Wherein I Lose My Shirt

So, Saturday night, we all went out for a nice dinner. It was a very nice dinner. That being said, there are two cultural differences that came up.

First, I had forgotten about the Asian way of drinking at dinner though. It’s completely acceptable, and rather encouraged it would seem, to nominate someone to drink with you. Drinking with you means finishing your glass. The glasses are probably 6 to 8 oz, no not huge, but it catches up with you.

Second, it is the cultural norm to work very hard during the day and party at night. Now, this work hard, play hard attitude alone is not that different, but it’s the division between the two. You essentially don’t talk about one while doing the other. What this means is that you can drink even more than is advisable with the assurance that for all practicallity it will be completely forgotten the next day. The rest pretty much follows from this lack of inhibitors.

So, this is where I skip a good chunk of the details of the after dinner part, because given the above, posting it on the internet would be a cultural faux pas. Let’s skip to the part when we were leaving the karaoke club. I forgot my hoodie which was pretty much the only warm clothes I brought with me. I went back to get it and in the dim lighting thought I had it. Come to find out the next morning that I had someone else’s similar sweatshirt.

One of the guys here was kind enough to write down the name and cross streets of the place. And thus the fun begins. Keep in mind, this is all for a relatively non-descript, but warm hoodie.

  • Walk half a mile to the nearest subway station, getting only a bit lost on the way.
  • Take one the subway one stop and transfer to a different line.
  • Take the second line one stop.
  • Start walking down the street in the direction I understand the place to be, looking back occasionally for landmarks to backtrack by.
  • Find the corner, find the place, this is when the fun starts.
  • Try to ask the dude outside – doesn’t speak English.
  • Try to ask the information desk – none of the three speak English.
  • They call some woman on the phone who speaks some English.
  • She first thinks I want to reserve a room for later that night.
  • She asks what room number we were in… I don’t know.
  • I call a local guy and ask, he tells me it was 202.
  • The desk agents call the english speaking woman back.
  • I tell her the room number.
  • She comes downstairs… a little english, a lot of yelling in Chinese on the phone.
  • I call the local guy back, he talks to her.
  • More yelling in Chinese on the phone (at someone else).
  • Finally it’s decided that they don’t have my sweatshirt, but they’ll call if they find it.
  • Backtrack down the street to the metro station.
  • Take one subway on stop.
  • Discover that the second subway made its last run 3 minutes prior to my arrival.
  • Hike the mile or so back to the hotel.

That entire adventure took about two and half to three hours. In the end, for the next few days I was without my warm article of clothing waiting to see if they called having found it. No call yet, but I’m holding out hope. It really isn’t all the pleasant working in an unheated area of a factory without warm clothing.

Shanghai, China – Part 1

On February 16th, Josh and I took off from Grand Rapids with a final destination of Shanghai, China. Our mission was to spend a little over a week serving as support for a customer’s supplier’s plant trial. The work details are largely confidential, but conveniently also rather uninteresting to most who might read this.

After one flight cancelation and about 24 hours of flights and layovers, we touched down in Shanghai. And, thus the fun began. We had our first, and so far only “mishap” at the airport. We got a ride to the hotel from a not-so-legit taxi service, which basically just means that we overpaid by a little bit.

Tuesday we got a message saying don’t bother coming to the factory until Thursday. Thursday we went to the factory only to find that nothing was going to happen until Friday. Friday we went to the factory and were told that nothing ws going to happen until Wednesday… so here we are Wednesday and finally the build is going to happen this afternoon.

Josh and I had the weekend to take a look around Shanghai. Friday night we took a walk around the West side of the river where we’re staying. There’s a fairly large area of shops etc. near our

And… I’m out of time for this entry. More later.


Michael and I arrived in VT in the late morning of Saturday, unloaded a bit of stuff into the condo and promptly started sleeping. Ideal case was that we would have been arriving sometime around 3AM and have had five or so hours to sleep. As it turns out, due to weather we didn’t leave until later, we didn’t make quite as good of time as would otherwise have been possible and we didn’t sleep as much on the road. This means we didn’t ski Saturday.

The snow buildup on Ashley’s car.

Saturday and Sunday saw over a foot of snow, so Sunday had awesome snow. The temperature was about 15F with winds at about 10mph at the base, meaning windchill down to 1F. So, yeah, freezing, but nice. Most of the day was spent on the gondolas, staying out of the wind for the ride up. Most of my day was spent on skis, but I did take a single board run at the end of the day when I was skied out and just waiting for the others to come in.

Today was supposed to be colder and windier, so we decided to make our break day today rather than Tuesday. That was the right choice. 18mph winds at the base would have been ridiculous at the top.

