Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity

This morning I volunteered for a second day with Habitat for Humanity. We were supposed to paint the outside of a house to which we applied primer two weeks ago; however, it was raining—brief lightning, too—so we wound up working on the interior. The future Habitat homeowners putting in their required hours mainly worked on painting the doors. I wound up doing much caulking of baseboards and shelves, but I also sawed some boards to become shelves and secured shelves with a nail gun. Good stuff!

Helping people build homes is enjoyable, and it also gives exposure to a number of tools, methods, and people. The Tucson branch doesn't have any volunteering during July, because it is too hot. If more openings come up, I will volunteer again later this year.

Memorial Day Weekend on Saguaro Lake

My friend and I towed his boat up to Saguaro Lake this Thursday. We quickly found that the work he had had done was inadequate: Every time we turned off the engine or ran at near-idle speed for more than a few minutes, one cylinder would quit firing. Thankfully we had multiple spares, so we could rotate through them and generally maintain performance.

But the throttle linkage seemed wonky as well, with irregular fluctuations, one of which tossed me backward from the bow. My rear still hurts from that fall.

Our first night was spent camping on a floating dock without cleats about midway to the dam at the opposite end of the lake. Early Friday morning I woke to feel four steps on my chest followed by a flop flop of wings right by my ear. Some largish bird had used me as a runway. Shortly thereafter we pulled over to the secured dock to check out the campground, which was very nice: at least twenty sites, ample shade trees, and a toilet. But someone else had set up their boat in preparation for a horde of revelers that would arrive throughout the day.

After cruising up and down the lake and refueling, we met my father and step-mother for Fish Friday at the marina's restaurant. Not bad at all! But when we returned to the campground dock, there was barely an opening. We managed to squeeze in, which brought some people convinced our boat was going to bump into theirs. We apparently defused the tension, but probably the revelers' drinking helped them forget all about us. They cranked music until midnight, but the Mr. Microphone sessions thankfully ended around 10. Few had expected the night temps to drop into the 50s, so there was a late-night exodus back to the marina and onward to homes and hotels.

Saturday was a repeat at the campsite, with even more boats tied three abreast. This time, however, people were prepared for the cold. During the day, a Phoenix friend came and we drove him up to the dam. On the way back, we stopped at a party beach where we met, unexpectedly, another Tucson acquaintance. Drinks in buggies had driven overland to the beach, and one poor guy managed to roll his on the beach. People got together to right it, only to find his head gashed badly. Thankfully another boater and hockey enthusiast had superglue on hand, which was used in lieu of stitches. On our way back to the marina, we saw the State Patrol boat stop at least one boat for unknown transgressions.

Sunday morning we decided to call it quits, but we had learned it will be worth going up for the campground on non-holiday weekends.

A Student to Marry

I greatly enjoyed most of my Japanese students and colleagues, but I have retained contact with only a few of them. Most of my acquaintances are from my Tokushima University days, during which my Japanese ability began to improve and the size of the city, smaller than Sapporo and Tokyo, helped me get to know people better. My last unwed student recently sent photos of the man to whom she is now engaged, who proposed by writing "Please Marry Me Rie" in fruit syrup on a dessert plate at dinner.

Congratulations Rie!

Trip to the Northwest

Recently I made a trip to the Northwest to see a friend who runs two restaurant franchises. He and his wife welcomed us warmly! Since they work long hours, we were left to our own devices, which mainly meant our rental car and my GPS unit. Despite the haze from the many forest fires, the skies were pleasantly overcast, the air was refreshingly moist, and there was green everywhere but in the grass.

We drove around the Bremerton area but visited just two state parks: Scenic Beach and Illahee. Both had ample forest filled with tall trees and curious ferns. Views across still bodies of water are plentiful, but I did not smell the omnipresent faint turpentine that marked my first trip up there. We strolled the short main drag of Poulsbo and bought tasty breads at its Scandinavian bakery. The tiny town's Safeway has a fireplace!

After a few days we were ready for the ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, British Columbia. Just two hours long, the ferry was very dull as the weather left little to see. There was also minimal space in the hold, so getting in and out of my car was miserable. However, Canadian immigration was speedy and we made our way to our hotel at the foot of Craigdarroch Castle with no trouble. We visited the Royal Museum after a tasty late seafood lunch downtown. The next day we visited the Castle and chatted with a well-travelled photographer. That was followed with a trip to Butchart Gardens, which was truly delightful and loaded with international visitors. After dinner at Fishhook, where our waitress was a sweet lass from Regina, an odd fellow asked if I would continue being loud on his bus, to which I replied I would not. He then asked if we were tourists and apologized on the behalf of Victoria. The next day we drove about until it was time to queue for the ferry back. A trio of women from Astoria, Oregon, made the 90 minute wait go quickly. Our return trip was under a blue sky with broad views of the Sound and its encircling mountains. US immigration was astoundingly fast!

