52 States in 8 Months

Chinatowns of the East Coast unite!

Posted in Inauguration trip by Ulf on March 20, 2009

In the morning after the presidential inauguration I had some spare hours. At first I wrote some postcards which I bought in the previous evening (10 postcards for $1, but I gave six to Alex and Rebekka, so I only sent four of them to Germany).
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Then, at exactly 10am, I went to the National Museum of American History. I went to the lower floor of this museum. Who would have imagined that I started with the exhibition about cars? ;-)

The left-hand side picture shows the first American number plates. Yes, I’m talking about the tiny buttons! They were not attached to the cars but to the suits which the drivers wore during the ride ;-). The second picture is for my fellows at Getrag. We were working on different clutch actuation systems. Well, it turned out that the Americans were a bit faster, they already had the “electromatic clutch” in 1941.

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In the section about the 1970s they mentioned their gas price shock. Yes, even the United States had rules which said that people with even number plates could only buy fuel on even days and odd number plates had to wait for odd days. Yes, this is unfair when a month ends with a 31st and the next month starts with a 1st, both odd numbers.

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Ah, and there was Stanley, the winner of the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge :-). It proofed that a Volkswagen is quicker than a Hummer and a Ford even without any driver at all ;-).

When I had enough of the cars, I went to the inventors section, starting with Thomas Edison’s bulb. However, the exhibit which amazed me the most was a simple graph. It shows the efficiency of different types of lamps. The low pressure sodium lamp which we know from our streets clearly wins this contest. From the same electrical power it creates about six times as much light as a classical incandescent light bulb. That is amazing! Unfortunately, the light is monochromatic which would probably not be accepted in our offices…

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At about 11am I already had to leave the museum since I had to catch a bus. On my way out I saw some skeleton which wore all the amenities that medicine can offer today :-). And I saw C-3PO, the one they used in Star Wars 6.

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There was a nice car on my way to the bus station. Please read the two inscriptions on the windows :-).

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When I finally arrived at the Chinatown bus station (well, it’s not really a station, it’s just a normal sidewalk), I realized that the bus was hopelessly overbooked. The Chinatownbus people said that they would request some more buses to make sure we would all arrive. I waited for about 2 hours in total, but that was fine. I made it onto the third Philly bound bus.

In Philly I first went to the Independence Mall again where I bought a birthday present for my sister (no more details at this point). Also, I visited the building where Jefferson drafted the constitution. Although it’s just a replica, the building is very easy to find: Just look for the only small building among many large ones.

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On my way back to Philly Downtown I went past an empty house with just some piece of art behind a window: It was a shopping caddy made of strip lights. The artist had also taken a movie showing the places where the illuminated caddy was on display before. I really liked it!

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I went on to Schuylkill River. Wikipedia wants me to pronounce it like “SKOO-kull”, but I don’t really understand what they mean with those uppercase letters. Anyway, on the way there I crossed a very nice road: They put the flags from many countries from around the world on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Wow! That’s a rare gesture in the US. Normally they would put up the flags from the US states instead ;-). But William Penn was watching, so they chose to do the right thing :-).

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I arrived at the river just in time to sea a magnificent sunset. The Cire Centre was even more beautiful at this time of day than it normally is :-).

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However, I did not have much time to take pictures since I had to catch my train home. So I rushed into the 30th street station and jumped onto the R2 towards Wilmington. There was just enough time left to take a picture of a large structure in this enormous train station:

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So, why do I show you this blurry picture of SEPTA’s “Notice to the Public”? Well, just because the formulation “on the basis of race, color or national origin” can be found four times in this text. Basically every paragraph uses it :-). Maybe they should have looked for some more pleasing phrasing, one with less legal terms.

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The Presidential Parade with a disappointing GWU float

Posted in Inauguration trip by Ulf on March 18, 2009

I’ve a very bad feeling: This post will once again be very long. One picture will look like any other, so the whole thing will get very boring. Please consider this more like a diary post for myself (and my memories) and less as a blog post for your entertainment ;-).

So, what was the presidential parade like? Well, at first Alex and I went to some GWU student center and bought something to eat (Yammi, yammi!! the best meal I’ve had for weeks or maybe even for months!). This is also where we finally met Rebekka. She has never been far away from us during the whole morning, but we actually never saw her ;-). Rebekka had some newspaper, and there was a very funny article. Do you remember the Iraqi Shoe-Tosser? Well, apparently someone threw some shoes over the White House fence just before Bush moved out :-) :-) :-).

