The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

May 23, 2013

Well Actually, I Am Pretty Much Just Whistling Dixie.

Filed under: travel — Brian Lutz @ 9:08 pm


Ok, this is the last one for a while, I swear.

Lately it seems like if it weren’t for boring plane rides, I wouldn’t have time to do any blogging at all.  Then again, I usually travel a lot less than I have been lately, but most of that is my own fault.  This time around, I am somewhere in the middle of a 4 1/2 hour plane ride down to Atlanta, where my brother will be getting married in a couple of days.  Presumably we are currently flying somewhere over the Midwestern United States (South Dakota, it appears), but there’s really nothing to see out the windows right now, the screens on the plane are showing some random movie I’ve never heard of, and even if there was something besides clouds out the window I’m in the middle of the plane anyway.  At least the center seat next to me is empty, so things aren’t too crowded.

All in all, I guess this isn’t too bad.  The flight is a non-stop so there aren’t any random airport layovers to worry about, and the plane isn’t too crowded.  Which is a far cry from what I usually end up with on these cross-country flights.  Most of the time I seem to end up on some jam-packed redeye on a creaky old MD-80 in seat 38D.   Usually they throw in a three-hour layover in Dallas or Chicago for good measure.  Even then, something inevitably gets delayed, and pretty soon it turns into a five hour layover.  By the time I arrive at my destination on a flight to the East Coast I’m usually running on at least 24 hours of no sleep (as I’ve discussed before, I seem to be completely incapable of sleeping on any moving vehicle smaller than a cruise ship, and even that one can be iffy sometimes,) which means I typically get to spend the next day alternating between trying to stay awake and being completely wired.  A good night’s sleep usually fixes that, but I don’t think I’ve ever arrived in Florida without being sleep deprived.

A couple of weeks ago when returning from the short cruise I went on with my friends, we took the train back from Vancouver to Seattle.  I’ve taken the train before, but the last time I did (same trip, but in the other direction) I was in Business Class, which had even bigger seats than normal.  Nonetheless, even in coach the train is still much nicer than most planes I have flown on.  The seats are nice and wide (four per row instead of the six you would get on a plane,) you have more legroom than you know what to do with, every seat had power outlets, there isn’t a seatbelt anywhere to be found, and you can move about freely almost whenever you want (except during the Customs inspection at the border.).  In fact, I might be inclined to consider the train for more of my trips if it wasn’t for the fact that it takes at least twice as long to get anywhere as the same trip would take even in the car.  The train is a good way to go for a four hour short haul trip, but I suspect I would probably find myself a bit less enthusiastic about a 36 hour ride to LA  (or worse) on the thing, especially when I can make the same trip in 2 1/2 hours by plane.

And even in a really nice car, I don’t handle long car trips well.  Currently my job involves testing stuff that’s going into an upcoming 2014 model luxury car, and we currently have one at the office for testing our stuff.  Last Saturday (have I mentioned that work had been a little busy lately?) we spent the day testing stuff in the car, which basically turned into the equivalent of a ten-hour road trip to nowhere.  Even with all the cool bells and whistles I kind of wish my car had, spending all day in the car was still a serious pain.  I actually don’t mind a road trip every once in a while, but I’d much rather be the one driving if I can help it.

In theory, I’m supposed to be keeping an eye on my e-mail for work right now, but a last-minute plane change left me on a flight that doesn’t have Wi-Fi on it.  Even if it did, there isn’t enough room for me to use my work laptop anyway, so I’ll just call that a convenient excuse.  Which means that one again, I am typing this post up  (or whatever the equivalent thereof would be on a tablet) on my Kindle Fire.  Surprisingly, it actually works pretty well compared to some of the alternatives thanks to the built-in Swype keyboard.  Which is interesting, because I have it on my phone too, but could never get used to the thing on there. Maybe it just needs more screen space to be used effectively.  Either way, I would much rather have an actual keyboard to type on, but this is actually pretty reasonable too.  Not that I plan to write any novels on this thing anytime soon, but it’s certainly a lot more usable than my iPad was for the same task.

To make a long story short, yeah I’m still traveling all over the place, I expect to be doing less of it soon, and there are probably worse things I could be doing right now. To be honest, I’m kind of looking forward to things settling down some for a bit, but I suspect I will be doing more traveling sooner than I think.

