52 States in 8 Months

Wood fire — they have plenty of them in Yellowstone National Park

Posted in Rapid City and Yellowstone by Ulf on November 6, 2009

Hi all!
It has been a couple of months since I added something to this blog. There are a few draft posts which I didn’t publish so far. Well, here is one of them!
Cheers, Ulf

When I hear about wood fire, my first thought is always that they are a useless waste of energy. The energy stored in the wood is released without making any use of the heat. The only good thing is that wood fires burn only regenerative fuel, but that doesn’t change their uselessness. Until the 1970s, the National Park Service (NPS) had a similar opinion. They didn’t care about the energy, instead they simply didn’t want those fires to destroy their National Park. But when they studied those wood fires in detail, they discovered really interesting processes. Nowadays wood fires are only fought if buildings or men are in danger. So what made the NPS change its mind?

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Let’s have a look at two different families of trees that grow in the Yellowstone National Park: the “spruce and fir” and the “lodgepole pine“. At a first glance they might look similar, but there is a qualitative difference. The spruce-fir-trees give much more shadow than the lodgepole pines. The result is that only the (adapted) seeds of the spruce and fir can survive in a spruce-fir forest. With this knowledge you would probably assume that eventually the whole national park would be full of spruce and fir, since its spreading seems to be a one-way road.

However, there are wind damages, diseases and naturally caused wood fires that burn down the Yellowstone forests. This is where the lodgepole pines can play their joker card. They use two kinds of cones for reproduction: The first type grows, falls off the tree after some time and opens normally. The other type of cones is more interesting: it is “serotinous”. It doesn’t open itself at all. In fact, it doesn’t even fall off the trees on its own. However, if there is a fire, then its sealing melts and the seeds are spread. The advantage is obvious: the lodgepole pine seeds are at the right place at the right time. Right when the old trees burn down and no longer shade the ground, they can start their living!

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Although the lodgepole pine seems to be only a transient tree which would under ideal circumstances loose again the spruce-and-fir, it’s reproduction mechanism makes it the most common tree in the Yellowstone National Park.

However, besides the fire and the diseases, there are also other natural enemies of the trees in the Yellowstone. During my discovery tour I noticed that at least water and deer try their best to eliminate woodland:
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Here are some more pictures to keep record of some wood fires:
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(Please note the height of the snow in May compared to the height of the trees on the next picture!)

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Homecoming Announcement

Posted in Europe, USA by Ulf on June 24, 2009

British_AirwaysMy time in the United States is almost over. I’ll arrive in Germany around noon today, then I’ll spend a few days in Lower Saxony. Starting July 1st, I’ll attend the University of Stuttgart again…

Last year in November Pingu asked me how long I would manage to publish a blog post every day, and when my rhythm would break down. Pingu, here is your answer: from now on, there will only be irregular updates to this blog. Although there a lot of this that I have to tell you about. I have to tell you about our flight over the Grand Canyon, about our hike down into the Canyon, tell you some more stories about what we did in Las Vegas. I rarely mentioned the trip which I did with my cousin; we’ve been to New York again, we’ve been to Maine and to Boston. In Boston I bought my own copy of the GPL license in the office of the Free Software Foundation, which I’m a member of right now. And of course we’ve played “Boston Tea Party“, throwing some tea into the Atlantic at the very place where some others had already done that in 1773. Then there was my trip to the Northwest: I stopped in Chicago to see the Cloud Gate, I visited some relatives in Iowa (I have never met people before who were so proud of being German — especially not in the center of the United States!), I was invited to the house of someone who lives on a golf course, I saw the Mount Rushmore and I had my finger on the launch button of a Minuteman II ICBM, I visited the Badlands, and of course the Yellowstone National Park (which is the first national park — every Delawarean has to go there *g*). I attended the American Control Conference in St. Louis and gave a talk, so I now have my first scientific publication. I visited some more relatives in Columbus, Ohio. That’s where they have the (replica) of the Santa Maria, which Columbus used to come … well, not to the United States, but that doesn’t matter ;-). And I have to tell you about a lot of trips to DC. I’ve been to almost all museums (they have a lot of them in DC!!), I was in the Capitol, in the Library of Congress, in the Bureau of Printing and Engraving (one of two places in the world where Dollar bills are legally made), I saw a spaceship called Enterprise and I visited the National Archives and had a look at the Strategic Bombing Survey files from World War II. That basically means that I read a couple of discussions why some places in Germany and France should be bombed, and how they looked before and after the attacks. There are so many things I could tell you about… I hope I’ll find the time to write about them all before I forget all these stories! Oh, there are also some trip in this area that I can tell you about. There was this list which mentioned the zip code areas with the highest income in the United States. You’ll find names such as Montchanin, Rockland, Yorklyn, and Greenville. All Delaware. All within bicycle-distance from Newark :-).