Meanwhile the new president had his lunch, too. We watched the CNN coverage in the student center. They also told us about Senator Ted Kennedy who collapsed during this lunch. Fortunately he survived. Otherwise Obama’s first day as a black president would have been really a “black day” for the United States.

While the presidential parade started, Alex, Rebekka and I enjoyed the warm atmosphere of the GWU student center. Meanwhile Daniel and Boris benefited from their observation points: They witnessed at first hand what we only saw on the TV screen:


The fifth picture disclosed that the Americans do not take their parades as serious as the Russians do. There was a Metro bus right between armed forces!! :-)

About 30 minutes after the parade started, the real object of desire went by. However, Obama was in his armored car, so Boris and Danial only saw his silhouette. The media said that Michelle Obama had problems with walking the whole distance. I think putting Obama in a car with closed windows is the job of some US security lunatics. Anyway, our Delawarian Joe Biden was not taking the car, and our two scouts on the Pennsylvania Ave sidewalk spotted him :-).


After the president reached the White House, the main part of the parade started. Many marching bands from all over the country went by, and Obama had to watch all of them from his lookout next to Penn Ave. Wikipedia says that there were 15,000 people altogether. That number doesn’t mean much to me, so let’s try to visualize it. If they were walking in a distance of 2m, the queue would be 30km long. With a speed of 5km/h, the parade would have lasted 6 hours. Luckily they were not all lined up but formatted a grid instead, so the overall parade took only about 2 hours.



Somewhere at about two thirds of the parade, the GWU float took part. But how does it look like? What happened to the inflatable globe for the school of international affairs? You’ve seen it a few days ago. They’ve replaced it with an American flag! What kind of a symbol is that? If the international affairs don’t work as expected, the GWU just replaces every internationality with a patriotic American flag? I thought the time of American solo runs was finally over…

Alex, Rebekka and I were so upset that we left the GWU student center immediately and looked at the parade itself. It turned out that the TV pictures were right: The globe had really been replaced with the flag. Poor GWU…

Once we were outside, we decided to watch the end of the parade. It was about 6pm, just after sunset. This is why it was not that easy to take pictures. Still it was interesting to see what different cameras make out of the same situation: The first picture is from Rebekka, the second one is from my camera and the third one finally comes from Alex:

The funny thing is that we did not arrange to take pictures at the same time. It just happened ;-).

During the parade there were many funny floats. At some point a Corvette was driving along Pennsylvania Ave, and there were also some American lawnmowers and some rolling toilet bowls. I don’t know what there message was supposed to be, but it was funny to look at :-).

The next is one of the contributions from Obama’s home state, Hawaii. I really wonder how these ladies could survive the parade. I mean, it was around freezing on this day, and they were coming from Hawaii! That means that they were used to temperatures like 80-100°F!


Some more impressions from the parade. These are the pictures which I should probably throw away since I can’t tell you anything about them, but since this is not supposed to be  an entertaining blog post, they are kept here :-).


Now, there were some people on the street which looked a bit like being part of the parade, but in fact they were not: The road sweepers. After every float with horses (there were about 240 horses altogether), a team of sweepers was cleaning the streets. Any you know what? I think they were the most entertaining people of them all :-). However, at one time they missed a pile of horse excrements. Poor dancers that were coming right behind them… If you’re in a formation, you just can’t avoid them without leaving your line. And they did not leave their line…

In the end of the parade there was another great participant. It was the new “Lunar Electric Rover” (unfortunately, nasa.gov is down right now, so I don’t know what to find here and here). You’ll find a great video on the bottom of this post.

After the parade was over, we went home. On our way we met president Obama when we went by some restaurant, and we also saw a Hummer Stretch Limo which was stuck in a DC traffic yam. They couldn’t drive away, so we decided to exploit their being stuck for taking a picture :-).

Finally, these are two videos from the event. The first one (2:49) shall give you an impression of the music that they played throughout the parade, and the second one (0:25) is the NASA lunar electric rover :-).

