52 States in 8 Months

One National Park is not enough: Let’s visit Biscayne!

Posted in Florida by Ulf on December 15, 2008

On our way back from the Everglades, we visited the Biscayne National Park. Yes, you’re right. They do have multiple National Parks right next to each other.

If you want to know more about the history of this National Park, open the first image and read the text on the board. It basically says that a public campaign wanted to prevent some company to build a large refinery at this place. They said that the industry would harm the environment, so they founded this National Park. The second picture shows Pingu and Christoph on a trail which many anglers use. Please also notice the plant on the right hand side of the second picture ;-).

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I also have some other pictures of the Biscayne National Park. But as my camera broke down on the day before we went on our trip, I can only show you the pictures which Pingu took. Well, I noticed something. All pictures which Pingu took have some birds on them. I mean, I also like eating chicken. But I guess Pingu has something different in mind. Anyone has some clues?

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Just one last thingy about the Biscayne National Park: We planned to go snorkeling there or to get some canoes and make a short trip. However, the only enterprise which had a concession in that National Park went bankrupt the week before we arrived. Starting December 15th (today!) , a new company is established, so please feel free to go there yourself and tell us about the boat trips that we have missed ;-).

Flamingos in Flamingo

Posted in Florida by Ulf on December 13, 2008

At the southern end of Florida’s mainland, there is a place called “Flamingo“. It was a small settlement from the late 19th century until the Everglades National Park was dedicated in 1947. Nowadays there are many empty parking slots in Flamingo, an unmanned visitor center and a couple of badly damaged buildings: the “Flamingo Hotel” has not been restored after the 2005 Hurricane Wilma. (Did you know that the strength of a hurricane can be measured by the air pressure in its eye? Wilma reached an center pressure as low as 0,882 bar which made it a very strong cyclone.)

There is also a small shop in Flamingo. One might call it a “Tante Emma Laden” in Germany. They have a little harbor, so you can get all kinds of boat equipment there. We also got our lunch at this place — and we were astonished about the cheap prices. Although this is the only place to buy something to eat in a radius of about 40 miles, we paid less than in Miami!

Reading my description so far, you might think Florida Bay is a really ugly, run-down place. Well, it is lonely, but not run-down. Look at the view! Do you notice the flamingos on the second picture?

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image11 Next to the harbor, they have a campsite. It’s free in the summer (May to September) as they have many mosquitoes, but some guides say it’s crowded in the winter season. Well, no.

Just as most campsites we went to so far, every lot has its own BBQ grill. The majority of them looked like nobody had ever used them so far. Maybe they have just been installed for this season?

If you ever come to Florida in the Winter with about one spare week, here is what you can do: Get some canoes or kayaks and go from campsite to campsite by boat! They have really marvelous places here. There are campsites on some of the tiny islands in Florida Bay which have wooden platforms where you can put your tent on. You can’t get wet there and crocodilians won’t reach you. (As we had only one day at this place, we only saw those campsites on the map from the National Park Service.)

The Everglades, an undiscovered country.

Posted in Florida by Ulf on December 12, 2008

dscf3676-roadThere is just a single road which goes straight through the Everglades National Park. They call it the “Main Park Road”. Basically everybody who visits this National Park will drive on this road. It will be absolutely crowed, with millions of motorhomes and SUVs all over the place. As the late November is the best time of the year to visit the Glades, we expected it to be even more jammed.

Reality turned out to be different. As a rough estimate, there are just as many park rangers as tourists in this place.dscf3692 We met about 20 other cars on about 60 miles of tarmac. But the National Park Service really does a lot to make people come here. The road is in perfect shape and even the road shoulder was nicely mowed all along the way. They really care about the Glades.

On our way through the Park we stopped at two completely different walkabouts. These are small paved tracks through a beautiful area. They say that each of the tracks takes you about an hour to walk. However, that’s probably an estimation for some elderly fellows on wheelchairs ;-).

Our first walkabout took us through a beautiful wood. No risk of getting a sunburn here, instead a constant temptation of leaving the track and playing Tarzan in the jungle.