But before I tell you about all that, I’ll come back to Germany. Looking forward to seeing all of you!

Yum yum, Indian Cuisine!

Posted in Meals by Ulf on June 23, 2009

Some weeks ago my office mate Vivek and his brother Vishal invited me so some Indian restaurant. They’re both vegetarians, and they’re used to Indian food, so I believe that I’m the one who enjoyed the Indian food the most :-). I basically tried everything the buffet offered. I guess that Mascha would say something like “Yum yum in my tum tum” :-).

So, what are my memories: The Indians also serve some bread to their meals, it’s called Naan. I like that! They have about 10 different curries, yammi yammi :-). There was some very tasty potato-like thing with peas inside (Edit: Samosa). And of course, there was the desert:

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Besides the melons you see basically pure sugar. (Edit: Not true! It’s almost pure milk. With sugar. And the yellow sauce is Mango pudding.) Wow, great, want more, amazing! And the best news: Vishal said that I would pay just about 2 Euros for such a meal in India. That is almost a must-go, isn’t it? *g*

Some stolen pictures and the Google hits…

Posted in Uncategorized by Ulf on June 22, 2009

Guess what happens when you google for “2009 Volkswagen Scirocco” or something like that. Oh, I mean Google Images. These are the results:
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Yes, I’m on the first page. The reason is simple: Some months ago I stole an image of an Volkswagen Scirocco when I wrote about the 2009 car sales in Europe. But my readers seem to be more interested in the image next to the numbers in that blog post…

Now, why am I telling you about this? Look at my blog stats:
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I really get a lot of traffic due to this simple blog post. I’ve had 290 views altogether on that single post. The only post which comes close is about Rock, Paper, Scissors (274 views). But I believe that people also don’t care about the text I wrote, they were just interested in the picture. And they found it using Google Images

How Delta/NWA became my favorite airline

Posted in St. Louis and Columbus by Ulf on June 21, 2009

250px-Northwest_Airlines_Logo.svgYou might remember that I don’t like Frontier Airlines. Here comes a better story! On my way from Philly to St. Louis I decided to go by NWA. They have a hub in Detroit, Michigan. Therefore I had to go from Philly to Detroit and then from Detroit to St. Louis.

Jun 09, NW1765, Philadelphia -> Detroit, Departure 9:17am, Arrival 11:08am.
Jun 09, NW1681, Detroit -> St. Louis, Departure 12:05pm, Arrival 12:46pm.

Unfortunately there was a thunderstorm over Philly, so all planes where grounded. This included not only NW1765, but also the flight NW1775 which was supposed to leave Philly early in the morning:

Jun 09, NW1775, Philadelphia -> Detroit, Departure 7:20am, Arrival 9:17am.