Oh, and since I don’t want to waste an empty blog post on this: On our way home we also went by the Teddy Roosevelt memorial in DC. From the other memorials in DC I already knew that they look better at night than during the daytime, because one can’t see the gray sky at night.
This time however, I was wrong. The memorial is not illuminated, so basically one can’t see anything at night:

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Frustrated about this memorial we canceled our McDonald’s dinner and ate Spaghetti instead…

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01/20/09: Obama’s inauguration ceremony

Posted in Inauguration trip by Ulf on March 17, 2009

The morning of January 20th, 2009, began with a very decisive question: Would we be able to get onto the Metro train to go from Arlington, VA, to Washington, DC? Or would the Metro be crowded since many people used the park-and-ride-facilities near DC? It’s only a distance of 2 or 3 miles from Arlington to DC, but that could be a lot in out time schedule… Luckily, the Metro turned out to be really empty at about 8am:

From now on, only very little could go wrong. We made it to Washington DC downtown on Inauguration Day 2009! We were at the north end of the map. The next question was where to go. Boris and Daniel decided look for a good spot where they could see the presidential parade. They headed directly down to Pennsylvania Avenue, the road between the Capitol and the White House.
Alex and I wanted to join the masses on the National Mall to become eyewitnesses of the inauguration itself. Our destination was the large green area…
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It turned out that many roads were closed. And not all barriers were as easy to overcome as these buses ;-). And look at the streets! We were absolutely not the only visitors to go to the National Mall!

At the same time, Rebekka already made it onto the Mall. She is a doctoral law student from Berlin who was also new to DC. Just after 9am when Alex and I were still walking through downtown DC, she already entered the Mall. At about 9:30, she was standing next to Washington Monument and had a clear view to the capitol:

Although I haven’t been there with Rebekka, I really enjoyed seeing her pictures. Seems like she met many interesting people while she waited for the ceremony to begin. Does anyone recognize which card game they play? All players have a different number of cards, I would guess between three and eleven cards. My first guess was Asshole, but that’s not very likely since the player in the front didn’t put his two tens next to each other. And someone with 11 cards on his deck wouldn’t have an ace ;-)

At roughly 10am, Alex and I also made it to the mall. It took us just two hours from Arlington to this place. Maybe we should have just walked all the way ;-). Anyway, we had a quick visit at the portable toilets — there were enough of them and they were clean, unbelievable! — and then also went to the monument.


About an hour after Rebekka had been somewhere between the monument itself and its ticket booth, we also arrived at the same place. So, you might ask yourself if we saw her? Well, I think so. She must be somewhere on the following picture ;-). Do you see her black hat?

At the same time our third group was still on its way to Pennsylvania Avenue. It was roughly 10am when they saw the security check, and after another hour they finally made it to the parade track (I hope I didn’t screw it up when I calculated some offset values for the timestamps of their pictures). Boris and Daniel really found a great place to see the parade! They were standing right across from the Ronald Reagan Building. I wouldn’t have believed that they could get this close to the route itself!


Now, since we all reached our observation points, the show could start. You’ll find the detailed plot on Wikipedia. All I remember is that there were many different prayers (they had an invocation and a benediction, but what is the difference?). And there was much music. One thing that made Alex and me laugh was a sentence from Rick Warren about Obama’s family, “… and his daughters Malia and *tiny_pause* Sasha”. We both thought … “Sasha? WTF, that must be a son and not a daughter!”. But it turned out that Mr Warren was right, Natasha Obama is called Sasha. Stupid us, we didn’t know the upcoming first family!
Seriously, we should have known that Rick Warren was right. If you’re standing up there, with more than a million people in front of you and something between 50 and 100 million people in front of their TV sets, you will have double- and triple-checked your words. You simply don’t do any mistakes in such a situation. Keep this in mind.

At 12 o’clock on this day, Bush’s term officially ended. From that moment on, America didn’t have a president anymore (same applies to former vice president Cheney). That’s not so good, therefore “Senator Biden” and “Senator Obama” were sworn in a few minutes after noon. They became “Vice President Biden” and “President Obama”.

Alex was so kind to record these two events. It’s not that easy to hear the voice of Biden, Obama and justices Roberts and Stevens. In fact, while Obama was talking, everybody was absolutely silent. Nobody did a step, nobody was coughing. I could hear the chattering of the flags around the monument behind us.

