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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hiking in Shenandoah National Park, West Virginia

This trip was originally planned two weeks previously, but due to various reasons it had to be cancelled. Now it finally worked out and four of us (David, Fedya, Omar and me) made our way to West Virginia.

Day 1 - Night Hike
Arriving at the parking lot at 1am we quickly grabbed our packs and started hiking. After all, we had a mile to cover before making camp, and the tent promised a reprieve from the rain. Hiking in the dark is pretty interesting and with a headlamp not too difficult. We soon found a suitable spot and stopped for the night.

Day 2 - Rainforest?
When we got up it was raining still so we decided to postpone breakfast and start directly. What followed was an extremely intense experience. Our hike was almost constantly accompanied by rain and even when we finally stopped for snacks and brunch we didn't get a reprieve from the wet. And so we hiked up and down hills covered in forest, missing the beautiful views on the way, due to thick clouds and fog, but getting a good chance to look inwards and contemplate why we are here.

Wildlife... a bear cub!
Seeing two snakes on the trail was already quite cool, coming from a hiking experience with almost no wildlife in close view, but what made the day was a bear cub which was on our trail and fled as soon as it saw us. Me being in the middle of the group I only saw its hind quarters as it turned tail and fled into the forest, but still, that was one frigging cool experience! To round it off we later saw a good half dozen white tail deer.

Meet and Greet with Jeremy's Run
Because half the troupe, me included, was pretty exhausted by 4pm we decided to skip the next mountain and hike along a valley instead. There we encountered Jeremy's Run a "small" creek which carried enough water to make crossing it difficult. But crossing it we did and that a good dozen times... So when we finally stopped for the night everyone's shoes were finally wet, either from the rain and/or stepping into the Jeremy's Run.

Fortunately the rain had stopped when we started down Jeremy's Run so we could set up our campsite in a relatively dry setting and hang our wet things out to dry. A small fire gave us some additional comfort and a chance to further dry our belongings. The only drawback of the fire was that it hindered stargazing for which the night turned out to be perfect, even the Milky Way was visible!

Day 3 - Neighbour Mountain Trail
Because we had a long way before us to get back to the car, we got up at 6.15am and started without breakfast up the Neighbour Mountain Trail. This climb was pretty hard so early in the morning, but with the weather presenting itself from the best possible side, we were rewarded with beautiful views! On the summit it was finally time for our well deserved breakfast and all I can say is that I love Oatmeal! :)
From Shenandoah Backpacking

Down and Up and Down and Up...
After hiking down Neighbour Mountain we hit the Appalachian Trail, which we followed for a while. And that's where we finally started to meet other people. Having only seen a lone hiker the day before, we were a bit shocked to now encounter whole groups of hikers with up to ten people. After lunch break things started to get difficult, because my left knee started to hurt again and the 8 to 10 miles up and down hills we still had to cover didn't make it any better. Even though we were slowed down by this we could still enjoy the wonderful scenery and finally also found our car again ;).

In two and a half days we covered 477 miles by car and 36 miles on foot, 22 miles of which we hiked on the second day.

A couple of pictures of this trip can be found in my picasa gallery.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Culture, Garage Sale and Game Club

Friday marked the visit of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, which performed "A Good Life" a special piece commissioned for Pittsburgh’s 250th anniversary and renditions of John Adams' "Slonimsky’s Earbox" and Antonin Dvorák's "The New World". The Adams’ piece was very interesting, with lots of layers and variety. "A Good Life" was good and you could clearly feel the ups and downs that Pittsburgh went through with the rise and fall of the steel industry. I was kind of expecting it to end on a high note, to represent Pittsburgh’s recent success and bright future, yet, the last piece was quite dark as well. "The New World" was also good and I did recognize the last piece from numerous renditions in movies.

On Saturday morning we got an "early" start to go to REI’s Garage Sale. We arrived there 15 minutes before it was supposed to start and were a bit taken aback to see that 130 people were in the queue in front of us. Nevertheless, the trip was a success and I got an almost brand new winter jacket from Marmot for 140.- instead of 300.- US$. So now I should be ready for the cold Pittsburgh winter.

