has labeled as “good” and “OK”, which are not what the Bible says about them. Even so, it is a constant struggle to try and fight against this influence.

Card House Dreamer
My world is falling apart. I was a fool, I never saw it coming. My life is like a card house; a delicate construction with no regard for the wind. Everybody’s changing, and I don’t know how much more I can take. I thought I had everything under control. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I thought I held my world in my hands until it broke and I awoke from this foolish dream. I put so much of myself in everything else. It was a dream come seemingly true. Torn at the seams revealing a nightmare. I thought I held my world in my hands until it broke my heart. Everything I loved had changed. Coffee and cigarettes can’t save me. No, it’s a hope where there’s no change of a hope in the world that I’m hoping for. Everything I loved was flawed.
Once again, this song highlights a constant struggle in my life. The struggle of control. When I feel like everything is just starting to go my way, God comes in and shows me that I’m headed in the wrong direction. It hurts when this happens, but it’s needed in order to start again with a correct heading.

Secret Love and the Fastest Way to Loneliness
She puts on a pretty dress and wears it all over town. Says, “I can give you what you want; escape from the pain. My bed’s already made.” Well I was searching for something but didn’t know what; and I found a whore on the corner of her street. She wrapped her arms around me and she kissed me on the mouth and said, “There’s more where that came from.” Like a lamb to the slaughter I followed her home. Into bed with a stranger. No one has to know. Stay away! Stay away! She wants your soul. She’ll take your life. It’s all secret love and the fastest way to loneliness. I can’t get enough, but my soul is rotting. What have I become? I can hear the screams of her earlier victims so clearly now. With a shake of my face I awoke and saw my fate: all alone in the darkness, chained to the Devil’s gate. I hear the beautiful voice of wisdom. Her words are sweet like honey and sour to my stomach. Joined by the angels, she sings, “Get on your feet. Come dine with me in heavenly places where you can here the angels sing.” It’s all secret love and a slippery road to hell.
This song mirrors the first part of the book of Proverbs (particularly chapter 5). I’m sure that any men reading this can relate with me in the constant struggle with lust in this world. The challenge is especially great when one is in a relationship with a woman before marriage. Once again, the society that we live in bombards us with sex, so the only way that we can “dine in heavenly places where you can hear the angels sing” is to embrace wisdom in our lives.

My Beautiful Rescue
I’ve been jumping from the tops of buildings. For the thrill of the fall. Ignoring sound advice and any thought of consequence. My bones are shattered. My pride is shattered. In the midst of this self-inflicted pain, I can see my beautiful rescue. I’m falling more in love with every single word I withhold. I’m falling more in love with every single word You say. I’m falling head-over heels for You. I’ve been dancing on the tops of buildings. At the top of my lungs I’m singing You a song. Don’t You leave me alone. My bones were shattered. My pride lays shattered. Well I’ll trample my pride and tell the whole world to dance with me. I’m falling head-over heels for You again. I’m crying out. “Wash my hands, these bloody hands, Lord. Open my mouth and I’ll sing.” I’ve been dancing on the tops of buildings with You.
This song held a special significance for me during my relationship; but now that I’ve had to move on, all it takes is a simple change of subject. I’ve edited these lyrics to capitalize certain pronouns to make it a prayer to God, instead of a romantic poem. If anyone knows that I ignored sound advice, it’s between me, Him and those who gave the advice. I take solace in knowing that only He can save me from the messes I make.

Losing Control
I can hear their song from miles away. It’s carried in the wind. Its melody is sung to me in miracles; the sun rises over the sea. When I hear their love song, I don’t understand. From out beyond the shadows I can hear it calling me. Honestly, if I’m honest with myself. I’ve cried myself to sleep. Crying out, “Oh God, where are you? Can You hear my scream way up there, through the clouds, in heaven? Do You even care?” I hate the song they sing. It’s like salt on an open wound. But I can’t get it out of my head.” This melody kills me. It’s out of key and foolish, but I think I might just like it. If I could just get past my pride. I turn my head and look away because You know it hurts to see the light of day. The whole world hates You, the whole world hates Your song. Oh God, I’m a sinner and I think I wanna sing along. Heaven’s not so far away. I can hear its melody from here in the waiting room of hell. I can hear its melody calling me home. And honestly, if I’m honest with myself. I’ve cried myself to sleep. Crying out, “Oh God I need You.” Well this melody heals my wounds and I can’t get it out of my head.
This song is a little more specific to the time of my depression earlier this year. When you’re single and seeing everyone else finding happiness (“When I hear their love song, I don’t understand” – see WinteReflections [‘inverse schadenfreude’]), you tend to cry out to God, asking Him to send someone to fill the wound in your heart. At least, that’s my experience of it.