The inauguration of the first Delawarian to be a Vice President was successful! Yes, we did it! But have you noticed something in Obama’s inauguration? These were the words:

Roberts: I, Barack Hussein Obama …
Obama: I, Barack …
Roberts: … do solemnly swear …
Obama: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear …
Roberts: … that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully …
Obama: … that I will execute …
Roberts: … the off — faithfully the pres — the office of president of the United States …
Obama (at the same time): … the office of president of the United States faithfully …

second_oath_of_office_of_barack_obamaThat was not quite what the constitution required Obama to say. Guess what? I went all the way to DC and I didn’t even see the real inauguration! A day later they did the whole thing again somewhere in the White House. Obviously, they wanted to make sure that no stupid American lawyer would use this as a reason to impeach the government…

And all just because some chief justice who was appointed by a non-elected president screwed up his words. Args. Do you still remember what I said earlier? About verbal errors in front of millions of viewers? Well… ;-)

So, after not having seen the real inauguration, we decided to walk away. So did most of the others. It was hard to believe how many more attendants were behind the monument. I thought Alex and I would have been late arrivals!

However, Rebekka was once again faster then the two of us. She was already heading north long before we got off the Mall.

However, our way also had a few more obstacles than hers. Buses tried to stop us, and there were signs alerting us about other pedestrians ahead. And we had the chance to look at the inside of a HMMWV :-). Please look at the steering-wheel lock! Haha!


A quick note on these white buses. There was not just one bus. Maybe twenty or thirty of them were lined up, not letting anybody through. Well, at one point, one bus driver didn’t immediately catch up when the bus in front of him started moving. So there was a little gab — and many people rushed towards it. After the first pedestrians were in front of him, the the bus driver had no chance to start moving at all… and we pedestrians had our gap to cross the road :-).

In the morning, Rebekka took some more interesting pictures which I didn’t manage to fit into the text. There were a lot of activities in the morning. Some Gitmo protestants, and free “Snacks for Change” :-) :-) :-).
(Yes, it looks empty, but Rebekka got some).

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In the next “Inauguration Day” blog post, I’ll tell you about the Presidential Parade.

Quite a number of distinct gods

Posted in Inauguration trip by Ulf on March 15, 2009

Somewhere in Arlington Cemetery we found some tombs of cremated soldiers. When we walked past, we realized how many different religions could be found at this place!



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So, let’s try to identify them. From left to right, top to bottom, just as you would read it:

  1. A flaming chalice. Maybe they were Unitarians or UUs.
  2. The contour of a Latin Cross. Why just the contour?
  3. Either a Presbyterian Cross or a Celtic Cross.
  4. The contour of a Latin Cross with a circle around it. What’s the meaning of a circle?
  5. He was a Methodist.
  6. Probably a non-believing couple.
  7. This is “The Three-Bar Orthodox Cross”.
  8. A filled Latin Cross, not just the contour
  9. The “Star of David”, so he was Jewish. But what does the circle mean?
  10. This might be a “Sacred heart of Jesus”.
  11. A Greek Cross which the Eastern Orthodox Church uses. Maybe, maybe not.
  12. That guy is called “Gabriel”. He blows a horn towards heaven.
  13. This is an eternal flame.
  14. For the cross, look at picture 3. But for the Star of David… well, this one doesn’t have a circle (number 9 had one).
  15. The Cross and Crown.
  16. Fake entry to fill the 4-by-4 grid. My apologies to Paul and Ramona, who are in fact Christians.

I gave up about the others. Does anyone have clue?

EDIT: Mascha has already solved much of the puzzle. Thank you very much! Still, there are a few open questions, so if you know something, let us know!

01/19/09: The next trip to Washington

Posted in Inauguration trip by Ulf on March 14, 2009

On the day before Obama’s inauguration ceremony, my room mate Alvaro took me to the Greenbelt Metro station near Washington DC. We did not want to go any further by car because we thought that DC would be hopelessly congested.

Well, the Metro station was congested, too. There were several reasons why there were so many people in front of the ticket vending machines:

  • Many people wanted to go to DC by Metro today, obviously.
  • Most of us (including me) were not familiar with those vending machines. To compensate for this, the WMATA had hired some people who explained us how to use these machines. And they explained every detail… which took some additional time.
  • Also, many people didn’t understand the difference between a “farecard” and a “pass”, so they didn’t know what to buy. But the difference was quite obvious: Passes are always valid for a given number of days, like one day, seven days or 31 days. Farecards contain a given amount of money, so you still pay for every ride. I bought a $20 farecard, and it turned out that this was a good choice.
  • Quite often some of the machines went “out of service”, but the local technicians could fix them quickly.
  • The problem which took most of the time: Some people decided to buy about 100-150 one-day passes. I’m not sure why they did this. Maybe this was some bus tour and they forgot to buy the tickets in advance, or they just wanted to sell them for a higher price to those who couldn’t wait…