After a team-meeting for my social web class it was time again to join the game club :). My timing was pretty lucky and they were just about to start a game when I arrived.
This time I played:
- Tigris & Euphrates: Still a very interesting and challenging strategy territorial game, which I start to like a lot.
- Maharaja: A game where the players try to earn money by building palasts and houses in Indian cities.
- Arkham Horror with Kingsport Horror Extension: A great cooperative game trying to defend Arkham from the Great Old Ones. We were six players and had a lot of luck with drawing our items and cards, nevertheless it took close to 5 hours to complete, which was 1.50am!

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Medieval Literature for Children

Whilst wandering through Carnegie Mellon's main library I stumbled upon a book which caught my eye: Medieval Literature for Children. Here's a short review:

Medieval literature for children offers a fascinating look into the medieval ages. The book contains a collection of essays, each focusing on a different work from medieval times, discussing the origins and authors (if known) of the work, putting it into context as children's literature and finally giving a small excerpt of the work itself. I can highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about life and literature in the Middle Ages.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Radio and Juliet: Culture in Pittsburgh

Currently the Pittsburgh Festival of Firsts is going on and so I went with a couple of classmates to see the US Premiere of Radio and Juliet. This is a modern ballet inspired by Romeo and Juliet and set to music from Radiohead. It was a very interesting event with superb performances by the dancers and poetic movie scenes shown from time to time. I have to admit, however, that I couldn't follow all the developments on stage. Nevertheless I enjoyed the performance :)

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

More nasty surprises by mail...

Yesterday I received my first gas bill (i.e. the gas used to cook). And it was 215 US$! According to the bill I have used up 10'200 Cubic Feet (CF) of Gas in 32 days.

I did a short research. A regular Oven uses about 40 CF of gas per hour, thus I would have been cooking for 10.6 hours every day!

Actually, I'm pretty sure that I used the oven only about five times to cook dinner or breakfast and even then it never ran for more than an hour...

A phone call to Equitable Gas this morning led to a suspension of the bill until further investigation. They did see, that there probably was a problem somewhere. Now I have to wait till they get back to me...

One thing is for sure, this month I'll keep a close diary on the time I use the stove.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

250 Years of Pittsburgh on a Saturday

Yesterday was the big celebration day of Pittsburgh 250th Birthday with lots of events all day long.
The thing that caught my eye first when I arrived at Point State Park was the pink water in the fountain!
From 250 Years of Pittsburgh
But after the initial shock, I started taking in the other sights, such as the old paddle steamers and historical re-enacters ranging from 1750 to 1820.
From 250 Years of Pittsburgh
Also interesting was the historical flag ceremony hosted by the Eagle Scouts of Pittsburgh.

Since it was Saturday I wanted to get back to CMU to join the Game Club ^^. This time I played the following games:
- Euphrat & Tigris: A tactical game where players try to control kingdoms in one of four aspects (religion, trading, farming and government) collecting victory points. The game offers a lot of depth and is very interesting to play.
- Kingsburg: An interesting game where the player tries to influence people in the Kings court in exchange for favors (resources, victory points, battle strength). These resources can then be used to build buildings which in turn offer various advantages. The game runs over five years where every year has three productive seasons which lead up to an attack by monsters in winter time. A very cool game which can be a bit dependent on dice luck.
- Samurai: Is set in medieval Japan where players try to take control of cities to gain figures. The game is pretty quick but offers a lot of food for thought to find the right tactic. Interesting.
- Transamerica about which I've blogged before.

And still there are many games at the game club which I haven't tried yet, so I'll keep you posted :)

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Renaissance Dancing on Youtube

You may remember that I regularly visited Andreas Rutschmann's Renaissance Dancing courses. A friend just pointed me to a video on Youtube which shows an excerpt from one of these courses. I'm the guy all in green :)

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