Tomorrow’s weather is for partly cloudy, minimal wind. Wednesday is for a high of 36 and some mixed precipitation. Both days should kick ass.

Mt. Bonnell

I am currently residing in Austin, TX for the weekend as there is more work to be done Monday. Steve was busy for the weekend, but Friday afternoon he was kind enough to provide me with a list of suggested sites to visit. Despite not feeling so grand, I did make it to Mt. Bonnell yesterday. It’s really not much of a mountain, but it is the highest spot in Austin with a nice view of the Colorado River.

This was in my opinion, the best view, over the Colorado River valley.

Close up of the bridge seen in the distance in the previous photo.

Police cruiser headed up the river. When you have the stalker lens, you might as well use it.

Speaking of stalker lens, a picture of a nice house on the river. With a pool. I imaging the conversation went like this:

Kid: Daddy, can we get a pool.
Father: We don’t need a pool, we take the boat out on the river all the time.
Kid: But I want to go swimming.
Fater: You have the private lagoon and we pay the groundskeeper to keep it weed free, swim there.
Kid: But Dad, all the poor kids swim in the river.
Father: Oh, all right, I guess you have a point there. I’ll have a pool installed tomorrow. It’ll give your mother and I something different to sip drinks by anyway.

Public service announcement: don’t litter. Ticket holder 213053 is not a winner.

Austin version 4.0

So, I’m sitting in the Houston airport right now with a flight that doesn’t leave for a few hours and looking at weather is likely to be delayed.  And, given that I have time on my hands, I’m thinking that some people out there might be interested in what I’ve been up to lately.  By lately, I mean in the last week and by some, I mean my mother.

I worked about 60 hours last week – bringing up boards, testing, modifying, diagnosing, experimenting…  Sunday afternoon about 5 minutes before the flight out I had one primary and one secondary working like they should.  Josh and I made a last minute dash to the airport for a 5:35 flight out.

We spent about 10 hours Monday at the customer’s place with further testing of our  wireless stuff, some modification and testing of ideas with their mockup and a good bit of discussion on how we were going to proceed from there. All-in-all it was a bit discouraging because our parts weren’t working – at least not well and we spent a lot of time fixing burned out boards.  We were also short on parts, so fixing boards meant pulling good parts off good, untouched boards to replace the burned out parts on the built up boards.  You’d think after a week and a half working with this stuff we could keep from roasting them, but no… at least I generally knew how to fix them quickly.

Monday night was the first time I have been in Austin overnight with some time to go exploring.  We went downtown to find some food (and for me to take pictures of the Frost Bank building).  While we were eating Josh discovered via Blackberry that Wreckless Kelly was playing that night @ 10:00.  We hiked the half mile or so and walked in just as they were warming up.  They did a 40 minute set (there were  5 bands that night).  We stayed for them and the group that followed.  Both were good and it was really cool to actually experience a bit of Austin

Tuesday we tried a few more modifications and got things working pretty well.  Most of Tuesday was working with their system, and much less frustration with ours.  Still another 10 hour day, although we did meet up with Josh’s wife’s cousins for lunch.

Tuesday night Rob (one of the cousins) joined us in going to Main Event, which is a bowling alley, pool hall, laser tag venue, mini golf course, bar, arcade.

Today was a half day… basically finishing up, deciding what we’re going to do next and packaging our components in to their mock-up.

And, that brings us to present… waiting to hear for sure that my flight out is delayed.

New Experiences

So, here in list form is recorded some of the fun of visiting Taiwan for a week.  Additions as well as an actual literary rundown may happen.


  • Typhoon – disappointing.  The gov’t got all worried after underestimating the last one, so this one was all the rage… at least in print, in reality it was just some rain.
  • Hotel doors blockaded shut – this was part of the overreaction, it consisted of 2×4’s and bailing wire.  Kind of janky for a 5 star hotel.
  • Taipei 101 – currently world’s tallest building, went there for food etc. (shopping on the lower levels) several times and up to the top once.
  • Tuned mass dampers – keep Taipei 101 from swaying in the breeze.  And yield these little souveniers.
  • Scooters outnumbering cars
  • People wearing face masks in public (Michael Jackson style)
  • Taiwanese Karaoke


  • Visiting Asia, specifically Taiwan
  • Flying first class – and busting the seats twice by trying to use my laptop on the plane (which should fall well into the spec for the outlet).
  • Northwest Air lounge – free snacks, food, coffee, beer, liquor


  • Mayonnaise on pizza – yuck
  • Fish, whole on a plate
  • Smoked egg (at least I hope that’s what it was)
  • Kobe beef
  • Lobster halves (tail, guts, brains and all) cooked Teppenyaki style

Great Lakes Sea Kayaking Symposium ’08

I just returned from the GLSKS up in Grand Marais, MI.  It was a highly successful weekend, as judged by me.