Anyway, I had a nice chat with some fellow from California who got a Parade ticket from his congressman. He was really funny, I enjoyed it a lot! And he was really American: He didn’t want to buy his day passes on his own. Therefore he asked some other lady who also bought day passes to get three for him, too. Those day passes cost something between $7 and $8. Well, he gave $30 to that lady and said that he didn’t want to have any change…

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When I arrived in Washington, I went to Arlington to Alex. Alex is another fellow student from Stuttgart. He studies mechanical engineering and currently does his master at George Washington University (GWU). After a tasty lunch the two of us went to the Iwo Jima memorial where we met Boris and Flora. Boris is also from Stuttgart, while Flora is from Austria. As Alex and Flora had never been at the Arlington cemetery before, we decided to visit it:

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Boris is the guy with the professional digital camera, and Alex is the tall one without a camera. Flora is the girl, and Ulf is the skinhead.

On the cemetery we visited the major touristic places, such as the Kennedy graves and the Tomb of the Unknowns. You’ve read about both places on this blog before, about a month ago. The only difference was that we attended a ceremony today. Young children laid a wreath for some dead soldier. Hopefully it’s not their father.

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Most soldiers in Arlington are buried on the fields. But there are also special burial chambers for cremated men and women. I’ll give you some details on this place tomorrow. Anyway, we walked around the cemetery for a bit more than two hours. And still we had only seen a few fragments of the overall place. It’s just so large…!

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Near the entrance of the cemetery they have a rain shelter for people waiting for the cemetery buses. Since Americans like queuing very much (although they call it “lining up”), they have even painted some queues on the ground. I wonder who many people obey these lines ;-).

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When it got dark we went the the Pentagon (maybe you’ve already seen it on one of the pictures above). The Pentagon is in Pentagon City. Wikipedia says that the Pentagon was the largest building in the US until last year, at least in terms of its floor space. Wow!

Since 9/11, the Pentagon does no longer have a direct pedestrian tunnel to the next metro station, and all photography near the building is prohibited. So instead of taking a photo of the Pentagon, I decided to take a picture of some other memorial in Arlington. I’ve forgotten its name, can someone help me?

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Well, not all photography near the Pentagon was prohibited. We were allowed to take pictures of the 9/11 memorial, so this is what we did. Yes, the building on the right-hand side is the Pentagon. It just doesn’t look like a pentagon if you only see one edge at a time ;-).

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In the evening we went back to the GWU (George Washington University). They have a nice “Hippodrome Billiard Parlor”. Please read what the sign says.

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After a nice chat with George Washington and a many billiard matches, we had dinner. I took some chicken burger from Chick-fil-A, but it was not the best burger I ever had. Maybe it was too healthy? The pizza they sell at that place is also not very tasty. They should better call it “Pizza Butter and Oil” instead of Pizza “Pizza Salami” ;-). So whenever you eat at this GWU student center, you might want to go to the local Wendy’s or to the (more expensive) buffet bar.

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The last event for this evening was the public demonstration of the GWU float for tomorrow’s presidential parade. There was some music, a few talks, a lot of free coffee from Starbucks (on that time of day…) and the float! The float consisted of a bus and some trailers. All GWU departments hat their own installations on the trailers.

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I’m sure you noted the huge earth ball. This inflatable globe represented the school of international affairs. Please keep this in mind! It will look a bit different during the real parade ;-).

After the presentation was over, we went home. Alex watered his plant, then we went to bed. The last night with Bush being president…

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Back in Delaware after the 2009 Presidential Inauguration

Posted in Inauguration trip by Ulf on January 23, 2009

bild5020Thanks to Alexander’s hospitality, I could spend the first days of this week in Washington, DC. Of course I attended Obama’s inauguration. It was amazing. I’ve never  seen so many people in one place before. We stood at the foot of Washington Monument which is luckily a bit elevated, so we had a very clear view to the Capitol. Still, the Capitol was 1.5 miles away, but they installed TV screens to bring Obama closer :-).

I’ll write a more detailled story about his trip after I finished both the Hawaii and the Christmas diaries.