Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sequoia National Park

No time for writing…

When: August 24, 2008
Where: Sequoia National Park, CA, USA
What: huge trees, stunning views, amazing nature (continued)

Filip and me driving through a sequoia: the “tunnel log”:


Evi and me sitting in the roots of another dead sequoia:


By the way, these giants don’t die from disease or age, but they topple over after a while—although this while might be more than 2000 years….

And this boy is the biggest tree in the World (in volume, not in height):


You basically feel like an ant in these groves…

Not only impressive flora here, however. We spotted this bear in the wild:


Don’t worry, Mum, I took this picture with our new impressive 300mm tele-lens, so we kept our distance ;-)

Okay, that’s it for Sequoia National Park. We are now leaving LA after three days here. Expect news on that later…

Monday, August 25, 2008

Yosemite National Park

Boy oh boy! On Thursday, 21st of August, Evi, Filip and I set off from Berkeley to Yosemite National Park. Briefly: [(Yosemite + Sequoia National Park)/4 days].(Nikon D40 SLR) = (fun AND amazement)^3…

On our way from SF to Yosemite National Park we made a quick stop in Sacramento, the capital of California. Logically, the city houses the state capitol:

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Inside the capitol, we saw the office of Arnold Schwarzenegger, currently the governor of California. However, Arnie “The Governator” wasn’t there. Probably he already returned to LA, where he lives. I can understand why he leaves office so early: it’s a commute of roughly 620 km (he does it every day), so you’d better leave on time if you want to be in time for dinner…

Then for our visit of Yosemite on Friday: what’s the Chinese proverb about the 1 picture and the 1000 words again? Have a look yourself… Stunning views:

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Amazing wildlife, both big…

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and small:

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so you can really put a tele-lens to good use:

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In late Summer, all falls are reduced to a trickle—that is, compared to what they are in Spring:

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with special thanks to Philip for lending me his wide-angle lens:

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We concluded our 6-hour hike with a refreshing swim in a unique decor to escape from the afternoon’s heat:

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(The two tiny dots in the bottom right corner are Evi and me…)

I could still put my other 10.000 pictures in this post, but you would probably exceed your Internet provider’s volume limitations in trying to view them all. Expect some news from Sequoia National Park in a couple of days…

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Last Friday evening, Evi arrived in San Francisco. We have started our very busy holiday-programme, so there won’t be much time left for me to write. I’ll let the pictures do the talking…

On Saturday, we visited Berkeley’s Farmers’ Market together:


On Sunday, we visited San Francisco. This picture was taken with our new digital SLR camera, with a shutter speed of 2 seconds:


On Monday, we went to Sonoma Valley in Wine Country. There, I reserved a horseback-riding trip for the two of us:


Oh yes, I mounted that horse voluntary! In the afternoon, we visited one of Sonoma’s wineries:


and its caves:


On Monday evening, Filip joined us in Berkeley. He will travel with us for one week and a half. On Tuesday, we went back to SF all together. In Chinatown, we saw a “fortune-cookie factory”:


In the afternoon, we visited Alcatraz, where I put Evi behind bars for a while:


In the evening, we went to The Mission for a couple of cocktails and a fine dinner. The cocktails were good, the alternative might even have been better:


On Wednesday finally, we went to Napa Valley. More vineyards:


more wine tasting:


and finally some real Californian sunshine for Filip and Evi:


Next on the agenda are Yosemite, Sequoia National Park and LA. Expect some new pictures by next weekend…

Friday, August 15, 2008

Stuart Little

By now, Evi should be waiting for her connecting flight in Washington, D.C., about to swap rain for sunshine. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that she will ever read this blog post. Finally, I can share a little secret with my eager readers: I have not passed all my nights in Berkeley alone…

An evening a couple of weeks ago, I was working in my room. All was quiet and calm, except for the occasional rustling that I attributed to the leaves of the bushes under of my window. I felt like I deserved a cold beer for the good work of that evening, so I headed for the kitchen. With all the environmentalism here in California, I didn’t want to switch on the lights, so my path lay in darkness…

Upon entering the kitchen, I suddenly heard a panicky scuffling on the shelves right next to me. A very hasty being hit a couple of jars—bing, bing—rushed past some plastic bags—rustle, rustle—to finally—pouf—drop on the floor and escape into the darkness!