Doug and Corrina headed up early Wednesday on Doug time – meaning they left about 1:00 in the afternoon.  I didn’t want to take the day off just for driving, so I headed up on Wednesday after work and after some fixin’ of the Jeep so she’d make the voyage in one piece.  As it turns out, I cannot drive for seven hours straight after very little sleep and leaving at 10:30 at night, so I stopped in St. Ignace to sleep for a while and arrived Thursday morning at 10.  Josh and Megan headed up later Thursday and got in around midnight.

The symposium doesn’t really start until Thursday night, so C, D and I went on a little coastal paddle out of the Grand Marais harbor and out to Sable Falls.  It was a nice little warm up (about 7 miles round trip).

Thursday evening there was a downpour at 8ish for about an hour.  Everyone either went back to hotels or watched Justine’s video in the rec center (although downpour on a tin roof makes for hearing difficulties).  Apparently nature got rid of its angstiness though, because that’s the last of the bad weather we saw for the weekend.

Friday is always the intermediate trips (with Saturday as the beginner trips – ie. once they have had a chance to take classes Friday).  Josh, Megan and I went on the 12 mile cruise out to Grand Island and into Trout Bay.  Doug and Corrina went on the 18 mile run along pictured rocks which we have done in the past.  The 12 mile trip was a nice change from the rush that the 18 miler always end up being, and a nice change of scenery as well.  We almost got a bit of weather, but alas, no fun came our way.

Saturday I took two classes, both of which took half a day.  The morning was boat control with Steve Scherrer, who is an IT, works for Confluence Water Sports and was the designer of the boat I paddle.  He’s a damn good instructor.  The afternoon was Rescue scenarios with Steve Bailey and Rob Taylor.  They’ve both been around since I started going to symposia and before.  The class was also good, shedding light on just how important knowing rescues and repair can be.

On Friday night Sam Crowley presented his solo circumnavigation of Ireland.  On Saturday night Justine Curvengen presented her (non-solo, alas she has a boyfriend) circumnavigation of the Southern Island of New Zeland.  Both were very cool, with some wonderful pictures (and video’s in Justine’s case).  It seems that whenever a circumnavigation is done it works such that there’s about 1/3 of the trip that takes 2/3 of the time due to conditions.  In both there were days when they made less than 10 miles on the water if they got out at all, but also days later when they’d make 50+ miles in a day.

Saturday night is the pastie dinner.  It’s put on by the local high school as a fund raiser for their senior trip.  This year there were five graduating seniors – it was a big class.  The dinner was good, and as an amazing bonus, Josh won a new Valley Aquanaut, which for anyone who cares, is a $3200 boat.  The white and yellow of the Aquanaut and the white and red of the Montauk (Megan’s boat) make his Civic look very nice :-P.

Sunday morning is random instruction time / boat demos.  Unfortunately there wasn’t a Tempest 170 Pro for me to try.  We did however confirm with Pat of Riverside Kayak Connection that Doug and I could get instructor pricing on them which is a damn good deal.  I tried a 165 Pro which was of course small for me, and also Josh’s new Aquanaut which was also small for me.

As a note to self – next year I really should be an instructor.  They seem to be smart with who they have lead classes, so it wouldn’t be too ridiculous.  Plus, it makes things free, such as registration, lunch, dinner, beer and possible fuel costs.

I headed out with Josh and Megan at about 1:00, C & D left later.  We went to see Sable Falls by road on the way out and also stopped at Truck Stop for pasties in St. Ignace.  We crossed the bridge just after 6:00 and I was back around 10:30… half an hour too late to get into the storage space and drop off the gear.

I spent most of the night waking up in intervals to do laundry and then this morning had to swing through Lowell to deposit gear.  That brings me to current – sitting in the Northwes Air club, writing this entry, and about to go board my flight to Taiwan.

Be back in a week.


Last weekend was the annual Western Michigan Coastal Kayakers Association symposium.  It runs from Thursday evening through noon Sunday and is pretty much two full days of various classes, events, talks and socializing with other semi-local kayakers.  Since Doug and I started kayaking in ’05 it has kind of marked the start of the season.

This year ‘our’ group consisted of Doug, Josh, Megan and me.  The Dresslers were going to come (no one who reads this will know who they are anyway) but they were saving their vacation time for their Baranof Island Circumnavigation.  Yeah, I’m jealous of that.

Anyway, back to the symposium.  I’ve gone now for the last four years 05-08.  The first year, Doug and I had to learn everything we needed to know about kayaking so as to go on stupid missions without excessive endangerment.  The second year we were integrating Callum and Josh into the fun.  The third year we were taking what classes we needed to bone up for our IDW/ICE.  This year, I didn’t have a solid ‘goal’ for the weekend.  Doug was teaching, or at least assisting, and Josh and Megan still had useful classes to take.