Now,bild9794 how did NWA become my favorite airline? When it became apparent that NW1765 wouldn’t make it to Detroit in time for my connection flight, they booked me into NW1775. And I didn’t even have to ask for it, they proposed this! That was really a nice service! But that’s not the end of the story: After the thunderstorm was over, a large number of planes wanted to depart from Philly airport. We spent about 30 minutes on the taxiway. The result was that NW1775 arrived in Detroit at 12:10pm, almost three hours late.

bild9796But you know what? NWA is a nice airline! While we were taxi’ing in Detroit, I noticed that NW1681 was still at the gate (although it was scheduled to depart at 12:05pm). The machine really waited for us (or maybe even for me alone). All passengers were already seated, the overhead bins were closed, but the gangway was still open! So the end of the story is: We arrived in St. Louis at about 12:50pm, perfectly in time!
Thank you, Delta/NWA!

A short note on the DC-9 planes they’re using: They’re really quiet since the engines are tail-mounted, but the intercom system is rather strange. Both on NW1775 and on NW1681 I could understand the captain very well, but whenever the cabin crew made an announcement, there was almost pure static coming out of the speakers…

Edit: Andi, I remember that you once got a free upgrade to first class. Seems like I’m not the only one who likes NWA’s great service :-).

University of Delaware Directions — and getting around in the US!

Posted in Newark, USA by Ulf on June 20, 2009

At first, there are travel suggestions on the homepage of the UD Office of Foreign Student & Scholars. However, they’re not really complete. Here are the options which I’ve used during my stay here. I wrote this in Summer 2009. I hope that it helps you finding your way around in the United States!

Philadelphia Airport <–> Newark. A very expensive but flexible option is Delaware Express. This is a shuttle service between Philly airport and where ever you live in Delaware. It costs about $50 (including tip) if you make a reservation. I once took them without a reservation, there I paid more like $55. Go to the Ground Transportation Desk at Philly Airport.

septa_logoPhiladelphia Airport <–> Newark, but also: Central Philadelphia, Wilmington. A very nice option is to take the SEPTA R1 train between Philly Airport and “University City”, and the R2 between “University City” and Newark. Some R2 trains don’t go all the way to Newark, in that case you can use the R2 to Wilmington. The ride costs $9, you can buy the ticket at the station.

dartWilmington <–> Newark. There are a number of DART buses going all through Delaware. I often used the Route 6 because it stops close to where I live. That bus takes me directly to the Amtrak Station in Wilmington. Greyhound and the Double Happiness are at the same place. Cost: $1.15, buy the ticket in the bus, have exact change.

Greyhound_logo_right_sizeWilmington <–> Washington, DC. Greyhound offers about 6-8 buses around the day. If you make an early reservation (three weeks in advance) you’ll pay $15.50, otherwise it might be $20 or so. Amtrak has trains running every 30 minutes. They cost $32.00. Once in a day the trains even stop in Newark, so you don’t even have to come to Wilmington. If you take the train in DC or in Wilmington, you can pick up or buy your train tickets at the station. In Newark it’s enough to buy the tickets after boarding the train.

fungwahNew York City <–> Boston. Yes, you could use Amtrak, but you don’t have to: Fung Wah will take you either way for $15. You can buy your ticket in advance, but that’s not necessary. The tickets can be used for any bus, so if you’re early or late, don’t worry.

Wilmington <–> New York City. Although you could use Amtrak for $39.00 (running every 30 minutes), I used Double Happiness for $20 (or $35 round trip), and I was completely satisfied. It is a Chinatown Bus service. You could use a combination of Septa and NJTransit to go to NYC by local trains only.

AK_SPVOther destinations in the US? This is how would I start planning my travel:

  1. Check if gotobus.com has some offer for you.
  2. Check out some other companies such as Megabus.com, Boltbus.com, Jefferson Lines, CoachUSA, … Wikipedia has a good list of intercity bus companies.
  3. Go Greyhound on greyhound.com. They have a station locator which might help you finding the closest station. You can buy tickets online (make use of their 7/14/21-days in advance offers!) and pick them up at any Greyhound station (“Will-call” tickets).
  4. Want a more comfortable ride than a bus? Go Amtrak! They have a PDF with all active train routes (Please note that not all stops are listed — they forgot Newark, for example *g*).
  5. I didn’t want to mention it, but if there are no other choices, you can also look for a flight. For example here, here or here. Sometimes it’s worth booking the flights directly on the websites of the airlines. Keep in mind that many flight routes in the US are subsidized — I don’t like that, therefore I wouldn’t buy tickets on those services. All other airlines just burn a lot of kerosene and pollute the planet.