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Ok, you’re right. This is a beautiful place, but it’s not the way we expected it to be. Therefore we tried the next walkabout. This trail was not paved anymore, but it was a long wooden footbridge instead. A good indicator that it would soon get wet under our feet.
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And this time, we were right. Just a few steps ahead the jungle got lighter, only consisting of thin cypress trees that had already dropped most of their leaves. And then we saw the reason why this area is called the “Everglades“. It’s such a large place, you can look as far as you want and you’ll still only see some single trees here and there:

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But our time was constantly running out, so we went on to Florida bay and a mysterious place called “Flamingo”. Perhaps this is where the masses of tourists are hiding?
See you later!

Digging deeper in the Everglades

Posted in Florida by Ulf on December 10, 2008

As Alexandra has mentioned in a comment on an older post, our airboat trip was not really in the Everglades. I mean, those were the Everglades, but only the very beginning of them. There is a large Everglades National Park with more than 6,000km2 to discover (ok, if I think about this now, it’s not too much…) where you are not allowed to go by airboat.

economy4drTherefore, on November 21st, we went to holidayautos.de again and booked a “F1 Economy 4dr a/c aut (oder ähnlich)” for November 22nd to 23rd. We paid 34€ altogether including a liability insurance, a comprehensive cover and a full tank of petrol. I still don’t understand how this works because even with US gas prices, the 34€ will just be sufficient to fill the tank. There is almost nothing left for paying the car and both the German and the American staff.

Anyway — on Saturday morning we went to the Alamo site in Miami South Beach and got our reasonably priced car. It was some white Japanese model with about 5,000 miles on the clock. I’m afraid we did not take pictures of it, so I can’t tell you exactly what is was (Clemens, Christoph, did you take any pictures?). Oh, I have not yet introduced our group: We, that is my fellow Alexander (who I might call Pingu later on), the slackline walker Christoph and Clemens. Clemens seemed not to be very familiar with my way of driving a car: when he was drinking some water from his bottle right in front of the car rental company, he probably did not expect my to do a U-turn right away. You might want to enlarge this photo to see the water in Clemens’s face ;-)


However, regarding the Florida temperatures, his clothing probably got dry very quickly again on our route through the Everglades:


But not only Clemens experienced some surprising moments. The Everglades National Park had many things which I would not have expected. On our way there, we went by a building with funny, well-trimmed sculptures in front of it:


This turned out to be the yard of a police station (here is the proof). But this obviously was long before we arrived in the Everglades. So stay tuned for the next posts… :-)

How to win an Alligator Chili Contest?

Posted in Florida by Ulf on December 10, 2008

Either you eat them or they will eat you. This is something we have not learned about the alligator, but it still gives a nice bridge to what we did after the Airboat ride in the Everglades: We were divided into four groups, each one with their own cooking and grilling station. Our task was to cook the best alligator chili of the world. But as “Too many cooks spoil the broth”, we would let our three chefs do their job:


The other four of us, headed by a girl called Jennifer, prepared the table for the jury, and — what was even more impressing in the end — got a lot of accessories for our presentation. We obtained a large alligator-skin imitation, an alligator tail, alligator shoes (which unfortunately nobody noticed), a couple of large torches and an alligator mouth with real alligator teeth rip-offs (made from plastic knifes, plastic plates and some green wrapping paper):
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Our chefs were very good and the presentation went as it was planned. Therefore, our group won the contest. We were awarded with real alligator teeth on a necklace, possibly even from the alligator that went into our chili ;-).
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PS: Special thanks to Yannick for supplying me with his photos of this evening. I really appreciate it!

“I’m a friend of Daniel.”

Posted in Florida by Ulf on December 9, 2008

The McKinsey people (“Daniel”) were so kind to pay our bills in the bars where we spend the evenings. As we were a group of about 30 Germans, this led to significant four-digit costs every day. But we had fun :-). I don’t want to bore you with a lot of party pictures, but there is one which I don’t understand. Why is everybody pointing in the same direction? The two in the back are Pingu and Philine. They are both control engineers. That must be the reason why everybody is pointing at them.