May 21, 2013

How to Conveniently Ignore the Usual Crises for a Weekend or So

Filed under: travel — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 1:30 am

In what seems to be turning into an oddly recurring pattern lately, once again the past couple of weeks have seen me alternating between being on vacation and being incredibly busy at work.  This past week saw me getting off a cruise ship in Vancouver on Monday following a three-day trip up the coast, then working 49 hours in the next five days (including 11 hours on Saturday) as the team I’m on remains in crunch mode trying to get stuff out the door.  Somehow, I suspect that if I hadn’t spent the weekend on a cruise ship I probably would have spent much of it at work anyway, but that’s another story.  Fortunately, I’ve only got one more iteration of this recurring pattern to deal with, as I head for the Deep South for a few days for my brother’s wedding in Atlanta, followed by a couple of days of wandering around the area, then things settle down for a while (and by “settle down,” I suspect I mean that they’re going to get even busier at work.)  On one hand, it’s kind of nice to be able to have the ability to travel as much as I do.  On the other hand, a lot of traveling means that I’m spending a lot of time getting from one place to another.  Fortunately most of it is flights up and down the West Coast which are relatively easy, but the trip back home from the cruise (itself a  3-day ship ride, but after sorting out all the various conveyances involved in the cruise, we figured it went something like this:

  • Drive a car to an offsite airport parking lot;
  • Take a shuttle bus from there to the airport;
  • Take a plane to LAX;
  • Take a taxi to the cruise ship;
  • Ride the cruise ship up the coast from Los Angeles to Vancouver over the course of three days;
  • Take the Vancouver Skytrain from the ship to the train station in Vancouver (after walking most of the way there and back to the cruise terminal while wandering around to kill some time);
  • Take the Amtrak Cascades down from Vancouver back to Seattle;
  • Take the Light Rail back to the airport;
  • Catch another shuttle bus back to the parking lot;
  • Drive home.

For what’s supposed to be a relaxing vacation (in theory, at least) that sure seems to be a lot of running around.  And that’s just a 3-day weekend getaway.  Me and some of my friends are already in the process of looking into a potential 12-day Mediterranean cruise next Summer, which I suspect will turn out to be considerably more complex.   Of course, we do also have an entire year to plan that one,  so there should be plenty of time to figure things out.

As for the cruise itself, it was, as usual, a nice little getaway, although with only three days, it certainly felt short.  Not quite as short as the somewhat ill-advised 1-day trip I took a couple of years back where it seemed like we spent almost as much time in the security line at Canada Place as we spent actually on the ship, but certainly not like a full 7-day cruise either.   As seems to be the case with a lot of the Coastal cruises I’ve been on, the weather at sea wasn’t all that great, with much of the trip spent in fog, and not much opportunity to spend time above decks.  On one hand it was a bit of a shame because we had received a really nice  upgrade to a Caribe deck balcony cabin with one of the larger balconies to be found on the ship (not bad for having booked an obstructed oceanview cabin) and didn’t get much chance to take advantage of it.  As I’ve noted on some of the other cruises I’ve taken, when there’s fog at sea the ship’s horn is sounded at regular intervals, which can get a bit annoying after a while.  On the other hand, there was enough going on elsewhere on the ship that this wasn’t too big a deal.  Nonetheless, as much as I enjoyed the trip, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be going somewhere warm for the next one.