Zensurula: What to do next?

Posted in Europe by Ulf on June 19, 2009

I just read a nice article from someone reflecting about the recent events regarding the Internetzensurgesetz:
Vielen Dank Ursula v.d. Leyen (ernst gemeint)!” — it’s pretty nice :-).

My question is: What to do next? I believe it would be worthwhile to get the list of blocked websites. So if anyone runs into one of those “STOP” signs, give me the link please, I’m curious!

The US Postal Service wants to have my money.

Posted in Stupidities, USA by Ulf on June 19, 2009

A few days ago I wanted to send a small letter to Europe:
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Nothing special so far. Sending this letter should cost $0.98. A few weeks ago it was still $0.94, but they’ve increased the fare. Alright, I can live with that. It’s still much cheaper than the Deutsche Post (they want to have about $1.40 for the same service).

However, there is one thing that I didn’t like. This automatic stamp dispenser doesn’t make any sales for less than $1. Now look at my options:
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The machine asks me whether I want to pay $1.42 or $5.38. The only alternative is to cancel the purchase. I decided to go into some other menu where I could manually buy a $1.00 stamp so that the machine is happy. Grrrr.

My last domestic trip

Posted in St. Louis and Columbus by Ulf on June 18, 2009

I’ve just finished my last domestic trip through the United States. I attended the 2009 American Control Conference in St. Louis, where I published my first paper :-). On my way back I visited some relatives in Columbus, Ohio. I have a lot of stories to tell, but at this point I’ll only mention two new states:

On my way to St. Louis I took the plane, and since the direct connection was awfully expensive I decided to take a flight from Philly to Detroit and from Detroit to St. Louis. Side effect: I’ve been to Michigan now! But I have only been in Michigan for less than a minute since my flight was late. Missouri itself is also green now, but I had seen it from a plane before, therefore Missouri doesn’t really count.

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My overall state counter is now at 55 states in 7 months and 17 days. Mission successful, I can return to Germany next week!

I got the flag! Revisited!

Posted in Newark by Ulf on June 17, 2009

Some weeks ago I told you about the federal flag which I bought from Senator Tom Carper. I mentioned that every American would need a flag. Well, so does every Delawarean!
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So, how did I get this flag? Well, the answer was already in my posting about the federal flag: I met John Kowalko during the Newark Nite about one and a half weeks ago. I was already a bit drunk, therefore I had enough courage to ask him for a flag. Well, it worked! :-)
I believe it was on Friday when John called me: He got a flag for me! And I even got a certificate which says that a Corporal and a Officer of the Delaware Capitol Police have flown it over the State Legislation building last Thursday. Thank you, everyone!

Just a few more words about John Kowalko: He really is a nice guy! People in Newark, if you haven’t done so yet, walk over and talk to him. He used to work as a machinist in one of the petroleum plants I saw near Delaware City (I believe I haven’t told you about that bike trip yet, that will hopefully appear later on in this blog). As a State Representative he focuses on the installation of an off-shore wind turbine park near … I believe it was Rehoboth Beach in southern Delaware. I believe that this is a very good thing! The US have the amazing advantage that most major cities are located close to the shoreline. This is the place where you want to install wind power plants. John’s long-term goal is to have 80% of all Delaware electricity to come from sustainable sources. Besides the flag, John also gave me a little sticker, saying “Embrace Wind”. Yeah! :-)

(Oh, talking about flags: my Basque room mate Iñaki gave me a Basque flag. I’ll use it to defend my future office against any Spanish Conquistador who dares to come *g*)