Not to sound overconfident, but beyond my person practice and tweaking, I have taken most every class offered there.  I am certified to teach, but am not really comfortable doing so with such a large group.  In hindsight, I should have signed up to instruct but only as an assistant, not a lead.  I will say that taking a class from the guest instructors was good.  They were Leon and Shauna from Body Boat Blade in Washington.  It’s always interesting to see new methods of teaching beyond those that I was taught with.  I did claim instructorship for the one ‘private’ class taught by them for exactly that purpose.

I had to head out on Sunday night, so I didn’t get to participate in the putting it all together paddle that morning, which is always a fun time to practice skills with a group.  Overall, the weekend went well.  I will admit that it was overshadowed by other events in my life which should not be taken as an indication of the general enjoyment of the weekend.

Magnetic Conference (Denver, CO)

Wednesday through Friday was the 2008 Magnetics Conference put on by webcom in Denver, CO.

Wednesday was the magnetics boot camp, which was pretty much a one day crash course in magnetics.  In theory, this makes up for the fact that neither Josh nor I have any magnetics classes or experience in our background.  It was pretty good, from the point of view of someone who didn’t know shit about magnetics prior.  Some good ideas were had for what we need to be focusing on and how to make the calculations and measurements we need to properly profile the system.  Wednesday evening Josh and I let one of the guys from Invesys buy us dinner at a local steak and seafood place.  Very nice and rather expensive.  Interestingly, where we sat, we got to see several waiter collisions resulting in plates of food flying onto the floor.  Unfortunately, dinner with company reps takes a lot of time and didn’t really give us time to recover on sleep.

Thursday was the first day of the conference.  Various companies did presentations on different magnetic technologies, concepts, developments, etc.  Some of the presentations were very specific to a company’s application, others were more general as far as standards and measurements.  There was also time to browse various vendor booths and meet with more reps.  Apparently the Fulton Innovation sticker on Josh’s laptop was noticed by one of the reps from Vaccumschmelze, so we were tracked down and invited to dinner Thursday also.  Not wanting to be rude, we of course accepted – second night of very good dinner, but very little recouperation.

Friday was a partial day.  Events were pretty much on par with Thursday.  One of the vendors we have worked with in the past and who I have ordered some magnets from was there.  Josh and I were sitting, waiting for one of the talks to start and he came up and asked if I was Matthew Norconk.  It’s very odd being asked that if you’re in a group of about a hundred people and not wearing any form of nametag.  He explained that he knew I was a younger person, and Josh and I were probably the youngest people there.  It was nice to put a face with someone whom, up to this point, I had only had contact with by phone.

Apparently the entire magnetics industry in the US is aging.  There are regulations, mainly environmental, which pretty much keep anyone new from joining the game.  This means that the current players in the market are either staying in, getting out or being bought up.  The result is an inherently shrinking base of magnet suppliers in the US.

Josh and I stayed an extra day, being we had flown all the way to Denver and the conference ended on Friday.  Friday afternoon we went downtown for two main purposes – one was to visit the Flagship REI store, the other was to check out the Confluence whitewater park.  The REI store was cool.  We spent a few hours wandering around in there, but of course, everything being retail priced, and me being cheap, no purchases were made.  The whitewater park was somewhat underwhelming.  It didn’t look that well built – all the eddies were moving pretty good and kind of boily.  We did go check out the near by kayaking outfitter.  Their deal was that for $40 you could rend the boat and gear for the day, and you could bring the boat back and swap for a different one as many times as you wanted to.  While this sounded like a good idea – given that I’d like to get a new WW boat – neither of us were that impressed with the whitewater to want to bother.  Instead, we drove out to one of the parks and went hiking for most of Saturday.  One of the interesting discoveries was that the Denver area is arid enough to support cacti.

More Travel, with Carbombs

Monday I was in Novi for a work meeting with one of our suppliers.  Six of us went down from Grand Rapids and 9 or so of them came up from Ohio.  Lots of discussion on where we stand and where we are going as far as eCoupled building blocks.

Monday night, we went out … the Cavaliers were on, and being from Ohio and all, it was important that we find somewhere to go get some dinner and watch the game.  I naturally didn’t care about that game, but fortunately the Wings were on also.  So, we monopolized three of their four pool tables for most of the night.  There’s something about the joining of those two groups which prompts the ordering of Irish Carbombs.  I ended up having four of them, but I guess it was over enough time to not cause too much issue the next day.

Tuesday we had half a day of meetings, followed by Josh and I flying out to a magnetics conference in Denver for the remainder of the week.