As for the ship itself (the Island Princess,) it was a nice shape in good condition, but I do have to admit that it took a little bit of getting used to.  I’ve been on six other cruises on four other Princess ships, but this is the first time I’ve been on one of the two Panamax ships in the Princess fleet (the Island Princess and her sister ship Coral Princess spend much of the year doing Panama Canal cruises when they aren’t in Alaska),  and although all of the various Grand class ships in the fleet share a substantially similar layout, the Coral and Island Princess very quite a bit from the others.  For example, the Horizon Court buffet is located on the forward section of the Lido Deck instead of the aft where you’d find it on a Grand class ship.  Similarly, the entrances to the two main dining rooms are located at the forward part of the ship’s atrium instead of the aft part where you’d find them on the other ships (there’s also a third dining room on the other ships that isn’t present on this one.)  And even though there’s plenty of stuff that’s different between the Panamax ships and the other Princess ships, there’s also plenty of stuff that’s in similar locations as well.  As a result of this, it took me a couple of days to get my bearings and to stop going the wrong way down the hallways trying to find our cabin.  I’m pretty sure the next time I sail on one of these ships I’ll have figured things out already and this won’t be an issue anymore, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind when you sail on one of these ships.  Then again, most people who sail aboard the Island Princess tend to have more time than we did to figure things out (the ship spends much of the year sailing 10 and 14-day Panama Canal trips, and it spends its Alaska season going back and forth between Vancouver and Whitter Alaska (a small town about 60 miles away from Anchorage) on alternating 7-day one-way trips.

Anyway, in spite of whatever difficulties may have arisen in finding one’s way around, the staff was friendly, the service was good, the ship was clean and well cared for, and things were overall quite nice.  Boarding was also quite simple and painless, which probably owes a lot to the fact that a third of the passengers on the ship had boarded at Fort Lauderdale and were continuing onward to Vancouver, so there were fewer people there to board the ship than one might normally expect.  Even if the ship was full (as it usually is), it never really felt crowded, which can be a bit of an unusual experience compared to some of the larger Princess ships (the Island Princess only holds 1,970 passengers and 900 crew, while the Crown, Emerald and Ruby Princess hold 3,080 passengers and 1,200 crew each, and the soon-to-be-launched Royal Princess will hold 3,600 passengers.)  Tables in the main dining room were easy to come by, as were seats in the theater (something of a sore spot for passengers on some of the larger Princess ships.)  Competition for deck chairs was virtually nonexistent, probably owing mostly to the fact that the weather wasn’t particularly conducive to spending much time outdoors.  All in all, it was a nice little getaway from what’s been a stressful few months at work, and I’d gladly do something like this again.  Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure I’m thinking Caribbean again for the next one, preferably when there’s some weather that I need to get away from.

May 10, 2013

Yes, Lutzes are Still Cruise-Taking Nerds.

Filed under: travel, Wanderings — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 10:28 am


For someone who has frequent flyer cards on three different airlines, I really don’t travel all that much.  Nonetheless, it sure seems like I’m doing a lot of traveling these days.  Once again, I’m blogging from an airplane as I had down for the second of three trips in two months (the third coming up in a couple of weeks when I head down to Atlanta for my brother’s wedding and apparently a bit of aimless wandering around the Deep South.)  Nonetheless, for as much traveling as I have been doing lately, I never quite seem to completely get the hang of it, and always manage to forget something.  This time around, I managed to completely forget to bring any chargers for my phone or Kindle.  Given the fact that I don’t really plan to use either of them much for the next few days, this probably isn’t a big deal.

If you’ve been reading this Blog for long enough, you’ll know that I tend to spend a lot of my vacations these days either at Disneyland or on a cruise ship, and since I just did the other one a couple of weeks ago, you can probably guess which one I’m doing this time.  It’s just a quick three-day trip up the coast from LA to Vancouver, but with as busy as work has been lately, the respite is certainly welcome at this point.  It also provides a chance to try out a type of ship I haven’t been on before (I have made plenty of trips on the various Grand class Princess ships. But this will be my first time on one of the two Panamax ships in the fleet.)  This particular trip doesn’t stop anywhere, but we will have a little bit of time to spend in Vancouver between getting off the ship and taking a train back to Seattle.  So far, I don’t think we have any idea what we’re supposed to do there, but I’m sure we’ll figure out something.

There’s already talk of doing a 12-day Mediterranean cruise next Summer as well, but at this point that seems so far away that it’s hard to think to much about that one.  I haven’t been to Europe in over 20 years since I went to Germany for three weeks back in 1993, so that sounds like an interesting way to go see the Old Continent.  Then again, I hear those Mediterranean itineraries are pretty packed with ports almost every day, so that might not exactly be the best cruise to relax on either.

