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Friday, July 2, 2010

I Am Now All Set For My Vacation!

It has been a week of intensive research, but it has left me much better prepared for my vacation now. The last few hours before I leave on vacation are usually when I am most tense because of nagging doubts about whether everything that needs to be taken care of has really been taken care of. I am sure I will have similar doubts before I leave on this vacation also, but I know that I am better prepared now than I was a week back.

I spent lots of hours this week researching ideas for sight-seeing and shopping during my vacation. I took tips from established guide book sites like Fodors, Frommers and Lonely Planet. I also visited and read through the real-world experiences of other travelers on sites like TripAdvisor.

In addition, I went on Google Maps and located the hotels where we are going to be staying. I then printed out maps with the vicinity of the hotel so that we can orient ourselves once we are there. The interesting thing is that only Google Maps seems to have detailed street-level maps of the cities in Peru. Yahoo Maps allows me to see the vicinity of the cities, but I can't zoom in to a street-level view because the street-level data does not exist. Mapquest is even worse, and does not even give me a way to enter a city outside the US because it needs a state and zip code for any map request. Putting in "Lima" in the city slot only brings up 10 Lima's, all inside the US. So, if you are traveling outside the US, and need reasonably good street maps, use Google Maps! I use Google Maps almost exclusively even for local maps, so this cements their hold on me for all my mapping needs.

I keep detailed logs of all my journeys during my vacations, including distances and other details. So, I did a lot of research, visiting various forums and personal websites and blogs to collect distance information for the various journeys I will be making during this vacation. Latitudes, longitudes and elevations were part of this research too.

I also read up a bit on altitude sickness, and what to do if I am afflicted by it. I am mostly confident that I will not suffer altitude sickness since I have climbed up high mountains in the past without suffering any ill-effects. I have scaled both Mount Shasta (14,179 feet or about 4,322 meters) and Mount Whitney (14,497 feet or about 4,418 meters) in addition to several mountains in the Sierras and Rockies that are over 10,000 feet high.

During none of those climbs have I encountered any symptoms of altitude sickness, but then I spent only a few hours at over 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) in all these cases. On this vacation I am going to be spending 4 or 5 days at an elevation of over 10,000 feet, so I wanted to read up on altitude-related problems on the off-chance that I might actually suffer some ill-effects related to the thin air in Cusco and Puno.

I did not get to do any census work this week as I explained in an earlier post. The Thursday shifts at the local census office were also canceled because they did not get the go-ahead to start printing out VDC materials. I got an email yesterday evening canceling all the Friday shifts also, but today morning I got another email reinstating the shifts and encouraging even those who are not scheduled to work today to come into the office anyways. Looks like they want to get the VDC materials out in a big hurry to make up for the lost time! I was not scheduled for any work today anyways, so I am not going to go in and try to pick up any work. If they have no work left for me to do by the time I come back, I will happily turn in my badge and say goodbye to the census bureau (at least for the next 10 years or so)!

At home, things have been going along pretty well. Based on my coaching, and the progress made on the jigsaw puzzle, my daughter became more encouraged and made a lot of progress on it. My wife also got into the fray and helped her a little bit. My wife had never shown much interest in the puzzle before, but admitted that it was quite addictive once you get the hang of it!

The puzzle is being assembled on a table which is up against a corner of the room. This means that two sides of the table are easy to approach, but the two other sides are not as easy to get to. You have to lean over the entire table to reach the other two sides. So, the sides of the puzzle that were along the approachable sides of the table got all the attention while the other two sides of the puzzle showed anemic progress right from the beginning.

To address this, we could have moved the table off the corner it is in, or rotated it around. But, we did not want to move the table off the corner and have it occupy more space in the middle of the room. So, we left it as it is, but I rotated the puzzle around so that it became upside down compared to how it was before. And what a difference that made! My daughter, my wife and I have added several dozen pieces to new areas of the puzzle made more accessible by this change in orientation. I would say the puzzle is now about 40 to 50% complete. The accompanying photographs show the current state of the puzzle (one photograph shows the puzzle after it has been turned upside down by rotating it on the table. The other shows the puzzle right-side up and was taken from the opposite end of the table).

The puzzle will almost certainly not be completed before we leave on vacation, but it has certainly become much more interesting to everyone in the family! As it becomes easier to work on, everyone wants a piece of it. Initially, when it was very difficult to work on because of the large number of unassembled pieces, nobody wanted to work on it, and I had to literally threaten my daughter that I would disassemble the puzzle and put the pieces back into the box to get her to work with me on it. Now that the number of unassembled pieces has gone down by half, it is much easier to build out and complete, so everyone is more enthusiastic about it!

In addition to the puzzle, of course, other preparations for the vacation are underway too. I completed a big load of laundry yesterday, and another big load awaits me today evening. I mowed the lawn a few days back, and am hoping it will not get overgrown during the week I am not going to be around.

I also finished up most of the stuff that needed to be done at my regular job before I leave on vacation. There were several loose ends that needed tying up and/or tightening, so all that was taken care of this week. My mid-year accomplishments have been cataloged and entered into the system along with review ratings for my direct reports. Presentations have been spruced up and assigned to others to take over and modify to their final forms. Last minute data analysis has been completed, and projects that I support have been handed off to the respective secondary support persons with appropriate instructions. I am sure the company will survive my absence for a week, and in fact, my worry is that nobody will even notice!

I did not publish my usual blog posts about Access and Vedic Mathematics this week. I was too busy doing research and working on other things. They will have to wait till I come back from vacation. I did put together a couple of posts with updates about my census work and my progress on the jigsaw puzzle.

I did get a visitor from a new country on my blog this week. The new visitor was from Jersey. So, now my flagcounter widget has 137 flags on it. Flagcounter also made available a new widget that shows a world map with all the flags of visitors loaded on it. This is a map I have been able to see by logging into my account at flagcounter, but I have not been able to show it on my blog before. This feature enhancement enabled me to put that map on my blog, and you can find it towards the bottom of the page, below all the blog posts.

I have no idea how easy or difficult it will be for me to access the internet during my vacation. I also have no idea how much time I will have even if I have access. And, most importantly, I have no idea whether I will be interested enough to update my blog when I do have internet access and some free time on my hands. So, if I don't update the blog for the next 10 days, so be it. Please do check back frequently for updates on the progress of my vacation as well as a full report on how the trip went, in addition to other things!

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