Jeez, I must admit that  my heartbeat skyrocketed! And to confirm the cliché: if only there had been some light and a chair nearby, I most probably would have jumped upon it. Seriously, that was my first reflex. To complete the picture, if I had been wearing a skirt, I would probably have lifted it well above my knees.

That was my first encounter with Stuart Little. Ever since, I can often hear him nibbling away at the cardboard boxes in the kitchen. Therefore, every morning I check whether my cereal-box is still intact, which so far was always the case. If he touched my food, the house might be too small for the two of us—oh no, Joey doesn’t share food! But he seems to prefer Hilary’s nuts to my cereals, so why bother?

Yesterday evening, I finally got to actually see him. I was cooking, and suddenly he decided to make his way from one side of the kitchen to the other, probably going out for dinner behind the stove. However, in doing so, he also gave away his hideout:


The hole was probably made for a tube or something, and Stuart Little put it to good use after it became unnecessary.

Evi and I will still pass a couple of nights in Berkeley before we leave for Yosemite National Park. That’s why I couldn’t tell this story while she was still in Belgium. Imagine that she refused to share the house with Stuart wandering around at night!

Now here’s my dilemma. Should I tell Hilary and the others about Stuart’s hole? On the one hand, Stuart has been eating Hilary’s nuts for quite a while now and this situation will sooner or later lead to conflicts. But then again, Stuart and I also shared some very passionate moments in the last weeks (if you measure the degree of passion in heartbeats per minute, probably on both sides) so I cannot just give him up, now can I? Maybe they are going to use napalm or cluster bombs on his nest…

Let’s put it to a vote. If you think I should tell Hilary about the hole, then add a comment to this post stating “YES,” followed by a convincing reason that can ease my conscience. If you think I shouldn’t, say “NO,” followed by a good excuse that I can use later when Hilary will no doubt blame me for not having told her, after grandpa Stuart and his extended family had a serious party in the kitchen or something.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Why UC Berkeley?

My internship at UC Berkeley is coming to an end. Next Friday, Evi will arrive and we will travel through California for two weeks by car.

However, I promised you in a previous post to explain in a little more detail what I have been doing here. Let’s skip that—I will write a paper about it and gladly share it with you if you insist—and address a more general and far more simple question: why UC Berkeley?

In fact, this picture says it all:


No, “NL” does not mean that the Dutch can park their cars here for free. Rather, it stands for “Nobel Laureate.” Indeed, so far, UC Berkeley has 20 faculty members and 24 alumni with a Nobel prize…

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a Nobel prize for engineering. But still, try to Google for instance “engineering university ranking,” or add “electrical” if you want to be more specific. On average—considering this, this, this and this site for instance—we could more or less agree on this being a realistic top-3 of engineering universities in the World:

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  2. Stanford University
  3. University of California-Berkeley

where Stanford and Berkeley are often rated ex aequo.

Ouch, that’s quite enough for some serious boasting here! In fact, it turns out that I did not even contribute to all this: apparently, Berkeley was already in all those rankings before I arrived…

So let me just conclude that UC Berkeley has a very fine engineering department and some pretty bright minds hanging around. Cooperating with some of these researchers—first and foremost with professor Bahai—was a very enriching experience, and provided invaluable input for my PhD project. Moreover, it was a unique opportunity to discover the culture and dynamism of one of the World's foremost high-tech regions, where a close cooperation between academia and industry spurs innovation and creativity as nowhere else.

Would I do it again if they asked me to? Definitely…

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Berkeley’s Farmers’ Market

As promised last weekend, I will write this weekend about what I did back then… Don’t worry: I didn’t do anything special this weekend: just wrapping up things, preparing for Evi’s arrival next Friday and putting the finishing touches to our planned journey of the last two weeks of August. Therefore, from next weekend onwards, I hope to be more or less up-to-date again…

On Saturday, August 2nd, I went to visit Berkeley’s Farmers’ Market with Sofie, Bart and a couple of people who came over from San Francisco. And guess what: Barack was there, too:


On the face of it, this market is comparable to what we know in Belgium:


However, in general, the produce sold here is more fancy and upscale: all organic vegetables:


beautiful flowers:


fancy apple cider—I would call it “apple juice” but then again, that might not sell as well:


decent bread—exceptional in the US, which is why you pay for it so dearly…


and finally, “squash,” a sort of vegetable comparable to eggplant that we don’t have in Belgium but is pretty popular over here:


In general, I felt the atmosphere to be more “recreational” than “functional,” as you could tell from the musicians all over the place:


After a delicious Thai “red snapper” lunch, I saw this lady who obviously took her careful biking seriously:


A bike helmet with lights attached to it! Only in Berkeley… Anyhow, after visiting the market we still hung around a bit and met this utterly charming couple:


She is a Mexican-Californian teacher—how could I ever meet one without giving in to their charm? ;-) She chattered away in her perfect teacher-English, every now and then throwing in some Spanish phrase “like we would say in Mexico,” really refreshing!