Ever have one of those vacation where you feel like you need a vacation from your vacation by the time you’re done?  For some reason that seems to happen a lot for me lately.  Then again, this one has been planned well in advance of any of the other recent trips (I believe we booked this back in November) so the other ones might be the stressful vacations you take just so you have an excuse to take a relaxing one.  And since this cruis has no stops, there should be plenty of time to do whatever I want, up to and including nothing. In just a few short hours I plan to be doing plenty of that for a while.

May 2, 2013

OK, What Next?

Filed under: Personal Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 1:01 am

As seems to be the case on a fairly regular basis, I’ve been quiet here for a bit lately.  It’s not that I haven’t had things to write about (I’ve still got a whole Disneyland trip to go over, plus another trip coming up next weekend,) it’s just that I’ve been busy not only with work (which continues to take up a disproportionate amount of my time,) but also with some personal challenges I have going on right now.  Although out of respect for those involved I feel that I should avoid discussing the details here, the short version of is that I am currently in the process of dealing with a rather significant setback in my personal life.  It’s nothing that I can’t get over, and I feel that all involved (including myself) have handled this about as well as it can be handled, but at the same time it also leaves me having to do some pretty serious reevaluation of where I am right now, and where I plan to be in the future.  I already have some of this coming up with the need to figure out where I’m going to be living in a couple of months (having to deal with apartment leases every year gets to be a serious pain after a while, but in the end it’s mostly just background noise in the bigger picture,) but recent events constitute a pretty significant change of plans for my indefinite future, one that I had not expected to have to deal with at this point.

To be honest, although there is definitely a significant amount of disappointment involved here, in some ways that’s the easiest part of the whole thing to deal with.  Yes, it’s true that things have not gone the way I had hoped they would for me in this case, but nobody is immune to that type of thing, and it serves no useful purpose to obsess over it or to make a bigger deal out of it than it really is.  On the other hand, I think the part of the experience that’s most difficult for me to deal with is the uncertainty that comes with this.  For years now, I’ve just had a general sense that I’ve been “running behind” on life in general.  If you had told me fifteen years ago that I’d be where I am now, in some ways I’d be quite happy about it, but at the same time I’d also have to tell myself that there are some goals my 20-year-old self would assume that I would have figured out years ago which remain unfulfilled at this time.  I know that one way or another things will all work out eventually, but I tend to be impatient about these things.  Then again, knowing what I was like back then, I suspect that my 20-year-old self would have dealt with this particular situation much differently than I am dealing with it now, and not in a good way.  Looking back at that time, if there’s one thing I’m thankful for, it’s the fact that I’ve been able to (mostly) grow out of the cynicism and pessimism that tended to dominate my mood during my earlier years.  It does still manage to creep back every once in a while, but I’ve learned to mostly ignore it, and when I can’t ignore it to keep it to myself.  Having a bad attitude about things rarely does much besides get people into trouble.  I suppose some people might call this type of thing maturity, but I suspect that even now I still have a lot to learn.

In particular, the most frustrating of the challenges I still face is the fact that, at age 35, I am still single with little idea of how I’m going to fix that.  Sure, I’ve managed to carve out a reasonably comfortable and stable niche for myself where I am, and by most accounts I’m doing pretty well in most areas, but finding the right person to spend the rest of my life with (and beyond) just still seems to elude me for some reason, and it makes it difficult for me to be completely happy with where I am right now.  Then again, given the consequences that arise when people end up getting that particular decision wrong or rush into it without proper forethought and planning, I firmly believe that this is the type of thing that you do not rush into.  I’ve seen far too many instances where making bad decisions here can lead to all sorts of problems and complications down the road (especially when children get involved in the process.)  I suppose everyone gets their own set of challenges and trials to deal with, and this seems to be one of the bigger ones on my plate, but I do imagine I’ll manage to figure this one out eventually.  Sooner than later would be nice, but at this point I’m mostly just hoping I can manage to not have to deal with teenagers when I’m 60 years old.

I apologize for being vague about all this, but I feel it’s best that I keep the specifics of what happened off the Internet.  In the end I’ll be OK and I’ll probably manage to learn some valuable lessons out of the whole process, but I suspect things will take a bit of time to sort out, and in the meantime I just need to deal with things as they happen.  I wish I had some idea about where all of this is leading me, but if I knew that there wouldn’t be any point in going along for the ride, right?

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