…But What Will They Say?
Oh God, I’m afraid. What will people say? What will they say? Well some days I couldn’t care less and others I’m scared half to death. I don’t want to work so hard just to have a heart attack. Throw my hands in the air as if it really matters what they say. Can I just be myself? Well I won’t forfeit my soul for a pretty penny. [Matthew 16:26] Are you listening? Do I make myself clear? I’ll drive so far. From one town to the next. I’ve got something to say. Is anybody listening? Does anybody care? Yeah I’ve got something to say. I don’t want to drive so hard just to get it off my chest. No I won’t play the fool for you. No, I can’t play the fool. I’ve just got too much to say.
I know that in the past, I didn’t usually discuss my faith, because I was around people who I figured were Christian (this was back in High School). Now that I’m in the real world, I need to be more open about my faith and not care what anyone else thinks of me and what I believe.

Anything is Possible [Matthew 19:26]
I could run away from everything I know. I know I shouldn’t feel this way, because really, I have to get away from me. Is there any hope for a boy like me? Is there any hope for me? There’s got to be. Well, I can hear You say, “Anything is possible.” But my life is such a mess and we’ve already been through this. And though we’ve been here before, anything is possible. So many years all alone in the dark. Well, it’s time to get out. I danced away countless nights with demons out of sight and I took to their foolish games. But really, I’ve got to get myself out of this scene. I’m so ready to be free. I’m hoping on an overwhelming grace. I’m praying for this dream to come true. And yes, I’m a mess. I’m lonely and dirty, but it’s time to get out.
I just have to keep reminding myself that through no power of my own can I do anything. Get through anything. Only through His power can I conquer what life has to throw at me.

The Road to Jericho is Lined with Starving People [Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-37]
There’s a man on the side of the road to Jericho, left for dead. People passing by just turn their head. He needs a friend. We could all use a little more loving, couldn’t we? So come on, love. Give your love away with me. Hold nothing back, like you’ve nothing to lose. Love with all you have, like you don’t have a clue what it’s costing you. There’s a man on his way to a church who avoids the eyes of a dying soul. He just turns his head. There’s a child on the side of the road to Jericho who needs a friend. If loving were easy, it wouldn’t be love. Will you give your love away? I’m going to give away love.
It is true that we need to love like we’ve got nothing to lose. Unfortunately, if you do lose something that you had taught yourself to love, it doesn’t end well.

Walking on Water [Matthew 14:33-36 Mark 6:45-51; John 6:15-21]
Who would I be? Where would I be going if I didn’t have You to shake my face? Why do You care? Why do You care so much? Your love’s such a stretch for my faith. You don’t let go easily. No, You hold onto me tight and it’s just what I need to get me through this storm tonight. I don’t have to be afraid of the wind, and that’s good to know, because I’ve heard it all before. But I’m walking on water now, in the midst of a storm. My life fell apart and You were right there. The fire turned my whims into smoke. I choke on Your words that somehow make sense and I dance with a joy only found in the pain. I don’t have to be afraid of this sinking ship, and that’s good to know, because I’ve heard it all before. Take me away to a heavenly place. Rescue me my love, my saving grace. But I’m walking on water now and I’m singing in the rain. Well, that’s a joy I’ve never known, because I’ve heard it all before; but I’m walking on water now.
Once again, referring to the storms in my life and my need to rely on Christ to get me through it.

An Ocean Between
I find myself so tangled up in all of our ideals. We could run away, get a job in a small town on the beach. We can dream but I can’t stay. It’s a small world, but I’ll still sail much too far away. Could it be, it was destiny? You and me, an ocean between? I find myself in a bit of a mess. Life just isn’t fair, is it? I miss the years when we were young, innocent and so naive. Pride burns like wildfire. Smell the smoke rising. It’s the anthem of hell. In your eyes I saw a hope. Where you wrote us off as Pharisees. You were so relieved. Don’t listen to anything these demons have to say. We’re older now and it’s time to grow up. Breathe in, breathe out. Throw yourself in the sea (it’s so much bigger than us). Don’t listen to anything they have to say. We’re older now and it’s time to grow up.
This song speaks more to the situation my ex and I had in regards to our long distance relationship. I’m sure that if I declined the job I currently have in order to try and find a more local job so that I could stay closer to her, it would have ended the same way eventually and I would have been out an incredible opportunity.

The Pursuit of Happiness – The First Movement [Matthew 8:18-22; Luke 9:57-60]
In the heat of another busy day he said, “What on Earth am I doing here anyway? I’ve spent all my attention on the world and its distractions. I’ve no time for reflection. No, I just go, go go. It’s just go, go go.” In the heat of a conversation it was said, “I’ve got all these good intentions. I just don’t have time.” We all wish for more and more hours in a day, but I think it’s safe to say we just need to breathe and slow down. Slow down and ask yourself right now. Slow down, you’re falling asleep in traffic. Slow down, you’re losing your soul. Slow down, where are you taking yourself now? I just want to be happy, but I can’t quench my thirst, I’m always missing something. Maybe I just need more, or maybe I should just breathe and slow down. When I fall asleep, I dream of happiness in numbers and dollar signs. And when I awake, it’s only one prize away. I’ve never known anything else.
I think one of the reasons I decided to drive to Maryland instead of flying (other than saving the Taxpayers some money, and myself some stress with trying to pack 3 weeks worth of supplies into airplane-ready bags) was so that I could take some time to just slow down and breathe for just a moment.