As for the old man—which might express physical age, but certainly not mental decline in his case—he was not smiling for the picture. I don’t think he would ever consider wasting his time doing anything else than smiling, with those twinkling stars in his eyes. Believe me, you couldn’t stay for 10 minutes in his company feeling bad. He was infectious… He was special too: a real San Franciscan of over 50 years old! You only seem to meet young people in SF. I guess you come here to work, but once you are retired, there is no more reason to stay and pay the skyrocketing rents…

In the evening then, we had dinner in “Little Baobab,”  an African restaurant in The Mission with nice cocktails:


After the meal, they would just remove all chairs and tables and start dancing. In no time, the place was literally reshaped into an exuberant party-hole.

Because of all the dancing—and the cocktails, I must confess—all I needed the day after was a lazy Sunday. And that’s pretty much what I got, so no more news for now…

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Bike Wars!

For those who remember my “bike-accident blog post,” a recent update of the situation from The Economist…

Thanks for pointing me to this article, Nicolas!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

America, Not Belgium: Wooden Houses

“Honey, I told you not to put the barbeque too close to the house!”


I think this might be one of the reasons why you hardly see any wooden houses in Belgium…

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Shooting the “Berkeley Marina” and “Fourth Street Shopping District”

I’m lagging behind a bit with my blogging, so in this post you get what I have been doing the weekend before last weekend…

On Saturday, July 26, I went to the Berkeley Marina to play a bit with my newly-acquired Nikon D40 SLR camera. It is an amazing digital photo camera with interchangeable lenses. However, you have to learn how to handle it so my pictures might actually be worse than before for now. I hope to change this in the future…

Anyhow, on my way to the marina, I encountered this bagpipe-player next to the railroad:


If you have ever heard one of those things from nearby, you know why the guy was practicing here rather than in his apartment.

After some more camera-experiments in this industrial quarter, I continued towards the actual marina:


As one would expect from a marina, they have boats…


boat houses…


and painters!


By then, I was getting pretty hungry and I just couldn’t resist the smell of this guy’s barbeque:


so I had a one of his “steak burgers.” Just delicious! If an American sells you a hamburger—bar in an ordinary fast-food place—there is pride involved. This one was no exception: juicy meat, crisp onions, crusty bread and a luscious sauce. Getting hungry there at the other side of the screen?

Back to the photo-taking then. Another advantage of an SLR camera: these things are fast. When you press the shutter-release button, the picture is instantaneously taken. This allowed me to capture these playing (?) squirrels:


And yes, they belong on this blog because you see lots of these buddies all over the place. In Belgium you hardly ever get to see them, and if you do, it is probably in a forest—or at least what we call a forest in Belgium… Anyhow, in the US they really abound everywhere.

That day, there was a kite-festival going on at the marina:


Okay, it would have been nicer with a clear blue sky, but you get the idea. There were some amazing kites, obviously handled by Chinese—they adore kiting—as you can see from this dragon:


And yes, that flag in the background is actually a kite too…

By then I was getting a little cold—this place is very windy, and the Sun stayed away—so it was time for a nice cup of coffee. I found it in this coffee house in the “4th Street Shopping District,” next to the marina:


You can say what you want about Starbucks and the like, but I love them. On top of my coffee, I got a chat with this “US Merchant Marine at War” veteran, Dan, who asked me the time, noticed my accent and wondered if he could join me for a while:


He served in WWII as a “merchant marine” which means that he was a sailor on the ships that supplied Great Britain with all kinds of goods. It was a highly dangerous job, as their boats were sunk by the dozen by German submarines. However, these marines never got the benefits and compensations from their government that other soldiers did get. Dan still fights for this cause, and he maintains this site to promote it.

On my way back home, I still saw this bus:


Funny to see what people do to their cars here…

So far my last weekend. I will try and post what I did this weekend before next weekend. Got it?