Airboat ride in the Everglades

Posted in Florida by Ulf on December 8, 2008

Before I went to Florida, I did not really know much about the Everglades. I only knew that they have alligators (which I would have called crocodiles), and I knew that they have these airboats:
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What I did not think about before is why they use these airboats. Well, they’re cool, obviously. But there’s also another reason. The water in the Everglades is not very deep. In most places it’s less than 1ft to the ground. And there is grass everywhere. So you don’t want to have an outboard motor as it would just get stuck. That’s why they just build the body of a ship and attach two propellers to it. Our engine came from a crashed Ford road car. btw: The girl from the back row that smiles into the camera on the second picture is called Anne Marie, she is also studying at the law school in Hamburg.

These airboats don’t really drive as you would expect it from normal boats. They don’t have a keel like normal boats have, so they are real holonomic mechanical systems. That means that the constraints of the system do not involve any derivatives of the generalized coordinates. Or in other words: if you turn the boat while you are at speed, the whole thing will drift sideways. That’s fun!

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We met David Hasselhoff!

Posted in Florida by Ulf on December 5, 2008

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Ok, these are Kamil and Lena in Miami Beach and not David and Pamela in Malibu, but it somehow feels the same :-).

Slacklining, or the parallelogram of force

Posted in Florida, People, University stuff by Ulf on December 5, 2008

As the consulting business is really exhausting, we had to go to Miami Beach to relax a bit:

bild3682If you now get the impression that we are lazy, then you’re totally wrong. We are doing university level math and solving the largest mystery of life. Let me introduce to you:

bild3680This is Christoph. He is from the “Law school” in Hamburg. And the blue thingy which he wears around his neck, that’s a slackline.Whenever Christoph finds two trees in a distance of about 6.561 yards (6m) with nothing in between, he will wrap one end of the slackline around one tree and the other end around the other tree, so that he will finally have a tight rope in between. Then he justs jumps on it and walks back and forth until he will finally fall down. This sounds easy, but as he told me, you need a really good sense of balance and a lot of training.

So, what has this to do with the “largest mystery of life”? Well, as we were having our Miami Beach sunbathes, we were drawing little parallelograms of force into the sand. We tried to figure out what force would act on the tree while Christoph was trying to keep upright. Well, while we were on the beach, we did not really figure it out. The main question was: How far is the slackline deflected while Christoph is standing on it?
While Christoph is slacklining, he has better things to do than measuring distances, so he couldn’t tell us. And we were, of course, to lazy to go to the next tree. But later that day (when it was already to dark to get sharp photos) we did the experiment and finally got our data. Here are my calculations:


From the distances you get the angles α1 = 7.59° and α2 = 18.43° which gives the following forces in the ropes:

F1 = 1513N
F2= 1581 N

where F1 is the force in the left rope and F2 is analogously the force in the right rope.

Well, that’s not that much. Sorry, Christoph, you will not chop any trees down this way, but your 7tons rope will stand it forever (it was like 7 tons, wasn’t it?) .

PS/1: I once again did not manage to include the SVG drawing into this blog post. Wp.com does not allow me to upload svg files and it seems like I cannot include files from foreign hosts. Does anyone know a way around this?

PS/2: It was easy to draw the palm trees following these instructions.

What roughly 30 Neuländers are doing all day

Posted in Florida by Ulf on December 4, 2008

I obviously wasn’t in Miami for a holiday. I took part in the “Neuland 2008” seminar by McKinsey & Company. We had to sign NDAs, so I will not give you details on what our seminar was about. But I guess I can mention that we were about 30 students from a variety of disciplines. This includes law students, physicists, physicians, political scientists, engineers and obviously many economists. McKinsey showed us their best practice of consulting projects.

At first we were divided in teams of five students each. We worked on the steps itself in small conference rooms. Afterwards we met in a large assembly hall for discussing our results:
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But when it got to cold inside (those A/Cs are really a pain!), we decided to “work” next to the pool:
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After having written this, I must admit that Neuland turned out to be more of a holiday for me than a serious seminar. Well, this is not totally unexpected… *g*. I can recommend Neuland, so if you have good grades and spend the next autumn in the US or in Canada, just make an application. (Although they say it’s different, my experience is that good grades and a nice covering letter are what McKinsey scours for.)

Concerning McKinsey itself (and from what we were told, this also applies to BCG and the other consulting companies): Well, I’ll never work there and I will never request their services. They just live in a totally different world. Still, Neuland was a very joyful week, so just go there yourself and get your own picture!