Soon we were in Port Townsend, with its nifty Victorian buildings and superb views over the Windmere Islands. I was miffed at missing the Hoosier owner of the 1020 Café but we did eat a bit at Aldritch's before returning to my friend's house.

Construction and accidents did not prevent our making our flight home to Arizona.

Arrival in Brazil

On Christmas Day, I flew out of O'Hare to reach Recife, Brazil, the following day. My friend Eduardo and his family were waiting for me. I spent three very pleasant weeks with them until flying out of Recife on January 14th for a grueling return trip of 28 hours total plus another 11 hours of waiting combined with a swell Amtrak ride from Chicago to Indianapolis.

My arrival in São Paulo, at Guarulhos International Airport, was uneventful. The immigration official, a coy young woman, asked me no questions. I got my bags and changed $100 at the exchange near the baggage carousel, which was a bad idea: The fees were high—R$60 conversion fee, I think—and the rate was around $1=R$2.5 instead of the current R$3.3. However, I finally had some Brazilian cash, which I had not been able to arrange beforehand in the US. I cleared customs without a problem then walked through the doors into São Paulo. There were people milling about, a large exit where buses and taxis were coming and going, and a couple small stands selling food.

Not sure where to go to put my luggage for it to continue its domestic journey, I wandered about, gawking at everything. Eventually I happened across an information booth, where a young woman amused by my feeble Portuguese told me in English she where to check my bags. After doing so, I queued for the domestic flights. After feeding my ticket through a wicket, I passed the airport employee and moved down a glass hallway for the passenger inspection, essentially the same as what the TSA does. The signs were fairly clear, so I walked to my gate through an airport that felt more like a bus station because of the somewhat monotonous grey concrete, all very public and functional in feel. There were nice eateries and stores along the way.

At my gate, there were very few people, so I connected to the airport's free WiFi to use Skype to call my friend in João Pessoa. He said his family would meet me at Recife's airport then we hung up. For the next couple of hours, I walked about my gate, watching and listening to passengers, watching the TV screens with their alternating headline news and ads, and occasionally reading my Portuguese materials. 

For breakfast, I bought dark coffee, unsweetened juice, and warm soft bread from the Casa do Pão de Queijo chain, which started in São Paulo, near my gate. The prices were high, what I expect in every international airport. The girl waiting on my was very charming, but she asked for meal options that I could not understand. Eventually a young man came up and translated. He was originally from Brazil but living in the US doing HVAC work in Connecticut. What a coincidence!

My flight to Recife was uneventful, but clouds obscured much of the Brazil passing beneath me. About 30 minutes from Recife, the clouds vanished and the Northeast spread inland. It looked rather hilly, largely brownish with yellow roads, not the red dirt roads of the tropics that I had expected. Then Recife began to appear, large areas of favelas one or two stories high. The city's core high rises gleamed white with the blue ocean beyond them.

Recife's airport had clearly been recently renovated. It was shiny and clean, plenty of glass and natural light. Everything moved well, and it took little time for my baggage to appear. While waiting for it, a young man approached me to ask about why I had arrived in Recife: He was doing research for the state tourism board. Then I gathered my stuff, walked through the opaque doors, and immediately found my friend's family waiting for me—superb! We were quickly out of the airport, in tropical sounds and smells, and on our way.

I gave them an OK sign, but it wasn't until some days later that Eduardo told me that the US gesture for OK is a rude gesture in Brazil. We shared a laugh about it.

Finals Finally Final

Today at 12:30 I finished my last final exam for my BS EE. Now I wait to see what grades will come back. There is a good chance of two As and a C, but we'll see. I have some grading of my own to do for the course I assisted.

What is curious is that I feel neither joy nor satisfaction at having completed everything. Rather I just feel exhausted from the stress of finals now in the past.

My girl and I celebrated at the Indianapolis Rock Bottom Brewery with some fellow engineering students, recent or current graduates. The bison burger was tasty!

On December 22, 2016, the last grade was submitted to the registrar, with the following results:

  1. ECE 321: Electromechanical Motion Devices, B
  2. ECE 421: Advanced Digital Logic Design, A
  3. ECE 463: Introduction to Computer Communications Networks, A

Now I wait for someone to sign off that my degree is indeed complete. My program GPA wound up 3.612, but my degree GPA was 3.803.