The Pursuit of Happiness – The 2nd Movement [Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-30; Luke 18:18-30]
I know the secret to your happiness. Take a deep breath, there’s only one way. Give all you have away. Well you’ve wasted so much time trying to buy what you can’t buy (you can’t buy happiness). And if I really want to live, I’m going to have to let it go, I’m going to have to give it all. Oh God, it hurts, but when I count the cost, it all seems worth it all. God it’s a fight and I might just let it all go. The only thing that I’ve been feeding  is my American dream, but it’s never satisfied. We’re all overweight and comfortable, but I saw a need on my big screen TV. It shook me and questioned my integrity, and it called me to be more than I’d ever dreamed. It called me to give my whole life. Well, that’s what I’m going to do.
This is a bit more of a struggle for me now that I have a well paying job. Now that money is in comfortable supply, I’ve been spending a lot of it to fill up certain holes in my life.

Well, that 12 track album about sums up my life right now (and in words better than I could ever use to explain it). Thanks for reading through it and through my source of inspiration and strength in times of distress.

iPoDC

Washington Monument

Reflection of the Washington Monument

If there’s any one time or one place that photographers should flock to, it would be when the cherry blossoms bloom in Washington DC. Because of my current work location, I have been given the sublime opportunity to go to one of the many Mecca of photography. The only thing that I can relate these blooming trees to is after a snowstorm, when the trees are frocked with snow. They’re so beautiful that they almost look artificial. Honestly, it was quite a sight, and I’m glad that the sun came out when I was half-way done with my day there. I told myself that I was going to go on this photography adventure for only as long as I had space on my camera or batteries to power it. It turns out that the batteries won.

Just to be clear here, the cherry blossoms in DC are not all over the place, they are only in a few select areas. However, once you get in the thick of these blooming trees, it is quite the magical experience. The best place to see them is through the FDR memorial and up to the Jefferson Memorial. Actually, it was kind of funny going back to the Jefferson Memorial, after my family (years ago) seemed to have such a hard time figuring out how to get there. Funny because I followed the signs and didn’t have to cross underneath the interstate. I can see why the cherry blossoms blooming is such a popular event. And what popularity, indeed! I have never seen an area so teeming with people, with the exception of sporting events and amusement parks. I’m just glad that I went to the museums the last time I was in the area, because I’m sure they would have been packed. I was also glad that I had been to DC on my last trip up to Maryland, because I wrote down instructions to get to the metro (Google gave me different directions this time, which was kind of weird), and ended up forgetting the instructions in my room. Luckily, I just said, “Forget it, I can figure it out.” And I did.

DC Walking Route

Here's the entirety of my walking journey (red=out, green=back)

This trip down to DC also gave me the opportunity to see some of the memorials that I hadn’t seen in years past. Memorials like the World War II memorial, which was a pretty neat monument, especially with all the water effects. In fact, there was a large group of veterans there when I came back on my walking loop. Unfortunately, the Washington Monument still remains a mystery to me, as tickets for this time of year are sold out months in advance. Maybe if I plan ahead enough, I might be able to make it up there someday. I also was unable to see the White House, since apparently something important was going on and they were not letting pedestrians pass by. Even so, I did manage to see the President’s helicopters fly by while I was down there. Another memorial that I saw while I was in the area was the Boy Scout Memorial. An interesting statue and fountain, but it was fenced off for what I can only assume would be to protect the grass.

Now it is time to explain the title of this post. I recently broke down and bought an iPod touch. For years of resisting the Apple Corporation, I finally gave in merely due to the fact that I could get an mp3 player that had enough storage for all of my music. Well, not quite all my music (that’s over 500 CDs, in case you had forgotten), but enough of it that I wouldn’t have to compromise for the sake of space. Since I was down in DC alone, I figured I might as well bring my music along to listen to while I photographed.

It’s interesting how having my music collection playing on shuffle mode can sometimes give the right mood for the situation. For instance, walking among some of the war memorials, a Piano concerto happened to come on that seemed to mourn for those who died for our freedom. Much of my music is from motion picture scores, which makes walking around in a city like DC more dramatic. When I first got out of the metro station, the prologue to West Side Story came on, and I couldn’t help but snap my fingers along with the music as I walked down the street. What made me feel like I was in a movie the most was when I was trying to get through the crowd of people in front of the White House so that I could snap a few pictures. At this point, one of the songs from one of the Bourne movie soundtracks came on, and I felt like a spy evading the government by walking right past it. I did learn that with my armband case, I need to turn off the “shuffle when shook” feature. Apparently I move my arms around a lot when I walk. It makes sense, since I do walk rather quickly; weaving in and out of the stream of people.

During my walking tour, I sat down on a bench on the Mall and called home. I’ve come into the habit of calling home whenever I’m out traveling, just so I can say, “Guess where I am?” By the end of the day, I had gotten too much sun, which I had figured would happen anyways. I also realized something that I need to look for in a potential wife. I need someone who wants their picture taken. Now I can see why some guys date supermodels (or even regular models). The majority of my pictures are taken with no human subjects in them. They’re mainly trees and monuments. If I had a subject that I could photograph, I think it would make my portfolio that much more diverse than it already is. I suppose this is just one more attribute I’ve got to add to my list.